Today’s rapidly changing and consolidating food animal industry often requires more than just the minimum CE credits in order for veterinarians to stay on top and thrive in their profession.
It may even mean going back to school for an advanced degree or enrollment in an intense educational program that leads to official certification through AVMA-approved veterinary specific organizations such as the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) and the American College of Theriogenologists.
Pros and cons
What are the advantages and/or disadvantages to bovine practitioners for participating in these more structured educational programs beyond just fulfilling CE requirements? Beef and dairy veterinarians who were asked, while they each had their own perspectives, agreed that:
Going in, you need to have a strong commitment to participate in these types of programs, as they can take much time away from your family and your veterinary practice.
Even though your initial goal may be to take what you learn and return to private veterinary practice, this doesn’t always happen, and you may find yourself on a completely different career path after you’ve completed your educational program.
Michael Overton, DVM, MPVM, University of Georgia, was a practitioner in North Carolina for eight years when he decided to get involved in the Dairy Production Medicine Certificate Program at Pennsylvania State University in the late 1990s. “I wanted to try to improve my educational base and pick up some new tools and abilities to help my clients,” Overton says. “Participating in and becoming certified by the Penn State program stimulated a desire for something more.”
That desire subsequently led to enrolling in a Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine (MPVM) program on the opposite side of the country at the University of California-Davis. This program included course work for a master’s degree plus a residency in dairy production medicine at the UC-Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center at Tulare.
It required Overton leaving his practice in North Carolina and moving his family to California. He acknowledges that when he went to California, he wasn’t certain about his long-term career plans. In the back of his mind, however, he left open the option of returning to dairy practice when he finished with the residency program.
Shift in goals
While working on the master’s degree, a teaching opportunity was presented at the UC-Davis Tulare facility. That’s when Overton’s veterinary career goals shifted toward academia, he says. After several years at UC-Davis, the tenure-track position he currently holds opened at the University of Georgia
In his current position, Overton says, he is now working to provide similar learning opportunities for new graduates through a new master’s program at UGA that has been patterned, in part, on his UC-Davis experience.
Overton still believes that even though he went in a different direction from veterinary practice, had he chosen to stay in practice, the additional education would have benefited his veterinary practice and his clients.
Dale Moore, DVM, PhD, went through the UC-Davis MPVM program and was an instructor and a mentor in the program prior to accepting her current position as director of Veterinary Medical Extension at Washington State University. Moore also is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Med-icine with specialty training in epidemiology.
“Going into a short-term post-DVM or graduate program like the MPVM really helps stimulate your intellect and provides a broader view of veterinary medicine than you may have gotten in veterinary school,” Moore says.
From a more practical standpoint, these sorts of educational programs can help practitioners develop quantitative skills to use for evaluating products, procedures or management practices on today’s larger dairy farms, Moore says.
Practitioners who have completed the UC-Davis program have taken several different career directions, according to Moore. Some, like Overton, have continued down the academic path. Others have returned to dairy practice, while still others have started their own dairies. “There are a number of dairy veterinarian MPVM graduates who have started up their own businesses,” Moore says.
Moore adds that practitioners considering programs such as MPVM first need to determine whether or not they can remain in practice and generate income while working on a graduate degree. “That can be tough,” she says, adding that not only do you lose time from your practice, but tuition can be expensive.
Board certification in a veterinary specialty area is another means of obtaining additional learning. Beef cattle practitioner Tom Hairgrove, DVM, Haskell Veterinary Clinic, Haskell, Texas, became a board-certified beef cattle practitioner through the ABVP after being in practice for more than 20 years. In addition, he has recently been studying for ABVP exams to become certified in food animal veterinary medicine.
Hairgrove says his primary motivation initially for going through the ABVP certification program was so that he could become more up-to-date in knowledge about beef cattle veterinary medicine. Since it had been about 20 years since he had received his DVM, he felt that there was a gap.
“One advantage is that it forced me to study and get current on things,” Hairgrove says. He acknowledges that becoming board-certified probably hasn’t made a big difference in practice income.
“I think it has been more self gratifying than anything,” he says. “Is it going to make you a lot more money? I’d say probably not. Some of my better clients realize that I’m boarded, but do most of my clients realize it or do they understand it or do they really care? Probably not.”
While board certification may not generate a lot of additional practice income, Hairgrove knows veterinarians who have used it as a means of transition from veterinary practice into academia or to a technical services position with a pharmaceutical company.
In addition to being ABVP-certified, Hairgrove has been through the Beef Cattle Production Management Series at the University of Nebraska Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center (GPVEC), Clay Center, Neb. (www.GPVEC.unl.edu). The University of Nebraska offers official certification for completing this program. “It’s an excellent program,” Hairgrove says. “The Clay Center experience gives you a little different perspective.”
