NAVMEC: Just the Facts

NAVMEC: Just the Facts

Here it is, all on one place: Just the facts about the North American Education Consortium (NAVMEC) presented in a question and answer format. We've tried to anticipate and answer every question you might have. Why? Why now? How was the report developed? Other than what you can find in the report itself, all the background is here -- the history, goal, process, and how the report plans to shape the future of veterinary medical education.

What is NAVMEC

NAVMEC is a consortium of people representing more than 100 stakeholder groups of veterinary medical education who came together to ensure that veterinary medical education is flexible enough to meet society’s changing needs. It looks at the competencies or skills that all veterinary medical students need to have when they graduate regardless of the field they intend to pursue and how that integrates with the accreditation of veterinary medical schools and colleges, national and state board testing, and state licensing of veterinarians to practice. NAVMEC evolved out of several initiatives over the years and, quite frankly, it happened because of rapidly changing educational advancements and changing world conditions.

A nine-member board of directors governed NAVMEC with members drawn from from the “three legs of the academic veterinary medicine stool”—education, accreditation, and testing/licensing. They brought a well-rounded, comprehensive perspective to the initiative.

How did NAVMEC become an AAVMC initiative?

In 2005 and 2006, the AAVMC brought together stakeholders of veterinary medical education and produced the Foresight Report, which included 45 recommendations. As the AAVMC considered next steps, it became clear that planning would require bringing stakeholders together to agree on core competencies for all graduating veterinarians. The AAVMC's mission calls for leading efforts, as a catalyst and convener, to review, evaluate and improve veterinary medical education in order to prepare graduates with the competencies needed to address societal change. From previous initiatives, the AAVMC had already laid the groundwork and was equipped to mobilize and bring together as many veterinary stakeholders as possible in shaping the future of veterinary education. As people heard about the initiative, momentum built and people and organizations wanted to get involved.

Why now, why the urgency?

To continue to remain relevant to society, veterinary medical education needs to continually adapt. The world is becoming more urbanized, demographics are changing, and education, the economy, and technology are all undergoing rapid, monumental change. The tradition of academic veterinary medicine — as evidenced by the Pew Report, Foresight Report, and now NAVMEC -- is that academic veterinary medicine prefers to plan and compile the best ideas to chart its course. With NAVMEC, academic veterinary medicine will continue to be one step ahead of change.

Why NAVMEC now when the economy is not good?

If not now, when? If anything, the current economic climate adds even more urgency to the mandate to be proactive and plan for future for academic veterinary medicine. Changes in public support for higher education are occurring rapidly with major repercussions on programs and student debt. It’s no secret that with today’s economy it is more challenging to raise resources to implement change, but today’s financial challenges also are an important reason to move forward with efficient change that maintains or increases the quality of education for veterinary medical students.

How was the report developed?

It was a very thoughtful process. NAVMEC brought a professional program manager and facilitator on board in order to be as objective as possible and involve many stakeholders. The initiative cast a large net and identified and invited as many groups as possible -- all AAVMC member colleges/schools of veterinary medicine and departments of comparative medicine and veterinary science, veterinary medical students, accrediting bodies of colleges of veterinary medicine, state/national examination boards, state licensing representatives, allied industries, employers of veterinarians, animal welfare groups, livestock industry organizations—all were invited to participate.

Then, in 2010, NAVMEC convened three national meetings involving approximately 400 stakeholders who represented stakeholder groups to identify what society will need from veterinarians over the next 20-30 years, look at different successful educational models that are in place now or might be in place in the future, and examine what core competencies all graduates of veterinary medical education will need, especially given societal trends and developments.

The AAVMC compiled input from the three stakeholder meetings, drafted an initial report, and submitted it to the NAVMEC board of directors. The NAVMEC board submitted the report to the AAVMC board which, in turn, decided to hold a consultative period to solicit and obtain stakeholder input.

How did the AAVMC collect feedback on the draft report?

There was a six-month consultative period. The AAVMC posted the draft report on the NAVMEC website, created a survey tool to collect feedback, hired a marketing and public relations firm to get the word out, held informational webinars, and presented the draft report at state and national veterinary meetings and conferences.

