The Scoop

AAHA board member Robert Lawrie, MRCVS, weighs in on the advancements made possible by veterinary software and data capture. The AAHA Community asks how new vets can build confidence through online learning.  This month’s Scoop headlines include: Penn Vet launches mRNA Research Initiative, Links Found Between Human, Canine Brain Tumors, VHMA Compensation and Benefits Survey Results Announced, Canine Respiratory Disease Cases Fall; and more!

Robert Lawrie, MRCVS
Robert Lawrie, MRCVS, is a member of the AAHA Board of Directors.

Veterinary Software

As a child from a family of veterinarians, I’ve had the privilege of watching the veterinary industry evolve over the past 40 years. The changes that I’ve witnessed have improved patient outcomes—whether it be from advances in surgical techniques and equipment, the development of new medications, or a patient-centric approach to handling care. However, no changes have made quite the impact, or had the ability to fundamentally improve patient care, as much as the improvements in software and data capture.

From a historical perspective, even as recently as the 1980s, paper records were considered sufficient to capture rudimentary data. The emphasis was placed on treating animals based upon first principles, rather than capturing and utilizing information in the clinic. As computer applications have evolved from simple DOS and Windows-based operating systems, through to cloud-based servers, smart collars, and the use of AI, we now have the potential to capture and document every transaction or event that takes place during the life of a pet. This volume of data is being harnessed in ways that were previously thought impossible, even a few years ago.

When I graduated from vet school, the phrase “Evidence Based Medicine (EBM)” was de rigueur—rightly so. We were taught how to research, critically appraise, and apply knowledge based upon the work of our esteemed colleagues in academic practice. Back then, we could not have imagined how easy it would become to assimilate data, deliberately and passively, in a general practice setting. Software innovations have solved the issues of collecting, documenting, and protecting the record of events in our patients’ lives. The challenge for veterinary medicine is now what do we do with this evolving trove of data, how do we meaningfully extract and extrapolate trends, and apply them to improve patient outcomes?

As we look to the future, AI shows tremendous promise in its applications for both veterinary and human medicine. These tools are becoming more widespread and readily available, and we are reaching a point where the results of studies can be published in a matter of months, rather than years. Whilst we aren’t quite at the point of asking AI to produce our clinical diagnosis, we are already seeing it used to augment patient care and extend the lives of our beloved patients. Software innovations will remain at the forefront of patient care, and I, for one, am excited to see just where the future will take us.

Robert Lawrie, MRCVS, is a member of the AAHA Board of Directors. He is chief operating officer at PetHealth Urgent Care in Reading, Pennsylvania.


 

Silhouette of a human and a dog with targets on the heads of both

Links Found Between Human, Canine Brain Tumors

Researchers at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas Children’s Hospital report that they have discovered that meningiomas—the most common type of brain tumor in humans and dogs—are extremely similar genetically.

In a release, they stated that these newly discovered similarities will allow doctors to use a classification system that identifies aggressive tumors in both humans and dogs, while also opening the door for new collaborations between human and animal medicine.

For the project, the team analyzed 62 canine meningiomas from 27 dog breeds and discovered that the tumors shared similarities to the same kinds of tumors when they occur in humans. The release states that this is the largest study to date of the gene expression profiles of canine meningiomas. The study was published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

A separate group of researchers from the University of California, Davis, conducted a similar study with matching conclusions about meningiomas in dogs and people and published their work in the same journal.

“I think there is a terrific opportunity for the teams at Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas Children’s, and University of California to collaborate to create a clinical trial,” said Professor Jonathan Levine, DVM, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, and one of the lead researchers on the team. “If we do one trial, we’d be able to enroll patients a lot more quickly, which would make it easier to get larger datasets, resulting in stronger findings. So, we have a lot of interest in doing a collaborative trial,” he said. “We really see the team out in California as potential partners.”

