AAEP Commission on Veterinary Sustainability: Creating Change

Here is an update on the work being performed by the AAEP Commission on Veterinary Sustainability's five subcommittees.
A young vet stands next to a horse. The AAEP Commission on Sustainability is trying to make change in the equine veterinary industry.
Fifty-eight percent of surveyed AAEP vets reported that their educational debt was twice to four times their annual income. The AAEP Commission on Veterinary Sustainability is trying to address this concern. | Getty Images

The AAEP Commission on Equine Veterinary Sustainability is initiating change in the equine veterinary industry through a coordinated effort with the five subcommittees. By spreading new ideas about compensation, emergency coverage, internships, practice culture and student life, the AAEP aims to turn the tide of declining participation of veterinarians in equine practice. Through various communication channels, the AAEP subcommittee teams and AAEP staff have been sharing data from surveys as well as educational materials about new ways to practice. By building tools for members to use to easily integrate new paradigms, change will become more accessible to all practices. 

The Emergency Subcommittee recently met in-person and fleshed out multiple models for providing emergency coverage. These models include not offering emergency coverage, offering part-time coverage, offering emergency service only at haul-in facilities, utilizing referral centers for emergencies and tertiary care, solo practices offering emergency care in areas that have few to no options for sharing that responsibility, participation in emergency cooperatives, utilizing telemedicine for triaging and/or treating emergencies, utilizing veterinary technicians or mid-level practitioners for emergencies in underserved areas, utilizing relief veterinarians, and emergency-only practices. The subcommittee plans to establish case studies and tool kits for each of these models and develop ways for members with similar models to form communities to support each other.  

The Culture Subcommittee has further developed materials for the seven pillars of a healthy practice culture—safety, security, connection, mattering at work, balance of professional and personal life, communication, and opportunities for growth. With the help of the AAEP staff, the group has created informational pieces to spread these ideas widely in the equine veterinary community. In addition, the group is designing a deep library of resources for each of the pillars to assist practices in bringing these important aspects of culture to life. 

Data from the survey developed by the Compensation Subcommittee has been shared with members as a series of “small bites” on a number of platforms. Comer Research Consultants administered the survey in September 2022 by emailing 6,564 active members of the AAEP, of which 1,378 responded. Average compensation in 2021 for recent graduates was found to be about $89,000 for those graduating between 2016-2019. Thirty-two percent of respondents reported receiving 100% of the emergency fees for calls they attended, but 42% reported receiving no additional compensation for emergency duty. Fifty-eight percent reported that their educational debt was twice to four times the amount of their annual compensation. Finding ways to increase compensation for equine practitioners to more closely approximate that of companion animal veterinarians is a focus of the subcommittee. Educating members on how to calculate fees for service, offering methods for increasing efficiency, and investigating gender differences in revenue production will all be part of this subcommittee’s continued work. 

The Internship Subcommittee has been revamping the AAEP Avenues program and preparing for a launch in 2024 with the new AAEP website currently being designed. They have completed a series of comprehensive documents to help students choose externships and internships that are right for their goals, as well as materials to help mentors assess interns’ progress and build an internship program that consistently attracts new veterinarians. They had several well-attended Roundtables and have had excellent reviews of their efforts. 

Young veterinarian standing next to black horse.
Veterinary students met with the AAEP Commission’s Student Subcommittee group to find the most effective ways to spread awareness about the positives of equine practice. | Getty Images

The Student Subcommittee members and a cross-section of equine-oriented veterinary students will be having an in-person meeting in June, where conversations will focus on the most effective ways to spread awareness about the many positive aspects of equine practice. A Speakers Bureau has been formed to provide experienced practitioners for SCAAEP groups to draw from for their members. Comer Research Consultants has prepared a survey for students, particularly those who have turned away from a career in equine medicine, in order to determine the most important reasons for their choices. 

The Steering Committee, made up of the AAEP officers and the co-chairs of each subcommittee met in person on July 6 to coordinate the Commission strategy for the remainder of 2023. The effort to transform equine practice is the most important strategic priority of the AAEP. This will help ensure that horses will continue to have access to veterinary care now and in the future.

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