The July 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) includes three letters to the editor from veterinarians critical of the accreditation policies of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and JAVMA’s coverage of the issue.
The letters, available online to JAVMA subscribers, were prompted by a May 15 JAVMA article about the accreditation of foreign veterinary schools. One letter questions JAVMA’s ability to provide unbiased coverage of the AVMA; the next asks whether the AVMA should be in the business of accreditation at all; and the third criticizes JAVMA for dismissing concerns about foreign accreditation raised by Dr. Paul Pion, co-founder and president of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession and parent company of the VIN News Service (VNS).
The letters, all written by VIN members, are the latest step in a months-long exchange on foreign-school accreditation within the veterinary community, with Pion and many VIN members opposing the positions of the AVMA’s leadership.
In VNS articles, veterinarians have questioned whether accrediting foreign schools in poorer countries with few opportunities for practicing medicine at the same level as is found in the U.S. and Western European countries would lead to increased competition for U.S. veterinary jobs and drive down salaries. Some also are concerned that the AVMA’s accreditation arm, the Council on Education (COE), is being influenced by Banfield, The Pet Hospital. The Portland, Ore.-based chain has invested millions in a Mexican veterinary school that has applied for COE accreditation.
On the VIN message boards, the May 15 JAVMA article on foreign-school accreditation was the target of angry reactions.
Members responded both to what they perceived to be reporting biased in favor of the AVMA and Banfield as well as to what appeared to them to be a journalistic cheap shot: an offensive-sounding quotation about a U.S. veterinary school attributed to Pion. The quotation, taken out of context from an earlier VIN message board discussion, reads as follows: “Tuskegee would never pass if truly held to the standard (I've never been there, so can't speak from personal experience).”
The JAVMA reporter pulled the quotation from an e-mail sent to Tuskegee alumni by university officials in March. It is unclear how the quotation came to the attention of Tuskegee officials. University administrators did not respond to several requests for comment from the VNS.
In an e-mail exchange with the VNS, JAVMA Editor-in-Chief Dr. Kurt Matushek suggested that because Pion's quotation was drawn from the Tuskegee e-mail — rather than directly from a VIN message board — JAVMA was not obligated to contact Pion to clarify the statement before running the story.
“As such, we had Dr. Tsegaye Habtemariam, dean of the Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Ruby L. Perry, associate dean for academic affairs at the Tuskegee veterinary school explain why the e-mail was sent,” Matushek wrote. The quotation, he said, “was included in the story to illustrate the impact the discussion about accreditation of foreign veterinary schools has had on domestic schools."
In the message board discussion following the May 15 JAVMA story, Pion explained what he had meant.
“The point was that Tuskegee does not have the same financial resources as Auburn in the same state or many other veterinary schools,” he wrote in a VIN message board discussion. “My point was to say that Tuskegee absolutely SHOULD BE accredited, but that I do not believe the COE standards for things like physical plant items influence the end-product (veterinary student becoming veterinarian) and as such, if because of limited resources, Tuskegee is found to have some less shiny physical plant, we should absolutely take that into consideration and not fault them for that.”
On July 7, Tuskegee’s Perry distributed to her university’s alumni a letter of apology and clarification written by Pion in late May.
Matushek said JAVMA received four letters to the editor concerning the May 15 article. He said that amount is “not a particularly high number of letters, compared with numbers we have received on other important topics, such as antimicrobial resistance.” The one letter of the four that did not appear in the journal was not published because it had been posted in a VIN message board discussion, according to AVMA spokeswoman Sharon Granskog. JAVMA has a policy of not printing letters that have previously appeared in print or online, she said.
Two of the letters’ authors indicated that their submissions were edited in a way that weakened their tone.
“I find it ironic that a 'letter to the editor' would be edited for content and not simply grammar or spelling,” said Dr. Mike Karg, of Frederick, Md., in an e-mail exchange with the VNS. Karg said he was able to have some phrasing reinserted into the letter after JAVMA’s initial changes, but that four sentences were deleted without explanation.
Granskog noted that JAVMA gives the authors of letters to the editor the opportunity to approve the journal’s changes to their submissions before publication. The authors of all three letters had approved JAVMA’s changes, she said.