The Business of Practice: Veterinary Sustainability and Social License

Dr. Tracy Turner discusses veterinary sustainability and what social license means to the equine veterinary industry.
Drs. Tracy Turner and Julia Wilson at an equitarian farrier workshop.
Dr. Tracy Turner and his wife, Dr. Julia Wilson, presenting farrier tools to a local during an equitarian trip.

Veterinary sustainability has become the number one focus of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). In this episode of The Business of Practice podcast, we speak with current AAEP Vice President Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, DACVS, DACVSMR. Turner also is a Fellow of the American Academy of Thermology. He owns Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Stillwater, Minnesota. Turner will be inducted as the president-elect of the AAEP at the 2023 AAEP Convention, then will assume the position of AAEP President in 2025.

Recognizing the Problem

“We recognized the problem (of veterinary sustainability) a couple of years ago when veterinarians began to retire and from one of our surveys of our membership we found out that 50% of those young equine practitioners were leaving within the first five years,” said Turner. “You could describe that as we were ‘bleeding’ practitioners.

“For those of us getting gray hair and ‘aging out’ of this (profession), it was obvious that at this rate equine veterinarians were unsustainable,” noted Turner. “We looked at where the pain points were and where we could make a difference. For the last two years, we have been working really hard to come up with some answers and moving forward on several different topics.”

Turner explained that the AAEP Commission on Veterinary Sustainability was formed to focus on five key areas: students, internships, compensation, practice culture and emergency duty. In the podcast, he commented on each of these areas, giving personal reflections on each category of concern.

He said the focus is that the equine veterinary industry still needs to attract and retain equine veterinarians.

Social License

Another “hot button” item for Turner is social license. This topic plays into veterinary sustainability because with out horses, there is no need for equine practitioners.

“There is a thing called ‘social license” where society allows us to work with horses,” explained Turner. “And there are people out there working daily against the way we use horses.

“What we used to be really respected for as equine practitioners was that we took an oath to the welfare of these animals that we hold so highly,” stressed Turner. “I’ll simply say that we need to work the oath. Act on the oath. Make sure that we do the best we can for the welfare of the horse each and every day.

“When we look at certain things, we need to make some changes,” he stated. “And if we don’t make changes and society takes horses away from us, we won’t need equine practitioners because there won’t be any horses left to work on….unless you want to go work with working equids around the world.”

Turner discussed veterinary sustainability and social license in respect to the Horse Protection Act and the failure of that ruling to protect horses from soring. “50 years down the road, we still have the same thing going on,” he said. “It might not be as bad, but it’s still there.”

He said there are ‘black eyes’ in many areas of our industry.

“The AAEP came out years ago with a stance on tail alterations, whether gaited horses or American Quarter Horses. And this stuff goes on,” said Turner. “We have to stand in front and just say no. If it is done for the health of the animal, I have no problem whatsoever. But if it’s done for cosmetic reasons or no reason medically whatsoever…come on! We can do better than that!”

Veterinary Sustainability of One

“I’m in the twilight of my career, but I’ve had a great veterinary career,” said Turner. “I may not have enjoyed every single minute of it, but I can’t imagine doing anything different. It’s been great. I can tell my clients ‘Thank you or paying me every day to play with horses.’ It was a dream I had as a young person, and I did it my whole life!”

Now that is veterinary sustainability!

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