Professional Organizations

The evolution of veterinary medicine as a modern profession did not gain traction in Europe until the late 18th century as the Age of Enlightenment was spreading exciting news of discoveries and theories in many disciplines. Supporters of improved animal husbandry could envision incorporating new scientific discoveries into animal care protocols that would then be applied by trained workers. A significant step was taken when the first veterinary schools were opened in Europe in the late 1700s and subsequently began to release graduates into the marketplace. As any profession begins to organize and gains members several needs arise to: seek legislative stability; develop a code of ethics; obtain legal protection from governing bodies for the profession and individual practitioners; develop communications for sharing professional information; and promote the profession to potential clients. Veterinary medicine had the same criteria for organizing professionally in Britain and North America (the countries featured in the Rosen veterinary history collection), including to:

  • promote the public profile of the profession;
  • set examinations for entrance to the profession;
  • set professional standards for practice;
  • share professional information to improve practice and business; and
  • lobby for legislation in their respective countries that would enshrine the conditions under which a person was allowed to practice veterinary medicine.

Activities occurring over many years began to bear fruit in the mid-1800s when the veterinary profession showed signs of organizing in Europe and later in North America.

The profession of veterinary medicine needed to demonstrate to clients and other stakeholders such as governments, competitors, and the public its ability to respond to issues relating to animal care and management. Western countries were facing public health and economic issues relating to animal care that exposed contributions that the veterinary profession could make. Movement from rural areas and the resulting increased urbanization created demands for improved agricultural productivity to feed a growing population. City dwellers had less contact with farm animals and began to keep companion animals in their homes. Public health issues such as recurrent infectious diseases of livestock caused widespread misery for producers and consumers. Veterinary services for valuable animals shifted from a focus on horses to other livestock species as owners demanded better care for their animals. Veterinarians were needed to care for large numbers of animals employed in the army and urban services as well as in herds providing animal products (Fisher, 1993, p. 292). Infectious disease outbreaks resulted in legislation for trade and market regulations including veterinary inspection. Veterinary education was attempting to prepare practitioners for these challenges in animal care and the expanded career opportunities that were developing. Veterinarians had a platform and were poised to demonstrate their professional competency, take advantage of a variety of career options, and raise the status of their profession among the public.

The discussion focusses on organization of the veterinary profession in Britain, United States and Canada. In Britain, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) was created and received its Royal Charter in 1844; however, it was not until 1881 that the Veterinary Surgeons Act gave the profession legal protection. The National Veterinary Association was formed the following year in 1882. In the United States, the United States Veterinary Medical Association (USVMA) was established in 1863, whereas, in Canada provincial veterinary associations were active until 1948 when the Canadian National Veterinary Association (CNVA) was established. In North America, the veterinary profession was still described as 'fledgling' as late as the 1950s, because the economy was recovering first from the effects of the Great Depression and later from World War II. Veterinary schools in North America responded to the need for educated workers by increasing the number of graduates going into practice as the economy revived.

Professional organizations in Britain

In Britain, the Army Board of Officers first used the designation of Veterinary Surgeon (VS) in 1796 to identify the Veterinary Surgeons in each cavalry regiment. According to Jones (2011a, p. 332) "... the veterinary prefix was given to differentiate them [Veterinary Surgeons] from the surgeons who cared for wounded soldiers, and who were paid at a higher rate." The term VS was also adopted by the founders of the Royal Veterinary College in London as a way to differentiate trained veterinarians from other animal healthcare providers. Members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) could use VS, although the designation had no statutory effect until the Veterinary Surgeons Act was passed in 1881. The Act restricted the use of the designation of Veterinary Surgeon (VS) to those whose names were on the RCVS Register.

George Fleming, VS, was an active supporter often credited with the final push for statutory recognition of the profession. Fleming was also instrumental in forming the National Veterinary Association (NVA) in 1882 that was intended to be an annual forum for sharing expertise and identity in the profession (Boden, 2013, p. 12). The NVA is currently called the British Veterinary Association and the name change was passed by the membership in January, 1952. In Scotland, William Dick from the Edinburgh school did not support the RCVS. His students received their certificates from the Highland and Agricultural Society until 1879 when Edinburgh school graduates became members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

The term Veterinary Surgeon (VS) was also adopted by the founders of the Royal Veterinary College in London as a way to differentiate trained veterinarians from other animal healthcare providers.

Professional organizations in North America

In the 20th century, the fledgling veterinary profession in North America suffered a dual setback - the Great Depression and World War II - from which it did not fully recover until the 1950s when college-trained graduates entered the profession in significant numbers. Enrolments at veterinary schools plummeted during the 1930s when the extreme economic downturn of the Great Depression dispensed with employment opportunities. A broad category of quacks providing animal care persisted in rural America (Stahlheim, 1994, p.162) long after veterinary education was graduating trained health care providers. Enrolments at North American veterinary schools were low during WWII because able-bodied men were overseas fighting. Another factor affecting the profession in the early 20th century was the replacement of draft and transport animals in agriculture and the military by development of the automobile's internal combustion engine. The veterinary profession advanced quickly after WWII as the economy rebounded and graduates found employment. There was agricultural prosperity, once again, so farmers could afford to pay a professional to treat their animals. Veterinary and medical research surged; vaccines and antibiotics designed for animals meant that veterinarians had more treatment options and better success rates. Veterinary education responded to the loss of horses as the primary practice animal with a broader curriculum that included specializations in large and small livestock, food animals and companion animals. Other specializations included wild and zoo animals, poultry and fish. Therefore, veterinarians were no longer limited to equine practices in cities, and had options to establish their practices in rural or urban centres depending on their choice of patients.