Photo credit: bonezboyz, oleksii arseniuk/iStock via Getty Images Plus


 

Instructor talking to a group of veterinary students and pointing to a goat
Students in the UMES preveterinary program. Photo courtesy of The University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Student ear-tagging a baby goat
Students in the UMES preveterinary program. Photo courtesy of The University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Headshot of Kimberly Braxton
Kimberly Braxton, an assistant professor and veterinarian at UMES, will hold the post until a successful search for a permanent dean next year. Photo courtesy of The University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

01/03

University of Maryland Eastern Shore to Launch New Vet School

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) reports that the school’s board of regents has approved a new School of Veterinary Medicine. In a release, the school stated that final approval by the Maryland Higher Education Commission is expected shortly and a consultative visit from the American Veterinary Medicine Association Council on Education is expected to occur in the latter part of 2024.

According to the release, the program will be the second veterinary school among the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities. When the first anticipated students are accepted in fall 2026, it will also be Maryland’s first standalone program.

“Our new veterinary medicine school will help UMES fill an unmet need on the Eastern Shore and throughout the state,” said UMES President Heidi M. Anderson, MS, PhD. “Deeply rooted in our 1890 land-grant mission, this program will enable us to serve farmers, the food industry, and the 50% of Marylanders who own a pet. It will also increase both the diversity of the profession and address the workforce needs of the industry. We’re deeply grateful to the Maryland Board of Regents, and for the widespread support this program has garnered.”

The timing could not be more appropriate, according to UMES’ Dean of the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences Moses T. Kairo, who has helped lead the program from inception toward actualization. “In terms of demand based on labor statistics, we are looking at 19% projected growth in the field over the next seven years,” Kairo said. “Black veterinarians make up only 3% of the population in this country, indicating a tremendous need to diversify the profession.”

The university is proceeding with advocacy, fundraising, and planning for infrastructural developments, Kairo said, and an interim founding dean has been named. Kimberly Braxton, an assistant professor and veterinarian at UMES, will hold the post until a successful search for a permanent dean next year.

Quote of the Month

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Bill Gates
Strands of mRNA

Penn Vet Launches mRNA Research Initiative

The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) has announced the launch of an mRNA research initiative to fast-track the development of veterinary mRNA-based vaccines and host-directed therapies.

In a statement, the school said that operating under the umbrella of Penn Vet’s Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases, and with support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the initiative will advance basic vaccine science using the mRNA platform, develop mRNA vaccines that target veterinary species, and accelerate innovation at Penn Vet using mRNA-based vaccines and therapies for a variety of diseases.

The school stated that while mRNA vaccines are efficient at stimulating antibody responses, they are less able to generate enduring lung, gut, and skin T cells that are critical for barrier immunity to many pathogens. Using Penn Vet’s immunologic expertise, the first phase of the project will investigate how to generate sustained T cell–mediated immunity in the lung, gut, and skin with mRNA vaccines. Scientific findings from these basic studies will inform the project’s goal to develop veterinary vaccines, including a vaccine for avian influenza in poultry and a vaccine for viral infections in swine.

In addition to basic and translational vaccine projects, the initiative will fund at least one multi-investigator research project annually that expands the scope, furthers progress, or uses existing scholarship to accelerate mRNA research at Penn Vet. An annual symposium will also be held, providing a forum for scientists, scholars, and students to present their work.

Photo credit: luismmolina/iStock via Getty Images Plus


 

Canine Respiratory Disease Cases Fall

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported on the recent outbreak of canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), stating that the outbreak appears to be receding.

The AVMA coverage states that the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which received more than 200 case reports on the illness since August 2023, saw no new reports for the month of January. From September to November 2023, Colorado State University’s (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital had seen more than double the cases of canine pneumonia compared with the same period in 2022.

The AVMA reports that the most likely explanation for last year’s canine respiratory disease outbreak is a commensal bacterium that possibly plays a role in some disease but has been overlooked, according to Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College and director of the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. “It doesn’t seem like anything remarkable is going on at the moment,” Weese said, adding that a periodic spike in CIRDC cases in various regions is to be expected.

