Business Trends from the 2013 AAEP Convention

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Credit: Courtesy Wisconsin Equine Based on more than 2,500 responses from 2013 graduates to an annual survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinary students are 22.6% male and 77.4% female.

Credit: Courtesy Wisconsin Equine Based on more than 2,500 responses from 2013 graduates to an annual survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinary students are 22.6% male and 77.4% female.

“61 Minutes—The Business Management News Hour and a Little Bit More for the Equine Practitioner” was the hands-down winner as the presentation offering the most information in the least amount of time at the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Convention on Dec. 7-11, 2013.

Presenters Robert Magnus, DVM, from the Wisconsin Equine Clinic and Hospital in Oconomowoc, Mike Pownall, DVM, from McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Kathleen M. Anderson, DVM, from Equine Veterinary Care, PC, in Elkton, Maryland, shared nuggets of information on a diverse array of topics, from health care to students, from the employment climate to racing news, technology, and welfare.

Highlights included:

About social media Social media continues to grow in scope and in importance according to a snappy video that confirmed Marshall McLuhan’s proclamation that the “medium is the message.” Among the tidbits of information:

  • More than 90% of marketers use social media in their campaigns. It is the number one activity on the Internet, surpassing email, which has become passé among younger people.
  • Some universities have stopped distributing email accounts.
  • Facebook has one billion users, making it the third-largest country in the world, behind China and India.
  • Over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30.
  • In 10 years, over 40% of today’s Fortune 500 businesses will not exist.
  • One in five couples meets online; one in five divorces is blamed on Facebook.
  • A Ford Explorer launch on Facebook generated more traffic than a Super Bowl advertisement.
  • LinkedIn adds two new members every second.
  • YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world.
  • If Wikipedia were made into a book, it would be 2.25 million pages long, and growing.
  • Ninety per cent of consumers trust peer recommendations.
  • New Yorkers received tweets about an East Coast earthquake 30 seconds before they felt it.

The growth of social media has generated a new word, “socialnomics,” suggesting that social media is the equivalent of “word of mouth on digital steroids.”

What is the effect of all this? People no longer will search for products and services. Instead, the products and services will find us through social media.

About students and veterinary education Based on more than 2,500 responses from 2013 graduates to an annual survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinary students are 22.6% male and 77.4% female. Of those students who responded, 38.5% had not received a job offer. This number was an increase over the previous year and represented a trend of declining job offers to new graduates, but it might not be as bad as it sounds. Some 98% of students who graduated in 2011 and 2012 were employed within six months after graduation.

Student debt remains a serious problem. An average of 10% of students graduate with no debt; 24%-32% have student debt of more than $200,000. Especially problematic is that the debt-to-income ratio for the graduating DVM is two times that for a new MD, a situation that “doesn’t look sustainable” for equine practitioners, according to Anderson. Mean starting salaries in 2013 for equine practitioners were the lowest among all categories, $57,000 for males and $43,000 for females, compared to $78,000 for food animal practitioners and $69,000 for companion animal veterinarians.

The bleak economic outlook has fostered increased interest in student mental health resources. According to published reports, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, with untreated depression the leading cause of suicide. Anderson said that the suicide rate among veterinarians is three to four times the rate of the general population, and twice that of other health care professionals.

A student health and welfare summit was held at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013, and more than half the states have wellness programs for veterinary professionals. Unfortunately, some 54% of veterinarians were unaware of the programs and only 2% participate.

The AVMA lists a number of resources for help at www.avma.org/wellness, and the AAEP plans to offer similar online resources.

About the employment climate A survey of the United States veterinary workforce published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA, June 1, 2013) found a surplus of 12.5%, representing overcapacity or underutilization of veterinarians. The position of the AVMA is that the situation would even out if owners spent more money on the care of their animals. The situation is worse for equine veterinarians, where the excess capacity is 23%. The demand for veterinary services needs to increase 14% to meet the 2012 figures for full employment

The inflation-adjusted income for all veterinarians over the last eight years is down approximately 10%.

Equine practice growth is projected to be approximately 19% by 2025, which amounts to an annual increase of 1.4%. Compared to the projected growth of the U.S. economy (around 3% annually), the growth of equine practices is falling behind. A challenge will be for equine veterinarians to educate animal owners about the value of veterinary care or their animals.

The veterinary job market appears to be improving. At the time of the convention the AAEP Career Board listed 32 jobs, compared to the same number in 2012 and 15 in 2011. Twenty-two veterinary technician jobs were offered on the AAEP website.

About industry trends Merck Animal Health and Henry Schein Animal Health, in conjunction with AAEP, conducted a “National Equine Veterinary Economic Study” in 2013. Among the results of the survey: A positive trend among practices experiencing an increase in gross sale and that stress and financial security were the most common concerns among practice owners and associates. Results of the survey are available at www.GoodBusinessIsGoodMedicine.com.

Zoetis became the world’s largest animal health company following a split from Pfizer. Merck Chairman and CEO Ken Frazier suggested that he was considering splitting Merck Animal Health from the parent company in light of the success of an independent Zoetis.

