Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Much is going on in Washington these days. The Obama administration and Congress are each grappling with an economic crisis that seems to grow more ominous every day. But at the same time, some things are happening that may also bode well for the future of veterinary medicine.
On Thursday, February 26, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia held a hearing entitled "Protecting Animal and Public Health: Homeland Security and the Federal Veterinarian Workforce."
The purpose of the hearing was to evaluate the contents of a recently completed study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office entitled "Veterinarian Workforce – Actions are Needed to Ensure Sufficient Capacity for Protecting Public and Animal Health." In it, the GAO documented that four of the five key federal agencies that employ veterinarians - the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service and the U.S. Army identified existing or potential shortages. The Food and Drug Administration did not identify a shortage at this time. The study also indicated that 27 percent of the veterinarians working at those agencies are eligible for retirement within three years, suggesting that these shortages will become even more serious.
I was pleased to see that both Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provided expert testimony during the hearing. Later this year, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council is expected to release the results of a major study they are conducting on the overall staffing situation of the entire profession. It seems clear the federal government is beginning to understand the vital role that veterinarians play in our national security and in society in general; studies such as this that document the problem are an important step in the sometimes frustrating process of trying to marshal federal support for our profession.
With respect to the latter, the AAVMC also hosted an Advocacy Summit during the same week. On Wednesday, February 25, a meeting designed to develop more powerful institutional strategies for colleges of veterinary medicine was held for university government relations officers and veterinary college deans. Scores of meetings were arranged for veterinary college deans and other representatives to meet with representatives, senators and key congressional staff-members.
On Friday, February 27, the American Veterinary Medical Association's Government Relations Division hosted a meeting featuring, among others, several representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During that meeting details regarding NIH funding opportunities made possible as part of the federal "stimulus" package were shared. The American Recovery and Investment Act (ARRA) of 2009 includes $1.6 billion for NIH, which is a remarkable step forward for science and medicine. One billion dollars has been budgeted to support construction, repair and renovation, $300 million has been budgeted for new equipment, and $300 million has been allocated to supplement existing programs that support scientific research. All of this is, obviously, very good news for academic veterinary medicine.
Working with the AVMA, AAVMC will continue to forge ahead with programs designed to procure the federal support our profession desperately needs. Having watched our profession's efforts in this area evolve over the past six years of my deanship, I have come to appreciate the merits of slow and steady progress.
Gerhardt G. Schurig
In This Issue...
With Help from Chilean Students, Treatment for Equine Heaves Could Bring Hope for Human Asthmatics
Careers in Veterinary Medicine Program Presented at College
VMRCVM Open House to be Held April 4
Second Annual Bob Duncan Memorial 5K to be Held April 4
Pharmacy Provides Hospital with Central Service
Care for High-Risk Mares and Health-Challenged Foals Available at the Equine Medical Center
Runde Keeping Eye On Maryland Profession From Historic St. Mary's County Practice
Much like asthma in humans, equine heaves is a chronic, often debilitating disease in horses. The symptoms can range from coughing, exercise and work intolerance to, eventually, labored breathing even at rest.
Dr. Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), is working at the molecular level to learn more about what causes this vexing disease.
"We look very closely at the pathogenesis of the disease," said Buechner-Maxwell, who is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM). "We want to know why this happens. Specifically, what goes wrong in the horse to allow it to develop this disease?"
Currently, Buechner-Maxwell is hosting two exchange students from Chile who are helping her answer this question; Dr. Marianne Werner, a veterinarian who is here earning her M.S. degree, and Sofia Oettinger, a veterinary student from the University of Austral who is conducting research at Virginia Tech as part of her senior thesis.
Together, they are investigating a particular receptor that is, in part, responsible for initiating the inflammatory process. They are looking for ways to modify the response of immune cells by using albuterol, a medication that is commonly prescribed to treat human asthma. Albuterol is often administered to help relax the muscle around the airways of the lung and increase airflow.
The results of these studies may be helpful to both horses and humans, since horses are one of the few animals that naturally develop an asthma-like syndrome. In addition, "heavey" horses also respond to all the same medications that asthmatic humans do.
While albuterol has been used for many years as a treatment for asthma, according to Buechner-Maxwell, it has been recently discovered that long-term use of the drug could actually pose a threat to those who take it. Buechner-Maxwell's lab is looking at the possibility of reducing the risk of long-term exposure to the drug by adding something as simple as magnesium.
"When albuterol binds with inflammatory cells, it sets off a whole of series of events, including one that is dependent on magnesium," explains Buechner-Maxwell. "By altering the amount of magnesium in the cell's environment, you can make it respond in a completely different way."
This modification could help both four-legged and two-legged patients.
"My goal is to find a more natural and cost effective treatment for horses which will eventually translate into better and safer treatments for people with asthma," said Buechner-Maxwell.
