Booming growth of small-animal practice in China

Booming growth of small-animal practice in China

Increased collaboration with the United States has led China to pursue more oversight for veterinary education at home. See what your colleagues across the Pacific face in the ever-expanding world of veterinary medicine.

In 1989, the first small-animal private veterinary practice opened in Guangzhou, the third most populous city in China (population about 15 million) after Shanghai and Beijing. Today, there are more than 150 small-animal clinics in Guangzhou that employ about 400 veterinarians. The rapid increase in small-animal practices is happening within all of China’s large cities.

Veterinary programs within China seek to supply veterinarians to this booming industry. While there are large differences between the veterinary educational and licensure requirements in China and the United States, there have been recent changes in China designed to provide a level of oversight for the veterinary profession and ensure a basic level of competency. Before graduates of one of the veterinary programs in China can practice today, they must pass a licensure examination.

The need for veterinary care

It is estimated that 20% of households in China have a pet. Most of these pets are dogs. Smaller breeds, such as Pekingese, are more common in cities, while larger breeds, such as German shepherds, are more common in the countryside. Although there are few at the moment, the number of cats, birds, and other exotic animals kept as pets is increasing.

China veterinary practice licensing and continuing education

The licensure examination was introduced in 2009 by the Ministry of Agriculture and has been implemented in China’s large cities. In rural areas with primarily livestock, poultry, and duck farming, veterinary laws are not currently enforced.

The comprehensive veterinary licensure examination, which costs ¥260 (about $43), consists of 400 questions representing four major areas of the veterinary curriculum. (View a chart detailing the breakdown of the examination).1 The passing score varies every year but is usually 220 to 240. The examination questions are created by veterinary faculty from various agriculture universities at the invitation of the Ministry of Agriculture. Who is a qualified veterinarian in China is a difficult question to answer because veterinary education programs vary in length from three to five years’ education at agriculture universities. There are now more than 60 veterinary education programs in China, but only about 10 provide a five-year veterinary education.2

With the help of new laws, which are about four years old, the Chinese system recognizes veterinarians who are allowed to practice as those who have passed the licensure examination. A veterinary graduate who does not pass the examination is usually hired temporarily as a veterinary technician. Candidates are allowed to retake the test as many times as needed.

The implementation of the veterinary licensure examination is the result of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) working with the Chinese Veterinary Medical Association (ChVMA). One of the forums at the first ChVMA annual conference was dedicated to comparing the national veterinary licensing systems in China and North America. According to Larry Kornegay, DVM, then AVMA president and a speaker at the ChVMA conference, the Chinese are serious about improving educational standards and developing an accreditation program for veterinary colleges.3

The ChVMA and the Chinese regional veterinary associations have also started continuing education programs modeled after the U.S. system. For example, the 4th South China Small Animal Veterinary Conference was Dec. 11-13, 2013, in Guangzhou, China. The conference was a joint effort between veterinary associations of various provinces (Guangdong, Hunan, Guangxi, Hubei, Hong Kong, Macau), cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tai Bei City in Taiwan), and City University of Hong Kong. The conference program included multiple internal medicine and surgery presentations, some in English only.

How many veterinarians is China producing?

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture helps each university determine how many students to enroll in their veterinary program and how many new licenses should be awarded every year. During the first year of licensure testing in 2009, 110,000 graduates received a license, and in subsequent years, about 70,000 to 80,000 graduates have received a license each year.

In China, licensed veterinarians can provide small-animal clinical services. But to open a small-animal veterinary clinic or hospital, there must be at least three licensed veterinarians listed for the practice, and the licenses along with veterinarians’ pictures must be displayed close to the clinic reception areas for clients to see.

Currently, veterinarians who graduated from foreign countries are not allowed to take the Chinese licensure examination; therefore, they cannot practice veterinary medicine in China. However, foreign veterinarians can be consultants for a practice; they come primarily from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. It is interesting to note that clients pay higher fees if the patient is seen by a foreign veterinarian, both because foreign veterinarians charge more and because clients are more willing to pay more. The Chinese veterinary leadership expects that veterinary practice law will soon change to enable foreign veterinarians to practice veterinary medicine in China.

Corporate veterinary practice in China

Ruipeng Pet Hospital started in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, in 1998.4 With the franchise model, Ruipeng Pet Hospital currently has a network of 28 clinics—23 in Shenzhen and five in Guangzhou. Dr. Tony Beck, a veterinarian from the UK and Dr. Torren Stone (Chinese name – Shi, graduate of China Agriculture University, Beijing) co-founded Doctors Beck and Stone Pet Health Care Center.5 Their first clinic opened in Beijing in 2008, and they now have four clinics in Beijing, two in Shanghai, one in Shenzhen, and one in Guangzhou.

Some of the veterinarians employed by these corporate practices rotate their duties in clinics located in the same or other cities. The clinics tend to cater to expatriate animal owners working in China and to wealthy Chinese. The veterinarians and their staff wear uniforms, speak English, and have a business-friendly attitude. The new clinics have two to three examination rooms, treatment areas, a surgical suite, a small laboratory for running basic diagnostic tests, a pharmacy, in-patient and grooming facilities, and a pet shop. Currently, there are no large diagnostic laboratories or veterinary referral centers in China. Newer clinics are equipped to perform in-house diagnostic testing such as complete blood counts, serum chemistry profiles, urinalyses, cytologic analysis, and heartworm and fecal testing. Many clinics have their own in-hospital pharmacies as well.