Client trust and confidence was challenged by a late-year “20/20” program on the ABC network titled “Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest with You?” Dealing specifically with the small animal and companion animal markets, the program suggested that veterinarians were steering animal owners toward unnecessary and costly treatments.

Universities have increased the scope of their veterinary services, adding competition to private practices. One example is Ruffian Equine Specialists Hospital operated by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine near Belmont Park in New York.

A federal district judge ordered the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) to register cloned horses. (The lower court’s registration order is on hold while the AQHA appeals the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

About racingThe health of horse racing often is an indicator of the overall health of the equine industry, and by inference, an indicator of the health of equine veterinary practices across the country. Mucho Macho Man, winner of the $5-million Breeder’s Cup Classic, represents the kind of success story we need to hear: Successful new owner in the business; small stable of 12 horses; female trainer; continuing to race; a sound and healthy five-year-old that is still winning.

Overall, based on information from The Jockey Club

  • Thoroughbred foal numbers still are in decline;
  • The number of races and total pari-mutuel revenue are flat or slightly decreasing;
  • Purses showed a slight increase in 2013;
  • The average earnings per horse was $19,000;
  • The annual maintenance cost for a horse in training ranged from $20,000-$40,000;
  • Horses are making fewer starts per year, averaging 6.31 starts/horse in 2012;
  • The average field size continues to decline, to 7.89 horses/race in 2012;
  • Total number of horses sold at auction bottomed out in 2012 and increased in 2013;
  • Keeneland had a “dramatic” year for bloodstock sales in 2013.

The Standardbred industry is improving slowly, but steadily, across the board.

Quarter Horse racing registered slight increases in both number of races and purses, which resulted in a 5% increase in earnings per starter.

The AAEP Board of Directors approved recommendations made by the Racing Committee Task Force to support implementation of Uniform National Racing Reforms, including a schedule of controlled medications, standard testing protocols, ongoing reviews, training and educational efforts.

About animal welfare The American College of Animal Welfare was recognized as a veterinary specialty organization by the AVMA in 2013. From the organization’s website (www.acaw.org):

  • “Ensuring good animal welfare has been intuitively recognized as a critical goal of veterinary medical practice since its inception. However, during the past twenty years, animal welfare has expanded exponentially as a distinct discipline of veterinary medicine. In recognition of this expansion of knowledge, ACAW believes it is time to offer advanced animal welfare training, education, and board certification to ensure the veterinary profession continues to lead in advancing animal welfare knowledge for the benefit of the public and the profession.
  • “Veterinarians educated to an advanced level in all aspects of animal welfare science and ethics are uniquely positioned to step forward to provide the public, general veterinary practitioners, and other stakeholders with accurate information, advice, and advanced expertise concerning animal welfare questions and challenges.”
  • Animal welfare issues include how to negotiate the political landscape surrounding horse slaughter and how to manage the wild horse crisis in the West.

About technology Major news in an amazing year for technology was the introduction of Google Glasses, a frame with a tiny screen above the wearer’s right eye that displays various kinds of information and images. Applications relevant to veterinary practice include the potential for a surgeon to retrieve information, including radiographs, on the Google Glasses screen during a procedure, without leaving the operating room.

The most important trend in technology is the growth of the “mobile world” relying on multiple devices. People use a smart phone for some things, a tablet for others, and maybe a laptop, while sales of desktop computers are falling dramatically. Veterinarians need to adapt to the new technology, which is changing almost daily. Many applications are applicable to equine practice. For example, smart phone apps now can generate an electrocardiogram reading by simply pressing the device against a horse’s chest.

Google now offers a service that allows people to talk to animal behaviorists for a small per-minute charge. It is not clear whether veterinarians can provide similar online services due to provisions in state veterinary practice laws. A Texas veterinarian was suspended in 2013 by the state veterinary board for giving online advice, and the requirement for a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship provides some protection against unauthorized online competition.

About business management trends According to a 2005 survey published in JAVMA (Jan. 15, 2005), 62% of veterinary practices were not using “financial concepts” to manage their practices. The same survey reported that practices using sound financial concepts earned two-thirds more than practices that did not. Sound business management principles are more important than ever as practices face a slow economy and decreased profitability.

One way to decrease costs while benefitting from greater expertise is to outsource tasks such as office support, accounting and bookkeeping, management reports, social media support, evaluating strategic partnerships, inventory analysis, benchmarking services, human resources management, marketing and payroll.

Inventory management can be streamlined through the use of bar coding systems. Ambulatory practices are beginning to use GPS tracking for veterinary vehicles to improve scheduling and to make responses to field calls more efficient.

Finally, interns from business schools may be able to handle some of the non-veterinary work, such as computer network infrastructure, finance and accounting, inventory management, marketing and facility design.

Finally, AAEP has introduced a new program—“AAEP Touch”—aimed at providing a variety of tools to connect equine veterinarians to their clients and horses. AAEP Touch is a members-only program accessed through the AAEP website.

About the economy and the marketplace The new health care act presents challenges for veterinarians, their staff and their employees. The government estimates are that health care costs will exceed 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product by 2090. Even if that projection does not come true, solutions to the rising costs of health care must be found. The veterinary profession faces rising costs and slow growth, with decreases in profits in some practices and in discretionary household income.