From the Editor: Open letter to veterinarians on state of industry, transparency red flags

This letter went out in an email earlier today to about 200 people. I have made a few tweaks and am now publishing it for full distribution. Please circulate widely.

Dear All,

The announcement by MSPCA-Angell in Boston two weeks ago that the hospital was cutting back its emergency services, which I wrote about for The Canine Review, prompted me to try to engage the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association)’s chief economist, Matthew Salois, PhD 📊 Salois, in a wide-ranging discussion about issues facing the veterinary profession. After speaking with Angell’s director of emergency services Dr. Margaret Whalen (you’ll be able to read more in the upcoming story — the story in which I had hoped to get Dr. Salois’s input), I felt that these issues deserved more than “business as usual” which is why I refused the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association)‘s request to reduce them to what I felt would have been an inappropriate context and oversimplification: via email journalism with press aides. The only right way to “spin” these issues is by engaging in them openly and thoughtfully.

I also learned that Angell had been the only major emergency hospital in the area that had not taken this step already, so they had admirably persevered even as others reduced hours or closed, thereby increasing the hospital’s caseload even more. No veterinary practice seems to be immune, not even a world-renowned non-profit teaching hospital in a major city.

In my capacity as a reporter, there’s an obligation to elevate the conversation, steer it into a broader context, and engage readers. My efforts to engage the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) have resulted in the association shunting me off to its PR flacks for an email interview.

That probably does not surprise many of you, given that the AVMA operates the way a lot of large bureaucracies operate. However, it struck me that the conversations taking place about staffing shortages, student debt outpacing inflation, burnout, depression… all need to stop happening on a closed Veterinary Information Network message board, largely because those discussions exclude veterinary support staff, industry leaders, policymakers, regulators, and clients.

Does anyone reading this really think it makes sense to hold any discussion about the state of the industry and the way forward without engaging veterinary support staff? And what about the leaders of startups? Should they all be totally excluded? Is that a practical way forward?

The AVMA’s chief economist – the individual ostensibly tasked with coming up with the way forward – is either unwilling or unable to engage in an open discussion with an industry reporter. Why would someone with so much responsibility working on matters of such consequence not want to discuss these issues directly with an industry reporter?

For you and for your profession – this is not about the press and it’s not about me – I want to encourage you to insist that these discussions start occurring in public forums and that the AVMA’s leaders actively engage more people, particularly veterinary support staff like the technician I spoke with yesterday who used the word “demoralized” when describing the mood. And I want to suggest that you call for – insist to the AVMA – on more direct engagement with trade reporters beyond VIN News, whose reporters are required to operate under a quote approval policy whereas organizations like this entity and the NYT prohibit this practice (see here for the best explanation of the problems with quote approval).

All of us accept that accountability and transparency are indicators of institutional health; we use transparency in the study of international relations to evaluate the overall health of countries. Strong, independent reporting facilitates accountability; so I hope you encourage the AVMA’s leaders to make themselves available to reporters when we ask them about these most important challenges, especially because, as it turns out, this stuff isn’t about them – – it’s about all of you.

Meantime, if you have insights or suggestions on how I might cover these issues, I would welcome hearing from you.




Founder and Executive Editor

The Canine Review