The AVMA reports that the outbreak has raised a number of questions, among them being why last year’s wave of canine respiratory disease differed from previous versions with many of these cases having other underlying health issues. Dogs experienced prolonged coughs, up to several weeks, and more cases developed what appeared to be secondary pneumonia. In addition, they say, this pneumonia was either minimally or entirely unresponsive to antibiotics.

The lack of definitive answers has given rise to speculation that a novel pathogen or variant of a known causative agent such as Bordetella has emerged. Consensus within the veterinary community is this is highly unlikely. A spokesperson for the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service told AVMA News there is no evidence to support such a conclusion.

The AVMA reports that a number of groups are researching the outbreak, including the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Hubbard Center for Genome Studies at the University of New Hampshire, and CSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Center for Companion Animal Studies.


 

Banner for AAHA Community

Newer Veterinarian, Looking for CE to Help Build Confidence

We have our newest veterinarian performing both dental procedures and soft-tissue surgeries, mainly just spays, neuters, and oral surgery extractions. I am wondering if you all have thoughts on how to help her build her confidence in the surgery suite and on the dental table. We have sent her to a few wet labs but we are still struggling with her confidence and I want to get her to where she can do these things on her own. Any suggestions would be helpful!

A: Dr. Beckman’s Dental CE was a game changer for me as a new grad. I did not have a dentistry rotation during clinical year and felt incredibly ignorant. The CE is all online but his explanations, breakdowns, and videos are fantastic. I highly recommend it.

A: Apex Dentistry offers an amazing CE and you get to practice on cadavers as well. Worked great for all of our vets!

Share your confidence-building CE recommendations within the AAHA Community now at community.aaha.org! For help, email community@aaha.org.


 

When Dogs May Benefit from Electrodiagnostic Testing

Electrodiagnostic testing, which is more frequently used for diagnosing neuromuscular disorders in dogs, may also play a valuable role in testing for spinal disorders and cauda equina, especially when combined with advanced imaging, according to a study in The Veterinary Journal. This type of testing may also help improve outcomes and increase safety during complex canine spinal surgery, according to the study.


 

Compensation and Benefits Survey Results Announced

The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) recently announced the findings from its 2023 compensation and benefits survey. The survey reported on responses from 275 veterinary practices and 3,289 nonveterinarian hospital staff members.

The AVMA reports that the median salary for hospital administrators rose about 13%—from $75,000 to $85,000—compared to the 2021 survey responses. The median salary for practice managers increased about 8%, from $60,000 to $65,000.

Median salaries also increased from 2021 for other nonveterinarian staff, including office managers, receptionists, credentialed veterinary technicians (CVTs), veterinary technician specialists (VTSs), veterinary technician assistants (VTAs), kennel assistants, and bookkeepers.

“We have seen an increase in compensation in the last couple of years due to a tight supply of clinical staff. However, we have started to see that loosen up a little bit,” said Christine Shupe, executive director of the VHMA. “I don’t anticipate we will continue to see the dramatic increases we have seen in the last couple of years.”

Benefits

The most common benefit in 2023 received by nonveterinarian staff was veterinary care discounts, which 97% of surveyed practices provided, typically covering half the cost. The least common benefit received was childcare expenses, which 1% of practices reported providing.

The report stated that the majority of veterinary hospitals surveyed take on some of the cost of health insurance with 45% sharing the cost of health insurance 50-50 with employees, while another 47% pay 75% to 100% of the health insurance for their staff members. Eighty-eight percent of practices surveyed offered paid time off, with median paid time off days ranging between 10 and 15 days.

The biannual survey examines the level of compensation and benefits provided to veterinary team members and the factors that can impact those levels. Survey results show the median level of wages for nonveterinarian staff members by years employed, state, and practice type.

VHMA members can download the report for free from vhma.org. Nonmembers can sign up for a nonmember account to purchase the survey.


 

Illustration of a dog wearing a lifejacket and swimming while in rehab

AKC Groups Launch Canine Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Residency Program

The American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation (CHF), in collaboration with the AKC, recently launched the AKC/AKC CHF Canine Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Residency Program. In a release, they state that the program is designed to increase the number of specialists trained to meet the unique needs of athletic and working dogs, as well as all dogs in need of rehabilitation.

