Survey Activity Trap

In mid-2015 the AVMA distributed a survey.  It contained questions like, “How important is it for the veterinary profession to have a process for setting and applying educational standards to evaluate institutions granting veterinary degrees in the U.S.?”  The range of answer choices was: “Extremely important, Very important, Moderately important, Not very important, Not at all important.”

Some additional examples for you to see...

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In the survey underpinning the AVMA Economics Division’s 2016 Report on the Veterinary Markets (ROVM), there were questions about mental health and employment satisfaction, with a similar range of answer choices, “Extremely satisfied, Very satisfied, Moderately Satisfied, Dissatisfied, Very Dissatisfied.”

The writers extracted the following from the data, and produced the associated graphic:

“Veterinarians report generally good to very good health and have relatively low burn out [sic].  Their current employment satisfaction is also generally high although it does range from very unsatisfied to very satisfied.”


We submit that AVMA surveys have become activity traps. Surveys designed with vague, leading questions and subjective, indistinct answer options like "very dissatisfied” or "extremely important” that can't achieve actionable results. They don’t even seem able to generate definable conclusions. What, exactly, is “relatively low burnout”? The AVMA surveys seem to have become projects where the survey itself has become the end, rather than a means to an end.

In 2012, as part of a larger project entitled Good Intentions, Bad Data, Unintended Consequences, we wrote,

"We believe the AVMA has, with all good intent, engaged in activity traps… in the best interest of the organizational leadership rather than the membership."

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Activity traps make the Association busy, and give them opportunity to demonstrate that they're hard at work, but the work is of questionable benefit to the members.  We proceeded to list a number of examples that supported this statement.  The survey referenced in the 2016 ROVM should be added to this list.

If the AVMA Economics Division claims that their job is to compile objective data, and having or at least projecting empathy is not required, we will agree.  As client relation professionals, we shudder, but we agree. As practicing veterinarians providing the answers to the survey and the money to conduct it, we shake our heads in disbelief.  As the people actually watching each other and our students suffer, we shake with our own pain.

It is the AVMA’s job to advocate for their members, before and after graduation.  We’re not certain just how the Association can on one hand recognize the potential for burnout, the suicide rate and the depression rate as serious enough to merit implementing mental health promotion measures among students through SAVMA…. while trumpeting such a graphic and statement from an AVMA Division chair.  We’re also not certain how on the one hand the AVMA can take the position that appropriate, safe dental care for animals requires general anesthesia, yet on the other hand the chair of the AVMA’s Board of Directors willingly and persistently promotes and engages in “conscious cleanings.”  This disconnect appears to be a defining feature throughout the organization, which is perhaps why there remains such a disconnect of the organization from the profession.

Further, there is a persistent, dismissive attitude emanating from the chair of the Econ Div toward boots-on-the-ground veterinarians who attempt to provide feedback.  Commentors on AVMA’s facebook page pointed out that the findings don’t correlate with their reality, and that the survey seems to have some methodological flaws that could produce erroneous results.

Mike Dicks’ responses:

“The sample was random, their [sic] was no response bias and the respondents represented the profession.”

“Of course every unemployed veterinarian could be hiding from the survey just as every depressed veterinarian.”

“Folks, we only report the answers provided on the surveys.”

“Once again, if you don't agree with the results, they must be wrong. ”

“You know, at some point one has to draw the line. I do enjoy helping you understand the work we have done. I am going to tell my veterinarian the next time I am in the office that I want to check those blood tests myself. I want to sit in on the surgeries. So as you can be informed.”

We were some of the first voices calling for the collection, utilization and analysis of data for the veterinary profession.  That was the underlying philosophy that led to our 2013 series of essays.  We applauded the AVMA at the time for establishing the Economics Division and for working toward solving the problems of our profession with the use of sound data.  In light of this present criticism, we are not calling for the abolishment of the Economics Division.  Far from it.  We are, though, calling for...

  1. The Economics Division to remain on task: design surveys that can produce actionable results.  If this means identifying professional firms outside the umbrella of the AVMA to achieve this, such a move ought to be considered.

  2. The AVMA to use the Economics Division as a means, not as an end; as a tool to achieve improvement of the profession, not as a rubber stamp for past and present policy.

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commented 2017-02-21 05:03:59 -0500 · Flag
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commented 2016-06-07 08:28:39 -0400 · Flag
Just vet data
Uphold the standards of veterinary medicine