What kind of feedback did you receive on the report?

During the six-month consultative period, more than 350 respondents provided both quantitative feedback, via the survey tool, and qualitative feedback through more than 100 pages of comments and emails. Survey feedback on the draft report was broadly positive, with 80 percent of respondents either supporting or strongly supporting the draft recommendations overall. With the qualitative feedback, there was really quite a remarkable outpouring of thoughts and ideas and the NAVMEC board of directors considered it all.

How did NAVMEC incorporate feedback?

The NAVMEC board of directors took the feedback, analyzed it, and after in-depth discussion and evaluation, revised the report to address the concerns or misconceptions that emerged during the report’s consultative phase.

NAVMEC restructured the report somewhat to group several skills, knowledge, and aptitude competencies into one overarching category of “professional competence,” and also made sure to place more of an obvious emphasis on the continued importance of scholarship and research.

By having such a concentration of minds and a focused effort from leaders of a broad spectrum of stakeholders of veterinary medical education, NAVMEC was able to put together a report and recommendations for the AAVMC board of directors that represents some of the best thinking on how to prepare for the future of academic veterinary medicine in North America.

What did you learn during that consultative period?

NAVMEC learned how important it is to balance the need for specific suggestions with the recognition that each college is unique and has unique strengths. So the report is not prescriptive but it does make specific recommendations that the Consortium felt all schools could consider implementing. This process also highlighted how the colleges/schools of veterinary medicine, Council on Education, and testing/licensure organizations are continually making changes and responding to the needs of society.

What are the report’s main findings or conclusions?

The report recommends that all veterinary medical education graduates achieve competency in three main areas: 1) multispecies knowledge plus clinical competence in one or more species or disciplines; 2) “One Health” competency related to the intersection of animal, human and environmental health; and 3) the development of professional competencies. Professional competencies include communications, collaboration, management, lifelong learning related to scholarship and research, diversity and multicultural awareness, and the ability to adapt to changing environments. In addition, NAVMEC recognizes that each college/school may include additional competencies and leverage their individual areas of emphasis, excellence, and strengths.

Can all of the core competencies be measured?

In education, we find ways to teach new skills and assess them all the time. Management and communication skills might be different than clinical veterinary medicine skills, but they can be taught, measured, and assessed. Business schools and medical schools have developed ways to effectively teach professional skills, measure them, and assess them. Veterinary medical education can learn from these professions and collaborate with them to develop quality educational experiences for veterinary medical students.

How do we know whether the recommendations will work without diluting the rigor of veterinary medical education?

The Consortium did not recommend less academic rigor. NAVMEC recognizes the excellent current educational programs at all AAVMC member institutions. The report also recognizes the need for context. Medical knowledge is important, and it is very important for a veterinarian to effectively communicate that knowledge to clients in a cultural context that they can understand and follow. Veterinary medical researchers need to work collaboratively and benefit from the accumulated knowledge that can lead to the implementation of scientific breakthroughs. The report recommends that academic veterinary medicine work to produce well-rounded graduates who possess medical and clinical skill and the professional competence to put it into practice.

Have any recommendations been put into practice?

Yes. NAVMEC learned that AAVMC member institutions are continually evolving and changing and that several NAVMEC recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being developed and implemented already. The NAVMEC national meeting presentations and discussions have been a great help to several curriculum committees as they continually look at their programs and make changes.

Who funded NAVMEC?

NAVMEC has been financially supported by AAVMC member institutions, the AAVMC and more than 100 co-sponsors. Stakeholders stepped forward and contributed more than $500,000 to fund the initiative, even during a financially challenging time. NAVMEC co-sponsors represent a broad spectrum of veterinary stakeholders including organized veterinary medicine, industry, government agencies, and individuals.

Where will the funds come from to implement the recommendations?

It is clear that no one group alone can implement all the recommendations. Funds will need to come from a combination of sources. Many of the recommendations don’t require funding as much as they require creativity, an understanding of how the recommendations will help the institution, and a change in mindset. But there is a need to invest in some changes and we recognize that it’s not a good economic time for that. Industry certainly may play a role and there may be educational grants that encourage innovative ways to teach. The important thing is to get started, make progress, and show prospective investors the successes that many colleges/schools can make.

