Commencement marks the end of our annual academic cycle and offers an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of our graduates and their prospects for productive, satisfying careers. This year was no different, except that the Class of 2013 emerged into the working world at a time of turmoil in the veterinary profession.
Such issues as student debt, employment and veterinary school accreditation have become regular editorial topics in online veterinary forums and print media. The exchange of ideas is healthy, and it is our obligation to provide an accurate context for these discussions. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have redoubled their efforts to provide data that inform our national discussions of veterinary medicine. I will finish my term as AAVMC president in July and am encouraging our profession to take an evidence-based, positive view of opportunities and challenges.
A recent review of past veterinary workforce studies published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association earlier this year (Dicks, 242:8, 1051) set the stage for the 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study: Modeling Capacity Utilization released by the AVMA in April. This study found relative balance in the public health, food safety, research and regulatory affairs sectors but an excess capacity in some areas in small animal practice. In a recently completed AAVMC assessment of employment data for 2011 and 2012 graduates, more than 97 percent reported being employed in veterinary medicine at least six months after graduation. Both studies suggest that better, more complete employment data are needed and that we must be proactive in making information available to students at every stage of their preparation for a veterinary career.
It is worth remembering that veterinarians, like those in other professions, experience cycles of lean and plenty. While the prolonged recession continues to be a serious challenge, it is short-sighted to discount a profession that provides life-long career satisfaction for most.
And as I noted recently in an open letter to AAVMC colleagues, “Despite our challenges, we should remember those who possess veterinary medical degrees are uniquely equipped to tackle some of society’s most pressing problems. There is growing recognition that the academic rigor and comparative nature of a D.V.M. degree spanning multiple species brings value and application across a broad spectrum of technical, scientific and medical careers, including homeland security, public [global] health, disease detection and prevention, research and protecting the safety of our nation’s food supply.”
All of higher education must face the challenges of student debt and workforce balance. It is our responsibility to manage them. At the same time, we should recognize that we are a nation that loves and values animals and the relationships we share with them. The best and brightest students, like the Class of 2013, are to be congratulated for choosing a valuable, caring profession that supports the health and well-being of animals and people.
Deborah Turner Kochevar, D.V.M., Ph.D., is the dean and Henry and Lois Foster Professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.