It’s not all about pets: US urges action to nurture public, food and research veterinarians

As food inspection regulators in the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere grapple with how best to get the most bang per regulatory buck, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has issued a report identifying the future skills veterinarians should possess to actually implement such changes.

With more than half of veterinary students seeking training in companion animal medicine, many veterinary sectors, including academia, industry, food animal and public service, face potential shortages of qualified veterinarians that could have significant effects on public health, according to a National Research Council of the National Academies of Science report released May 30, 2012.
The report, written by the Committee to Assess the Current and Future Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine, warned that without immediate action, the academic veterinary community may not successfully prepare future generations of veterinarians for faculty teaching and research positions, jobs in state diagnostic laboratories and federal research and regulatory agencies, and the pharmaceutical and biologics industry.

This potential shortage could be exacerbated by a strengthening economy that could create many new jobs in industry, according to committee member Fred Quimby, retired vice president and senior director of the Laboratory Animal Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York.

The rising cost of veterinary education contributes to the situation, as costs could deter some veterinarians from pursuing advanced degrees and others from applying for lower paying positions, including government jobs in food safety, epidemiology and wildlife management. Moreover, the report found that a declining return on investment for veterinary education could reduce the quality of future applicants to veterinary school and diminish the quality of the education itself.

This potential shortage of veterinarians with advanced training could diminish food safety and animal health standards, human and veterinary drug development, infectious disease control and wildlife and ecosystem management, according to the report.

“Companion animal medicine and its growing number of specialties that improve the health and lives of pets has been a success story, but it dominates veterinary schools’ curriculum and resources, sometimes to the detriment of equally critical fields,” said Alan Kelly, chair of the committee that wrote the report and emeritus professor of pathology and pathobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “We must ensure that schools train qualified veterinarians in sync with the diverse and growing array of societal needs.”

Food safety and zoonotic disease prevention are among those societal needs, especially as meat production in developing, and often hot and humid, countries, according to Kelly.

“The fact that 60 percent of all infectious diseases in humans are of animal origin and 75 percent of emerging infection diseases in the last decade arose from animals underscores the importance of maintaining expertise in other areas of veterinary medicine,” he said.

The 320-page report culminates with five conclusions and 10 recommendations, including discussion of shortening the length of veterinary education by combining the DVM degree with other advanced degrees (notably MPHs, Ph.D.s, and MBAs).

The report is available for download at: