to take adjunct and full or part-time faculty appointments to help train the next generation of public practice veterinarians. Working with government agencies at the state and federal levels, Centers could match strategic government needs to develop continuing educational programs in food safety, epidemiology, pathology, zoonotic diseases, environmental hazards, and other public health sciences. There is a great potential for agencies to outsource mission-focused training and education and potentially partner with public practice Centers of Excellence or Institutes.
Additional efforts by academia, veterinary professional organizations and the public sector are needed to increase the exposure of pre-veterinary and veterinary students to opportunities and important career paths that are available to veterinarians in public practice. For example, more postgraduate fellowships for public practice veterinarians are needed; paid public practice externships should be increased; and more student and postgraduate internships should be developed with national and international experiences.
An overarching critique contained in the GAO report was that agencies had conducted very little assessment of the kind of veterinary expertise that they need. FSIS was criticized specifically for not responding to a 2004 GAO recommendation that the agency assess “whether it has enough inspection resources, including veterinarians, dedicated to humane handling and slaughter activities.” GAO repeated the recommendation in its 2009 report, adding food safety to the list of responsibilities for which the agency should assess the sufficiency of its resources. The GAO’s review of veterinary positions in the government concluded that, in addition to current vacancies, an impending wave of retirements, and the absence of a comprehensive assessment of federal veterinary workforce needs, the government is likely to miss recruitment opportunities, use veterinarians inefficiently, and experience an insufficient workforce during critical disease outbreaks (GAO, 2009).
The last element of the GAO critique—an insufficient workforce during critical disease outbreaks—is particularly worrisome in light of the declining numbers of veterinarians engaged in private food-animal practice, described in Chapter 4. With less routine veterinary oversight in the private sector, the chance of an outbreak is increased. When an outbreak of disease in food animals occurs, veterinarians in the public and private sector are called on to coordinate activities in control and recovery operations. If no surge capacity exists in either the private or public sector, the spread of disease will be much more difficult to manage. The “poster child” for that kind of event is the 2002-2003 outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease of poultry, which ultimately required 1,250 veterinarians and a supporting workforce of nearly 5,000 working for almost a year to control the disease.