Buechner-Maxwell earned her D.V.M. from the VMRCVM in 1987. Prior to joining the faculty of the college in 1995, she was an instructor of equine internal medicine and a NIH postdoctoral research fellow for the division of pulmonary medicine in the Internal Medicine Department at the University of Michigan.
For the 18th consecutive year, "Careers in Veterinary Medicine," a 4-H series that provides a glimpse of the modern veterinary profession, is being presented on the VMRCVM's Virginia Tech campus. The series began on February 2 and will continue through March 23.
Sponsored by Seven Seas Veterinary Services, the VMRCVM, the Wildlife Center of Virginia and the Montgomery County 4-H Extension Office, the course is being held on Monday evenings from 7-8 p.m.
All classes are held in the VMRCVM's Classroom 102, which is located across from the Veterinary Medicine Library. Attendees are asked to enter via the Veterinary Teaching Hospital entrance and proceed to the left down the hall to the classroom.
The program, which has been organized by Dr. Keath Marx ('89), owner of Seven Seas Veterinary Services, provides registrants with an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics in the profession. The first few sessions gave participants a glimpse of wildlife and conservation medicine, necropsy and pathology, exotic animal medicine, and small animal radiology and ultrasound.
"Veterinary medicine is playing an ever-growing role in the world we live in," said Dr. Marx. "I think it's important that we help children learn as much as they can about this profession as they begin thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives."
Pre-registration is required and class size is limited to 40 children. Adult escorts or sponsors are invited if space is available at each of the events. Registrants need not be current members of 4-H.
The remaining scheduled topics and speakers include:
March 9 - Canine Acupuncture, Dr. Julie McGhee Settlage, clinical assistant professor, VMRCVM
March 16 - Equine Endoscopy, Dr. Laura Lee, large animal medicine graduate student and Dr. Olivia Schroeder, equine field service intern, VMRCVM
March 23 - Laboratory Animal Medicine, Dr. Marlice Vonck, TRACSS lab animal veterinarian, VMRCVM
All participants are invited to attend the veterinary college's annual Open House on April 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a tour of the facility and a variety of demonstrations.
For more information on the programs or on how to register, contact Dr. Keath Marx at email@example.com
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's annual "Open House" will be held on Saturday, April 4 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Visitors will have the opportunity to take guided tours of the 225,000 square foot complex, glimpse the inside of a dog's stomach, witness equine acupuncture, and learn about the modern veterinary medical profession, among other things.
At 10 a.m., veterinary students will begin conducting guided tours of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and other college facilities. Tours last approximately 60 minutes and will depart at fifteen-minute intervals throughout the day. A video entitled "Veterinary Medicine: It's More Than You Think" will be shown periodically throughout the day.
Children's stuffed animals can be "surgically repaired" during a "Teddy Bear Repair Clinic" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a lesson on dog safety for kids will also be featured.
Demonstrations and informational sessions on radiology, endoscopy, ultrasound, equine thermography, electron microscopy and other topics will also be presented throughout the day.
The day will feature a lecture at 10:30 a.m. entitled "Salmonella: What's in Your Peanut Butter?" by Dr. Kevin Pelzer.
Presentations on how to prepare a competitive application for veterinary college will be made at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., and presentations on equine colic will be featured at 10:30 a.m. and 12 p.m.
A silent auction featuring gift certificates and merchandise from local merchants as well as merchandise provided by VMRCVM clubs and organizations will be held from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
The annual Omega Tau Sigma Service Dog of the Year Award will be presented at 2 p.m. and the St. Francis of Assisi Service Dog Foundation will present a demonstration on how dogs are trained to help those with physical challenges.
The Second Annual Bob Duncan Memorial 5K will be held Saturday, April 4, at 9 a.m. All proceeds will benefit the Bob Duncan Memorial Diagnostic Veterinary Pathology Scholarship which awards a fourth year veterinary student for a commitment and zeal for diagnostic veterinary pathology.
"Dr. Duncan was a mentor and good friend," said Dr. Ellen Binder, an anatomic pathology resident in the college, who is helping to organize the race. "He was an avid runner who loved challenges and was always ready for the next race."
This year's entire run will be on the Virginia Tech cross country course and awards will be given to top finishers.
For safety reasons, no strollers or headphones will be permitted on the course during the race.
The entry fee is $15 if received by March 21 and $20 on race day. Blacksburg Striders members receive a $1 discount.
Packet pick-up and race day registration will begin at 7:30 a.m. on race day at the Virginia Tech Cross Country course on Duck Pond Dr. If registering the day of the race, participants are encouraged to arrive early as registration will close at 8:30 a.m.
That's roughly the number of prescriptions dispensed each year for the treatment of disease and pain in both hospitalized animals and outpatients by the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's in-house pharmacy.