Small-animal hospitals and clinics in China

It is estimated that more than 5,000 pet hospitals and many more small clinics serve about 30 million pets in cities in China. Out of about 80,000 small-animal practitioners, 50,000 have passed the licensure examination and are registered as licensed veterinarians. The other 30,000 are veterinary technicians practicing in rural areas. Pet hospitals (Yi-yuan) must be registered by the local city administrations, but small clinics (Xiao-zhen-suo), which are often associated with pet stores, are not required to be registered.

As in other countries, the number of pet hospitals and clinics in large cities is related to the human population. For example, there are more than 250 pet hospitals and 160 clinics in Beijing, where more than 20 million people reside. More than 140 pet hospitals and 260 clinics exist in Shanghai with more than 22 million inhabitants. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, there are 80 pet hospitals and 100 clinics to serve 10 million people. There are 8 million people along with more than 40 pet hospitals and 40 clinics in Qingdao, Shangdong province.

Salaries and work hours

A new veterinary graduate salary starts at about ¥3,000 to ¥4,000 ($500 to $670) a month plus apartment rent and food during the working hours. Most of the clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. five to six days a week. Veterinarians commonly work 50 to 70 hours a week.

Global veterinary collaboration

According to the U.S.-China Center for Animal Health (USCCAH) website, “The rise and prominence of China is renowned and well-publicized. An increase in economic, political, educational and cultural cooperation and exchange between the United States and China is no longer a theory for most economic and corporate planners, but a fact—a fact that should be developed.”6 The ChVMA and the International Veterinary Collaboration for China (IVCC), a consortium of veterinary schools in the United States and the United Kingdom, and Zoetis signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate to advance veterinary medical education and animal health in China.7 Kansas State University (KSU) College of Veterinary Medicine has established the USCCAH to assist in the improvement of Chinese animal health education, research, government interaction, and industrial workforce. The center would also like to assist Chinese and U.S. animal health companies to access the U.S. and Chinese markets, respectively.

KSU, in partnership with the China Scholarship Council (CSC), has established a joint scholarship program for selected Chinese students to receive Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degrees from the United States. KSU and five other U.S. universities will educate 10 to 15 Chinese veterinary students each year.8 Chinese students holding bachelor of science degrees from Chinese veterinary programs are eligible to apply for the Pre-Vet & DVM programs at KSU and other participating universities. The participating Chinese universities for these programs are China Agricultural University, Huazhong Agricultural University, Nanjing Agricultural University, Northwest A&F University, South China Agricultural University, and Inner Mongolia Agricultural University. Five Chinese students were listed in the Pre-Vet & DVM programs at KSU during 2012.9 In addition, the first Chinese translation of the The Merck Veterinary Manual is anticipated to be available sometime in 2014.

On the food-animal side, Cornell University and China Collaboration Dairy faculty at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine have been conducting an annual China Cornell Dairy Institute training program after the successful Cornell Summer Dairy Institute program held in Ithaca for several years. The China Cornell Dairy Institute conducts the program in collaboration with a private dairy farm in Sanhe, Hebei, near Beijing.10 Another initiative to establish collaboration between the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine and the City University of Hong Kong is in progress.11

Veterinary acupuncture program in China

China acts as a teacher for U.S. practitioners as well in the area of Traditional Chinese Medicine, including the disciplines of acupuncture and herbal medicine. Interest in veterinary acupuncture has increased in the United States, creating demand for these services from veterinary professionals.12 In response, U.S. veterinary colleges are now offering courses on acupuncture,13 and the major veterinary conferences in the United States currently offer programs in acupuncture and other complementary therapies.14-16

Basic training in veterinary acupuncture in the United States began in 1975 through a nonprofit organization, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), which has evolved into a 120-hour course.17 In 1998, the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine (Chi Institute) was founded and began training veterinarians in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tui-na and food therapy, based on the curriculum of Chinese Colleges of Veterinary Medicine. About 5,000 veterinarians from 49 states have taken the certified veterinary acupuncture courses through the Chi Institute and IVAS in the United States.18

In June 2013, an international course in acupuncture was taught jointly by U.S., Chinese, and Australian instructors at South China Agriculture University, Guangzhou, China. Forty-nine attendees of the course included veterinary students and practitioners from the United States, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan. A second course is planned for May 2014.19 The firsthand experience of Chinese culture is an additional advantage of taking an acupuncture course in China.

Conclusion

The AVMA and ChVMA collaboration has made a large improvement in the veterinary professional relationship between the United States and China. There is outstanding potential for further collaboration in the areas of diagnostic laboratories, continuing education, and veterinary specialization in China. The increase in small-animal private practices in the large cities of China also provides an opportunity for expansion of corporate veterinary medicine. The KSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s collaboration with Chinese institutions provides an excellent model for mutually beneficial ventures between the veterinary profession in the United States and China.

REFERENCES

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