CHF released the first call for applications from veterinary colleges with approved sports medicine and rehabilitation programs this month. Each proposal will be reviewed by a panel of CHF leadership and subject matter experts, and the chosen institution will receive $100,000 annually to support a three-year residency. Interested veterinary professionals will apply through the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program in the spring of 2025 and start their residency training in July 2025. The release states that the program will hopefully grow to award a new residency every year, providing ongoing support for three concurrent residents.

angkritth/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Scientists Create Urine Test That Can Detect Cancer in Dogs

Researchers at Virginia Tech recently published a study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, where they concluded that a type of urine test, called Raman spectroscopy, is 92% effective at detecting cancer in dogs. The test uses a laser to detect a cancerous fingerprint in the molecules of patients with cancer.

In a release, John Robertson, a research professor at Virginia Tech’s biomedical engineering department, said “That would allow us to pick up cancer when it’s, perhaps, in the early stages of development and more treatable.” Robertson is also a trained veterinarian and has been working the past several years to better treat and detect cancer in animals. He is part of the team that created a rapid urine test for dogs.

The university release states that the method could be used to track how patients are responding to surgery or chemotherapy. “We’d like to be able to use the technology to monitor the effect of treatment and to be able to modify the treatment to more effectively treat the disease,” Robertson said.


 

A bar graph showing the likelihood of veterinary professionals to leave veterinary medicine based on various age groups.

Job Satisfaction on the Rise?

The fourth edition of the Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study, a biennial series conducted in collaboration with the AVMA, explored well-being and mental health in a representative sample of more than 4,600 randomly selected US veterinarians. In this snapshot of the survey, the results show that fewer than 2.5% of practicing veterinarians under age 55 are very likely to leave veterinary medicine within two years. Although this number increases to 15% for those 65 and older, the survey states that retirement is the most likely reason for leaving in that age group.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of veterinarians express overall satisfaction with their career, and 84% agree or strongly agree that their work makes a positive contribution to other people’s lives. More than half of veterinarians say they have a high level of well-being and are flourishing in their careers.

The AVMA reports that the connection is strong between job satisfaction/retention and mental health, well-being, and burnout. They say that in terms of these three factors, veterinarians are more accepting of the value of mental health treatment, more caring toward those with mental illness, and more comfortable discussing mental health topics with peers than they were since Merck’s first veterinarian wellbeing survey in 2017.

Read more about the study at avma.org.

Graph courtesy of AVMA


 

K. Lisa Yang
K. Lisa Yang
Photo of Steve Osofsky with elephants in the background
Steve Osofsky, director of the Cornell K. Lisa Yang Center for Wildlife Health, in the field in northern Botswana. A $35 million endowment will allow the center to increase fellowship opportunities and provide seed money for important conservation programs.
A Cornell veterinary student and farmer examine a water buffalo calf in Indonesia
A Cornell veterinary student and farmer examine a water buffalo calf in Indonesia.

01/03

Cornell Wildlife Health Center Receives $35M Endowment

Cornell University recently announced a $35 million gift to endow and name the Cornell K. Lisa Yang Center for Wildlife Health at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Yang’s endowment—the largest in the veterinary college’s history—will expand the center’s efforts “to advance science into policy and action, train future wildlife health leaders, and provide opportunities for student experiential learning,” according to a university statement.

Yang’s gift will support Cornell veterinary faculty and students as well as establish the Cornell K. Lisa Yang Wildlife Health Fellows Program, which will create 14 fellowship opportunities for veterinarians, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students.

In addition, it will be used to create a Catalyzing Conservation Fund—an internal grants program that will provide seed money for critical wildlife health programs led by veterinary faculty and staff—and provide five years of support to the Cornell Wildlife Health Center Student Support Fund.

Photos courtesy of Cornell University/Rachel Philipson and Steve Osofsky


 

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