Each and every one of these prescriptions must be carefully calculated and checked before being administered to patients and clients in order to avoid improper dosing or harmful drug interactions. This important responsibility belongs to Maureen Perry, a registered pharmacist, and her staff of pharmacy technicians.
"By checking doses, teaching students how to correctly calculate medication and making sure that the correct medicine is properly prepared and dispensed, we positively impact outcomes in our hospital," said Perry, a diplomate in the elite International College of Veterinary Pharmacy.
The Veterinary Teaching Hospital's pharmacy contains an inventory of over 1,000 different items, including intravenous fluids, oral and injectable drugs. The staff also creates custom preparations of special products, including chemotherapy agents and constant rate infusions, which provide hospital clinicians with access to precisely developed formulations that may not be commercially available.
They also stock and maintain computerized dispensing modules that provide clinicians with after-hours and emergency access to pharmaceuticals. These machines operate much like an ATM and allow quick access to a greater variety of medications when the pharmacy is closed.
"The work of our pharmacy staff requires incredible attention to detail and diligence," said Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the VTH. "Our veterinarians, technicians, students, and patients depend on such accuracy but because much of the work takes place behind the scenes, its value is often unappreciated."
Perry and her staff face a unique challenge since they are working with patients that cannot speak for themselves. Veterinary pharmacists and technicians must rely on the expertise of veterinarians and students who have been taught to carefully observe an animal and document their findings to "speak" for the patient.
In addition, while human and veterinary pharmacists receive the same core training, veterinary pharmacists must learn to calibrate medications for a variety of species in addition to the human doses they are familiar with dispensing.
However, she is quick to point out the job comes with its rewards: being involved in the clinical practice of veterinary medicine, teaching students about the correct use of pharmaceuticals, and assisting researchers in planning new and exciting projects.
"Our central location in the hospital is not an accident but a necessity, since our services are essential for many parts of the organization," said Perry.
Everyone likes to see a healthy baby enter the world. But in the equine world, welcoming a healthy foal can be a real challenge when the mare or the foal has health problems. Fortunately, at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, expert faculty and staff have enormous experience in helping achieve a good birthing outcome as well as an improved start in life for the foal.
"Our faculty who specialize in internal medicine typically care for 75-85 critically ill neonatal foals per year," said Dr. Martin Furr, professor of medicine and Adelaide C. Riggs Chair in Equine Medicine at the center. "Their extensive clinical skills come not only from many years of hands-on experience in equine neonatology, but also from their years of teaching specific techniques to other veterinarians at continuing education events. I think the experience developed by the EMC faculty over the years will be invaluable for the high-risk mares and sick foals that will be treated here this season."
The pregnant mare can suffer from a number of possible health issues and complications that can affect her foal. These include uterine or blood infections, problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, and special problems associated with carrying twins.
Foals can get off to a particularly rough start if they are born premature, if they have neonatal sepsis (an infection), hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen—also known as "dummy foal"), heart problems, or diarrhea. The first 30 days of life for a foal can be especially fraught with potential health problems because, during this time, they have a heightened susceptibility to bacteria and other dangers commonly found in their everyday surroundings.
Right now—and every year between January and June—mares and foals with health problems are brought to the Equine Medical Center where the hospital's clinical faculty provide a myriad of treatments that help return them to full health. And, whether it's the mare or the foal—or both— suffering from a health issue, they normally come to the EMC together. Mares and foals are typically kept in the same stall; this practice is both a convenience for the owner and a benefit to the patients.
"The challenge of working with these foals is that they often have diseases that involve several organs," said Furr. "When they arrive at the hospital, they are first examined by our internal medicine team, all of whom specialize in the physiologic interaction of the horse's internal systems. Throughout the foal's treatment, these board certified experts implement and oversee the care plan, along with help from residents, interns, and nurses," he said.
Additional help for foals comes from the attention they get from a caring group of volunteers who participate in the "Foal Watch" program, which has been in place at the EMC for 14 years. This program matches volunteers with cases requiring 24-hour attention; participants in the program sit with sick patients for assigned periods of time in order to help support the foals and keep them from becoming entangled in the many intravenous lines and tubes which may be in use. Volunteers also act as "nurses' aides" by being an extra set of eyes, ears, and helping hands to the veterinary technicians who administer the treatments.
This round-the-clock supervision from doctors, nurses, and volunteers provides the extra level of monitoring that the foals need to make sure that—given their weakened state—they avoid other complications. All of the caregivers carefully monitor the foals to see that they do not develop sores, eye infections, or imbalances in their blood chemistry.
The task of bringing a sick foal back to health can be extremely challenging and demanding, but everyone involved in the process finds much fulfillment in the endeavor. Clinicians at the Equine Medical Center say that they successfully discharge about 80 percent of neonates suffering serious illnesses from the hospital.
