April 01, 2006


 For Hendrix, teaching is a way of life

Academician explains his AVMA vice presidential candidacy

Posted March 15, 2006

Dr. Charles M. HendrixThe primary responsibility of the AVMA vice president is to be the Association's liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters of the AVMA and to be a voting member of the Executive Board. Dr. Charles M. Hendrix believes he has what it takes to do the job. He is asking the AVMA House of Delegates to elect him to succeed Dr. René A. Carlson when her second and final term as vice president expires this July. Dr. Hendrix is the only candidate for AVMA vice president. A professor of pathobiology at the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine and a former AVMA Congressional Science Fellow, Dr. Hendrix says he would dedicate his time in office to teaching, as well as learning from, the next generation of veterinarians.

Why are you running for AVMA vice president?

I have always enjoyed working with veterinary students. The AVMA vice presidency affords me the opportunity to meet and interact with large numbers of veterinary students from across the United States and Canada. I have been teaching veterinary students since 1976 and, after 30 years, I still enjoy teaching them—and also learning from them. I am looking forward to meeting and working with our newest veterinarians of the 21st century. I guess that Christa McAuliffe said it best when she said, "I touch the future ... I teach." (McAuliffe was the teacher who died in the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.) I believe that the AVMA vice presidency will be the best teaching and learning opportunity of my life.

What are your skills and qualifications?

I am a very good listener. With regard to my leadership skills, I am not the norm when it comes to the qualifications for running for an office in the AVMA. Most of our AVMA candidates have come up through the ranks by serving in the AVMA House of Delegates. I never have served in the HOD; however, I did serve a full six-year term as a member and the chair of the now-sunset AVMA Committee on Wellness. I have been in academia for the past three decades, and I am even to the point that I am now teaching the children of my former students. I believe that my interest in veterinary students is my strongest suit.

When you announced your candidacy in Minneapolis, you named five areas upon which you would base your work with students. Again, what are they, and why did you pick them?

I have taken my campaign slogan from a quotation by one of our nation's premier poets of the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who challenged a nation to "Hitch your wagon to a star!" The five-pointed star serves as the capstone to drive home my take-home message for veterinarians in the 21st century. These five points are commitment to leadership skills, commitment to the betterment of society, commitment to communication skills, commitment to health and wellness issues, and commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration. I believe that each of these points demonstrates a characteristic necessary for the success of the veterinary profession in the 21st century.

Since you work with veterinary students as part of your career, how do you see the veterinary profession trending?

We are seeing extreme shifts in the gender makeup of the veterinary profession. We are seeing some veterinary schools with classes that are almost 100 percent female. Likewise, I would not want to return to the days of veterinary classes with a 100 percent male population. I hope that the veterinary profession will become more balanced and more diverse.

What are your thoughts on the lack of diversity within the profession?

Our college currently has only six students representing a variety of diverse ethnic cultures. Out of 365 total students, that is a small proportion, but it is the quality of diversity and not quantity that makes the big differences in veterinary medicine. When these individuals finish their studies and begin practicing veterinary medicine, they will become excellent role models for the veterinary profession. With these quality graduates serving as role models, we can expect even larger numbers of excellent applicants in the future. I cannot wait to see the results.

What are the students' primary concerns regarding their academic lives and life after graduation?

I continue to be amazed at how our veterinary students are able to manage such large amounts of information needed for matriculating through today's veterinary curricula. Ten or 15 years ago, we used to talk about the "information explosion." Students don't contend with that explosion any more. It is now the informational big bang. We must all become better lifelong learners. I tell my students that you can stop learning about veterinary medicine when your obituary appears in JAVMA! I am also amazed at some of the debt loads carried by today's students and our recent graduates. I hope that they will be able to have a good life after graduation. Money is very easy to borrow but very difficult to pay back.

Other subjects you'd like to address?

I am excited to see that the AVMA has become so involved in the process of mentoring our students and our graduates. Being mentored by an "old master" is a life-altering process. Everyone should experience the knowledge and expertise of a wise, trusted mentor. I know that I enjoyed knowing and learning from my mentor, and I am passing down the information I learned to the next generation of veterinarians. It is important to inform the mentee/protégé regarding where this vital knowledge or expertise came from—vital skills, knowledge, and aptitudes passed from old master to apprentice.