The veterinary profession advanced quickly [in North America] after WWII as the economy rebounded and graduates found employment.

The United States Veterinary Medical Association (USVMA) was formed in 1863 as the first professional veterinary organization of the United States: the USVMA was later renamed the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) was formed in 1884 by the United States Congress with primary responsibility for animal health. The BAI was influential in supporting veterinary education, research and professionalism throughout its 70-year history. Currently the AVMA is the umbrella organization over each state with a veterinary association and local associations in cities or counties. The AVMA has a board, councils, committees, code of ethics and disciplinary procedures (Stalheim, 1994, p. 159). The positive relationship established between veterinarians in the United States and Canada continues today. The first American veterinarians were trained in Canadian veterinary schools: today, Canadians are welcome to join the AVMA if they have graduated from an accredited Canadian school. The AVMA is the body that accredits both American and Canadian veterinary schools, a role it took over from the BAI in 1945. Legislation did not instantly change the practice landscape: most of the American states had enacted legislation in veterinary practice acts by 1890, however, farmers and stockmen in rural areas continued to practice. Licensed veterinarians gradually replaced the unexamined practitioners as individual American states enacted the practice laws: many farmer-practitioners failed to pass the examination that was a prerequisite to a license.

The first American veterinarians were trained in Canadian veterinary schools: today, Canadians are welcome to join the AVMA if they have graduated from an accredited Canadian school.

In contrast to organizing nationally as occurred in the United States, Canada first favoured a provincial approach. Canada established autonomous provincial associations – the first, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association in 1874, and the last in Prince Edward Island in 1920 – whose authority included determining the important matter of who should be allowed to practice in their jurisdiction. In the absence of a national organization, Canadian veterinarians couldn’t automatically practice in the existing nine provinces. “Veterinary medicine in Canada developed along strong provincial lines and was frequently characterized by a narrow provincialism” (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 5). Veterinarians were getting what they needed from their provincial associations and most saw no need for a national organization. The formation of a national veterinary association in Canada was not accomplished until 1948, in contrast to the early formation of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863 in the United States.

Hurdles to the creation of a national veterinary association in Canada in the late 1800s included: lack of leadership to develop consensus necessary to draft a bill; and a large country with uneven geographic distribution of populations that resulted in slow communications and expensive travel. As the 20th century dawned, membership numbers in the provincial veterinary associations were increasing, and the country's settlement patterns were changing, too. Ontario had long been the association with the most members, however, a demographic shift to the west was underway. Immigrants, many of whom were raising livestock and in need of veterinary services, were settling the western provinces.

The formation of a national veterinary association in Canada was not accomplished until 1948, in contrast to the early formation of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863 in the United States.

Discussions around developing a national association occurred from time to time, but two world wars and the Great Depression interrupted serious progress. In 1946, a small committee was established after the Ontario association recognized that “… Ontario must take the decisive lead in creating a national body” (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 35). The group engaged a lawyer with experience of parliamentary procedure and requested “… from each province a letter of concurrence or approval for establishing a national veterinary association” (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 36). By January 1948 the committee had a draft bill based on Acts of the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Dental Association ready to present to Parliament. Royal Assent was granted on June 30, 1948 to incorporate the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) / L’Association Canadienne des Médecins Vétérinaires (ACMV). The new Act was published in the September 1948 issue of the Canadian Journal of Comparative Medicine to familiarize the profession with the details (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 39). By-laws and a constitution were future developments.

The new national association in the 1950s faced the task of convincing members from the provincial associations of the value of a national association. In the boom years after World War II the profession had a number of concerns about low wages and working conditions for veterinarians, the majority of whom worked for the federal government. Ironically, the provincial associations needed the voice of a unified national body to liaise with the federal government on behalf of their profession. Other concerns included: the lack of recognition of the role of veterinary services in public health, notably in animal inspection and infectious disease control; and the future of newly arrived settlers who were trained veterinarians displaced by the war and wishing to practice in their new country.

Membership in the national association was low, therefore, fees provided scant financial resources and affected the association’s ability to lobby on behalf of the profession. The new national association was inward-focused more concerned with raising its profile with its veterinary colleagues rather than investing resources in raising the public profile of veterinary medicine. However, the annual gatherings built consensus among attendees. “By bringing Canadian veterinarians together regularly, annual meetings served an essential purpose in helping to integrate the profession nationally” (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 69). “Between these annual meetings, committees were the vehicle of the association and the executive was its motor” (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 71). The national association was evolving, though it was slow. The 1960s were a time of reorganization and change for the CVMA. “… there was a new determination to make the C.V.M.A. a more effective vehicle for the profession as a whole" (Barker & Crowley, 1989, p. 92).

Return to The Profession Develops

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Return to Dependence on Horses
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