"When a foal is finally able to nurse, or when it takes its first steps—well, that makes it all worthwhile," said Furr. "When we see foals recover from being so sick and vulnerable, it's very gratifying. While not every patient recovers, we take great joy in seeing the ones who do go home happy and healthy."
Spend a little time with Dr. Chris Runde ('85) and that old Army marketing slogan "Be all that you can be" quickly comes to mind.
As president of the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, he and his colleagues are responsible for making sure that the profession of veterinary medicine is practiced according to the highest possible standards in the Free State.
As a veterinarian, he co-owns Tidewater Veterinary Hospital in historic St. Mary's County, Md, where he, his associates, and his staff provide high-quality clinical care for dogs, cats, horses, ruminants, and everything in between.
And as a family man, he, his wife and children operate 50-acre Briarpatch Farm in Mechanicsville, where they raise horses, Labrador retrievers, and ring-necked pheasants in a community where it is not uncommon to see an Amish horse and buggy amble down a country road.
Along the way, he's earned a black belt in Okinawan Shrin-Ryu karate, written for equine magazines, served on various community boards and committees, and been a member of the American and Maryland Veterinary Medical Associations for a quarter-century. He currently serves as secretary of the Maryland Veterinary Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships for veterinary students.
Runde has heeded some advice that he thinks he heard during his DVM commencement back in 1985. "If you go out and practice for 29 years, practice for 29 different years," he recalled. "Don't practice the same year 29 times."
Following his graduation, he took a job as an associate with Squire Veterinary Clinic in Upper Marlboro, Md. In December 1986, he was talking with his friend Dr. Michael Parks ('84), who was then practicing in Texas, about an ad for a practice that Parks had seen in the AVMA journal. Parks suggested Runde go take a look at it.
Tidewater was then owned and operated by Dr. Henry "Bud" Virts (who later went on to serve as Maryland's Secretary of Agriculture), and his partner, Dr. Clarence Little.
"I had been out of school for a year and a half and I was pretty danged young to be thinking about buying a practice," recalled Runde. But they took the risk, never looked back, and the practice continues to thrive as a bedrock part of the community.
They have hired several VMRCVM graduates over the years and have been uniformly pleased with their decisions. "We have a great comfort level with the VMRCVM graduates," said Runde. "We connect with them immediately because we know the culture, we know the faculty, and how they go about teaching."
Over the past quarter-century of practice, Runde has seen a number of advancements take place in the profession. Everybody talks about how technology has changed veterinary medicine, he says, but it is not just changes in diagnostic and therapeutic equipment that has changed the complexion of the profession.
Also important, he says, is the way technology has fostered the production and exchange of information between generalists, specialists and the animal-owning public.
"I think that the expectations of the animal-owning public have gotten much higher," he said, referring to clients who are better-educated about the capacity of modern veterinary medicine. "They are no longer necessarily 'astonished' about what is available in veterinary medicine."
Understanding the growing sophistication of the animal-owning public is an important part of the perspective that he brings to his duties in Annapolis. The Maryland state board, like others, is responsible for awarding licenses, evaluating cases involving professional care, and working with the state legislature and executive agencies to promulgate effective veterinary medical and animal-related policies, laws and regulations.
"It is very challenging, but it is fascinating," said Runde. "Every month when I sit down at the meeting I know that it is going to be tough. I know it is going to be a long day." But he knows that it is going to be a rewarding day as well because of the opportunity he has to work along-side a team of such dedicated professionals, not only on the board, but on the staff as well, he says.
Reviewing applications for licensure, he is constantly reminded of the vast diversity of veterinary medicine. He reviews applications from veterinarians who have worked with the armed forces, pharmaceutical corporations, government and other entities.
"There's just so much out there that a veterinarian can do, and really contribute to society, other than traditional 'fee-for-service' practice,' said Runde, who says he became interested in serving on the board in order to expand his experiences as a professional, explore the world of regulatory medicine, and give something back to the profession.
The Maryland board has taken significant steps forward in the past several years, according to Runde. Since attaining "Special Funding" status from the Maryland Legislature in 2004, they have hired a full-time executive director, an investigator, and an assistant attorney general.
That expanded staff has enabled Runde to move closer to his overarching goal, which he summarizes as having the board "be as accessible to the public as possible as we seek to fulfill our mission in protecting them and their animals by ensuring that the veterinary medicine practiced in Maryland is of the highest quality."
Runde understands the challenges facing the profession – including the need to train and employ more licensed veterinary technician- but believes that solutions will be found.
He's also been pleasantly surprised to see how well the public sector works. "I've been fortunate to see that government, at least in my small world of government, for the most part functions very well," he said. "There are very dedicated, very professional people there, people who work hard. They are making a really significant contribution to the state of Maryland."