Vets Seek Solutions to Declining Number of Equine Practitioners

Is there a horse doctor in the house?

If the job trend for veterinary school graduates continues as it has for the past few years, then the answer might be "no." Concern was raised at the 2002 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention due to the declining number of students entering equine practice when finishing veterinary school. "There is an acute shortage of new graduates entering equine practice," noted Dr. Bill Rood, a founding partner in Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.

This potential crisis caused Rood and some of his peers from across the country to come up with the idea of "The Introduction to Equine Practice Weekend Seminar," which will be held Aug. 29-31 in Lexington.

"Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and its supporting sponsors--Milburn Distributions, the Bayer Corp., Boehringer-Ingelheim, Fort Dodge, Intervet, Merial, and private practices from around the country--are hosting the first Introduction to Equine Practice Weekend Seminar to provide the prospective equine practitioner with an introductory view of all aspects of equine practice, from the large hospital setting to the independent practitioner, at nominal or no expense to the student," noted Rood. "Students will be given the opportunity to meet successful equine practitioners from around the country, as well as other veterinary students with similar interests. In addition to this professional contact and camaraderie, students will be treated to scenic tours of the world famous Kentucky horse country know as the Bluegrass."

This seminar will be an annual event for veterinary students entering their junior year, noted Rood. To be eligible, students must be national members of their school's student chapter of the AAEP, and registration is only available through AAEP student chapters. The seminar will be held at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.

Rood said that based on the dwindling number of graduating veterinary students choosing to pursue equine practice, he expected maybe 100 students to sign up for the weekend. Currently there are 383 students signed up to attend.

Many students don't think the income in equine practice is comparable to that for other veterinarians, but what was discovered by a 1999 survey published in Veterinary Equinomics was that it's just the starting salaries that are lower. After about eight years of practice, equine veterinarians average higher salaries than most other practitioners.

Rood said that new paradigms need to be created for tomorrow's equine practitioner that address starting salaries and the facts that most veterinary students are women, and most veterinarians today don't want to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, 365 days a year, as has been traditional for many equine practitioners.

Benefits to Students and the Industry

"There are many new challenges and opportunities facing equine veterinary medicine as it moves into the 21st Century," said Tom Lenz, president of the AAEP. "In order to ensure the continued highest standards in equine veterinary care, we must attract the best and the brightest from the student ranks. Accomplishing this is one of the AAEP's major strategic goals, and we applaud Rood and Riddle's efforts to proactively address the issue."

"The equine industry is very broad and diversified," said Dr. Tom Brokken, a racetrack practitioner in Florida and one of the speakers at the seminar. "You can work for a state or government organization as a regulatory veterinarian, or you can work with any kind of horse you want.

"The great part of equine practice on the racetrack is there is no place you see more lamenesses than in racehorses, and it's fun and what's kept me 33 years in this kind or practice," said Brokken. "It's the pro sports of equine practice, and the intense atmosphere is unique. I also want to encourage new veterinarians to get into group practices to not only glean knowledge from your colleagues, but to get better work hours."

Brokken and other speakers will be available during roundtable discussions and for informal chats between seminar sessions and during the tours.

Dr. Bonnie Rush is the new assistant dean for career development at Kansas State University, as well as having clinical teaching responsibilities. In this new position, she will be mentoring students from the time they graduate from high school until they are ready to begin their careers, including externships, residencies, and PhD programs.

With this challenging curriculum for students, Rush says that, "It's important for students to recognize early in their career that there's more to their careers than medicine. The difference between being successful has to do with non-technical skills such as management, communication, and people skills. Students need to develop these skills early.

"It's important for the industry to identify the brightest and the best early in their careers and make sure they are prepared and don't become frustrated in the early years," she added. "Rood and Riddle have selected successful people to show the challenges of veterinary medicine, but show it's an exciting career after you get over the hump the first five to seven years. The universities are usually the ones that spend that 'selfless' money, but universities don't have that money any more. We need to take the lead in mentoring our future."


Speakers include Dr. Kent Allen, Virginia Equine Imaging, who has attended many Olympic-level athletes from his practice that focuses on top-level sports medicine, lameness, and diagnostic imaging; Dr. Rachel Bourne, Wisconsin Equine Clinic, an ambulatory practitioner with special interests in ophthalmology, acupuncture, and chiropractic; Dr. Larry Bramlage, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, a board certified surgeon specializing in equine orthopedics; Brokken, president of a seven veterinarian equine medicine and surgery practice dedicated exclusively to Thoroughbred racehorses; Dr. Andrew Clark, of California, who after 21 years of practice now is an equine veterinary practice management consultant; Dr. Linda Galbraith, Hilltop Animal Clinic in Florida, an ambulatory practitioner with primary interests in reproduction, preventative care, and emergency; Dr. Marsha Heinke, a practice management consultant specializing in tax and accounting; Dr. Gayle Leith, Arizona Equine Medical & Surgical Centre, a general practitioner with interests in dentistry, lameness, preventative medicine, and reproduction; Dr. Rhonda Rathgeber, Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates in Kentucky, an ambulatory practitioner with special interests in lameness, ultrasound, and radiology; Rush, Kansas State University college of Veterinary Medicine, an assistant dean of career development and a professor of equine internal medicine with research interests in equine pulmonary function; Rood, formerly an ambulatory practitioner and now a full-time hospital administrator; and Dr. Deborah Spike-Pierce, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, an ambulatory practitioner with a primary focus on lameness and radiology.