New York veterinarians can earn up to three continuing-education hours needed to maintain their licenses by providing free spays and neuters, according to a law that takes effect Feb. 2.
The state law is meant to encourage veterinarians to work pro-bono to curb pet overpopulation. Its good intentions aside, the law is drawing criticism from veterinarians around the country. They say swapping required training for volunteer work defeats the purpose of CE — to protect the public and further their education.
"Once a veterinarian gets proficient with spays, there is NO CE benefit to be had in lieu of keeping up with science, medicine and technology. Crazy," said Dr. Alan Fudge of Greenville, South Carolina. "Makes about as much sense as documenting one changing flat tires for people gratis, in exchange for CE credits."
Fudge shared his perspective on the Veterinary Information Network, an online community of veterinarians, where a number of practitioners questioned the rationale for such a law. Dr. Dana Coover of Phelps, New York, suggested a tax credit or surcharge on the purchase of intact dogs and cats might be a more appropriate means for reducing numbers of unwanted animals.
"I love that idea of decreasing the unwanted pet population but as an alternative to some CE credits? No way," she said in the VIN discussion.
To satisfy state licensure requirements, veterinarians licensed in New York must complete at least 45 hours of formal CE every three years. Up to 22.5 hours of the required time may be fulfilled by self-instructional coursework.
The new allowance permits practitioners to earn up to three self-instructional CE hours by providing free sterilizations or other unspecified volunteer services for nonprofits, animal control agencies and municipalities. For every hour of volunteer service, veterinarians will earn a half-hour of CE credit.
Veterinarians still must complete core CE requirements established by the state, according to the New York State Board for Veterinary Medicine.
The New York State Veterinary Medical Society supports giving veterinarians incentives to volunteer their services but expressed concerns to lawmakers that trading pro-bono work for CE credit was inappropriate, said Jennifer Mauer, executive director.
CE is designed to build continued competencies, whereas spaying and neutering is considered a "basic service for which instruction and training is provided in veterinary school," she said by email.
Estimates on numbers of unwanted animals in the state are unavailable. According to local media, the New York State Department of Health is charged with maintaining records of shelter euthanasias but does not have accurate data, chiefly because shelters hire private practitioners to do the work and/or fail to file the required paperwork with state officials.
Shelters are overcrowded, particularly in Manhattan, which take in roughly 35,000 animals a year. Animal Care Centers of NYC, one of the largest animal-welfare organizations in the country, pleaded with the public for help after taking in 10,000 cats during the first half of 2015, calling the intake numbers "staggering." The Humane Society of the United States is among those hoping the new law might ease the problem. The nonprofit lobbied for the passage of Senate bill 4449, which passed the General Assembly in June.
"Veterinarians can gain substantial knowledge through their involvement in spay/neuter work," HSUS Director Brian Shapiro said in a Nov. 7 press release. "Plus, this new change could help alleviate pet overpopulation and reduce the number of animals euthanized at New York shelters."
On VIN, Dr. Susan Powell, a shelter director in San Luis Obispo, California, suggested there may be an upside to the novel spay-neuter incentive — fewer unwanted animals.
"I think that if this is something that interests you as a vet and you can get CE for it, awesome," she said. "If it does not interest you, don't do it."