We hear a lot about One-Health and wellness/prevention programs. Does the NAVMEC report and recommendations cover these important issues?

Yes, One Health isn’t a new concept, but now we have a huge opportunity to come together and leverage this important collaboration to meet societal needs and expectations. Veterinarians are highly educated and bring a unique comparative medicine perspective that enables them to be of tremendous benefit to society. We need to step forward and take a lead role in bringing together human medicine and environmental health and make sure that veterinarians are major players in the One Health arena.

There have been several veterinary medical education studies and reports over the past 25 years. Why is NAVMEC different and why do you think these recommendations are any better or will succeed?

This is the first time a report on academic veterinary medicine actively sought input, ideas, suggestions and feedback from such a wide variety of stakeholders, including accreditation and licensing. It was definitely coordinated on a broader scale than previous reports. Plus, there’s a tremendous amount of resolve and determination to make sure that the report doesn’t just sit on a shelf. The AAVMC is investing resources and developing plans to follow up on the final report and recommendations, assist schools/colleges, accreditation bodies, and testing/licensing entities in implanting individualized changes, and report on progress.

It seems today that finances and economics dominate all discussions concerning education, students, and veterinary practices. Does NAVMEC address these issues and what recommendations will help with these important issues?

There was overwhelming agreement on the importance of addressing economic issues. One of the most popular recommendations was one to provide financial counseling for veterinary medical students. There’s also a recommendation for colleges/schools to find ways to share courses and educational resources with cost-saving in mind and maintaining and providing the highest quality of education. The report advocates promoting student loan re-structuring and debt forgiveness, something that the AAVMC actively pursues through legislative advocacy. The report recommends that the leadership of AAVMC work with the AVMA and other stakeholders to identify effective ways to promote the value of veterinary medicine to human, animal and environmental health to policy-makers, community leaders, and society in general. The plan would include strategies for funding a working interdisciplinary committee to devise a plan to work with animal, public health, and environmental organizations for support of academic veterinary medicine, as well as convene an educators and employers workshop to look for ways to address the issue of the ratio of student debt to graduate starting salary. There were other recommendations as well. At the school or college level, the report encourages innovation and flexibility when it comes to economic issues, but it is not prescriptive.

We know that veterinary medicine is the least diverse of all the health professions in the U.S. and that AAVMC has been the leader in providing assistance and information to colleges concerning diversity issues. Does NAVMEC address this issue?

Yes, the report encourages the active recognition and understanding of a broad definition of diversity. It also recommends as a core competency that veterinary medical students demonstrate an understanding of the manner in which culture and belief systems impact delivery of veterinary medical care while recognizing and appropriately addressing biases in themselves, in others, and in the process of veterinary medical care delivery.

As the result of NAVMEC, will veterinary medical students be taught differently and learn about different issues than today’s graduates?

NAVMEC recommends working the development of the professional competencies into the curriculum, but the exact method of teaching those skills is left up to the schools and depends upon how accrediting and licensing groups work with the schools to measure those skills. The three national NAVMEC meetings highlighted many of the innovative ways that the schools/colleges teach veterinary medical students and NAVMEC clearly recognizes that there are many successful models to teach veterinary medical education. As mentioned previously, the colleges/schools recognize that societal needs constantly change and competencies and curricula at the schools/colleges will always evolve in individual ways to meet the unique needs of each college/school. The accreditation and testing/licensing processes will need to continue to be flexible to allow the colleges/schools to be creative and find innovative ways to implant changes that allow new graduates to have the knowledge and competencies society needs.

Is NAVMEC uncharted territory?

In a way, yes, because this kind of coming together of all veterinary medical education stakeholders is unprecedented. But it’s not uncharted territory in the sense that many of the other health professions are also dealing with – or have already dealt with and continually deal with – the same issues and challenges. Human medicine and dentistry, for example, have already taken a hard look at the way their schools educate physicians and dentists, and many of the professional competencies and recommendations were the same as those in the NAVMEC report.