Gary Rupp, DVM, MS, director of the GPVEC, describes the Clay Center beef cattle program as “interdisciplinary training that goes beyond the ‘ologies.’” Rupp believes that veterinarians are adequately trained in such things as pathology and immunology, and they do a good job of treating medical cases. “But today’s beef producer demands a whole lot more from veterinarians than somebody that they can call when they have a sick animal,” he says. “Veterinarians need to be a resource for information. They need to think from a management perspective. They need to act in an interdisciplinary, coordinating manner with a lot of other specialists, so they have to understand more than just medicine and surgery. If they’re going to work in the food-animal industry today, they pretty much need to know it inside and out, from basic production through processing and to the consumer.”
That’s where the GPVEC beef cattle management program comes in, according to Rupp. It attempts to teach veterinarians how to think from a management perspective. It also teaches them how to market this to their clients, he says.
The one-year program, which includes 18 full days and evenings of lectures and other work at GPVEC in Clay Center, plus much homework and assignments over the Internet, requires desire and commitment from participants, Rupp says.
More than 150 veterinarians have gone through the Nebraska program since its inception in 1990. Rupp believes it has benefited practitioners who have completed it, even though many of them have subsequently left private practice to take veterinary positions in government, academia and with the pharmaceutical industry.
Terry DeGroff, DVM, Burwell, Neb., who has been an instructor for the GPVEC beef cattle management program, also believes that most practitioners who have participated over the years have benefited. “They may not always utilize all the tools they learned, but it changed the way they think about things,” he says. And for many, it changed their career path, he says.
DeGroff believes “a lot of really good practicing veterinarians that were looking for more used the Nebraska program for a stepping stone out of practice. It kind of saddened me a little bit because the whole intent of the course is to equip veterinarians to provide more and broader services to their producer clients.”
However, if a veterinarian’s goal is to remain a practitioner, learning about production management and other business skills would be beneficial to that practitioner and more than likely provide him or her with a competitive advantage.
The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) was founded in 1978 with three initial species categories, including companion animal, equine and food animal. Over the years, ABVP has expanded and refined its categories to include avian, beef cattle, canine and feline, dairy, equine, feline only, food animal and swine health management. According to the ABVP, in 2007, the 847 ABVP diplomates broke down as follows:
Canine and feline — 454
Avian — 126
Equine — 88
Feline — 79
Dairy — 37
Food animal — 28
Swine health management — 22
Beef cattle — 13
The ABVP mission is “to advance the quality of veterinary practice through certification of veterinarians who demonstrate excellence in species-oriented clinical practice.” ABVP encourages “practitioners who excel in the art and science of veterinary practice” to apply for certification.
The ABVP website says that the definition of certification encompasses the following four points:
1. “Diplomate” status is granted by the ABVP under the approval of the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, an official committee of the AVMA.
2. Certification is intended as a professional and public recognition of advanced knowledge, skills and competency.
3. Unlike other veterinary specialties that are narrowly focused, ABVP diplomates demonstrate excellence in the care of the total patient.
4. Referrals are not the goal of ABVP, although many diplomates have earned the trust and respect of colleagues.
Tom Hairgrove, DVM, Dipl. ABVP in beef cattle and a former ABVP Regent, says interest from practitioners in the beef cattle category has been a little slow. “There’s a lot of room for more beef cattle veterinarians,” he says.
For more information on ABVP Board Certification, go to www.abvp.com.
Life-long learning guided career path
Terry DeGroff, DVM, Burwell, Neb., firmly believes in life-long learning, especially for veterinarians who want to be involved in agribusiness. Although DeGroff says there is value in having advanced degrees or a board certification in specialty areas, these aren’t necessarily needed for life-long learning.
DeGroff, who formerly operated a veterinary clinic in Burwell and now owns Management Information Systems, Inc., says that although he has participated in numerous seminars and other continuing education activities since receiving his DVM in 1976, he is not board-certified, nor does he have an advanced degree other than his DVM.
Continuing education and his quest for life-long learning have, however, directed his career path, he says. That path has led away from the practice of veterinary medicine to more of an involvement in ranch production management.
His business goal is to become involved in the management process with producers. “Producers with good information have a very bright future in agriculture,” DeGroff says. His business strives to provide that information.
DeGroff’s business includes, among other things, providing assistance with production and financial records for cow-calf producers, computer-aided decision-making tools, nutritional consultation and ration balancing for cow-calf and backgrounding, plus educational services for producers. “What I’m doing is not ‘main street’ for most veterinarians,” DeGroff says.