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Colorado lawmaker aims to support veterinarians during 2024 legislative session

State Representative Karen McCormick, Boulder-D, wants to sponsor two pieces of legislation next session to help the field she loves.
A virtual veterinarian: Proposals Colorado could see next session, aimed at supporting the people who save our pets
Posted at 8:01 AM, Sep 13, 2023

DENVER — The struggles of veterinarians were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teams are still feeling overworked and overwhelmed, according to Mars Veterinary Health.

Mars Veterinary Health reported in August "up to 55,000 new veterinarians are needed to meet projected demand in 2030." However, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) said that is not accurate, and overestimates the demand while underestimating the supply. In an article published on September 12 by Today's Veterinary Business, the AVMA said "these estimates are based on faulty math, positioning COVID-19 pandemic data as a baseline instead of an outlier when anticipating future needs, and neglecting to account for future capacity growth... These inaccurate projections have led to claims of crisis-level shortages of companion animal veterinarians, causing lawmakers to consider proposals for long-term changes that would threaten animal health and safety."

The article continues to say there will soon be an influx of "veterinarians that should ensure an ample supply well into the future."

Colorado legislators have plans for the 2024 legislative session aimed at supporting those working in the field.

State Representative Karen McCormick, Boulder-D, has been a licensed veterinarian for almost 40 years. She is the chair of the Agriculture, Water & Natural Resources Committee, which held a discussion Monday about several different proposals that could benefit veterinarians.

“Many of our counties in our state are labeled USDA shortage areas, meaning there are not enough veterinarians per population," said McCormick. “We're in a really tough situation, being able to graduate enough people that end up going into those shortage areas... There's really a mismatch between need and availability of veterinarians.”

McCormick wants to sponsor two pieces of legislation next session to help the field she loves.

"One is to outline and better define what is telehealth and how it can be used, and to make sure that we are teaching it appropriately," said McCormick. “[The other is] better outlining in statute exactly what veterinary technicians are trained to do. So we start to utilize them to the highest level of their education and training... It will reward our veterinary technicians so that they feel valued in delivering health care. And it will make some clarity for our veterinarians to know what they can delegate and to start doing it more.”

Dr. Lori Teller flew to Denver from Texas for the committee hearing Monday. Teller, a faculty member at Texas A&M, said she is the only professor of telehealth at a veterinary school.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion about what they can and cannot do with telemedicine," Teller said about veterinary care and telehealth. “We can treat the pet, tweak the plan and we can do all of that through telemedicine, so they don't have to come back and see us... It's also great for true emergencies, like your pet ingested something toxic. And so we can do telemedicine to help deal with that immediately. If there's something that we need to have you do at home before you bring that pet to us to further treat that that poison, we can do that.”

Teller said an in-person visit should always precede telemedicine.

Another change considered is the creation of a new career within veterinary medicine, a mid-level veterinary professional associate (VPA), like a physician assistant in human medicine. That person would work under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Teller does not believe a VPA is necessary, and would rather see veterinary technicians utilized more. McCormick agrees.

“Starting a brand new profession in this space is not going to fix all our problems," McCormick said. “We have to be really careful about what our next steps are.”

Denver7 spoke with Dr. Apryl Steele, president and CEO of the Dumb Friends League, in March about the potential new position.

"Colorado is leading the way in this conversation, and we have great support to go ahead and move forward with this,” said Steele. "By doing that, we are opening up a whole new realm of people providing this care.”