May 15, 2006


 AVMA Answers: parting thoughts from Dr. Carlson

Posted May 1, 2006

What have you learned while serving as liaison to the student chapters? 

Dr. René A. Carlson, two-term AVMA vice president, responds:

I had no idea how important personal contacts of AVMA representatives are to members. Going to visit the students is so important to them. I also didn't understand how truly important we are as role models to younger members we don't even know.

I've had the chance to really talk one on one with students about issues affecting veterinary medical education. I've learned about the total career diversity of this profession and that we are doing a good job getting the message out to veterinary students of all the opportunities available to them. We aren't getting the message out to the general public.

For veterinary students, there's no question that debt is the No. 1 concern. It is a concern the moment they get into veterinary school. There's a tremendous amount of stress on our students. And they're excited, but stressed, over the expectations of them at their first jobs with so much to learn—and how they can contribute to veterinary medicine the way they want. So we do need to be cognizant of what is stressing them, give them support, and try to address some of those issues.

How have you been promoting the AVMA Mentoring Center?

I always address the Mentoring Center when I go to the colleges, primarily by emphasizing my own experience with it. The AVMA is committed to it. The students really value that, although the general student body isn't that much aware of the Mentoring Center. So I think the AVMA could work on marketing it more effectively.

We have to give the Mentoring Center a little time. It's a long-term investment, and I know the profession needs it. I'd urge the entire membership to get on board, as both mentees and mentors.

I have two mentees. One of them I've had the past year, and it's been a wonderful relationship for both of us. We meet by e-mail or in person every couple of weeks and then at conventions. I've just had a second mentee invite me, and it's actually fun to get an invitation.

How have you advised students to handle the transition to the working world?

Veterinary students have a certain image of the profession. Seventy-five percent of them know they want to be veterinarians by the time they're 12. They carry that dream all the way to veterinary medical school. Then when they graduate, it is not necessarily what they envisioned. We need to broaden the image that the public has of veterinary medicine. And then we have to help our new graduates acclimate better so that their dream becomes their reality.

I've come from a perspective of practice, so I address that in all of my presentations to the students. I not only talk about AVMA as their professional association, but then I spend half my time talking about the importance of human relations skills. I know that if they graduate from veterinary medical school, they are good veterinarians. But can they relate to clients? Can they relate to staff?

As far as a good first job experience, I talk to students about cues to look for when they look for their first job—in small animal practice, anyway. I have them look at the fee schedule because it's important to know if the practice can afford to pay them and whether the practice values their services. I have them look at the staff-to-DVM ratio because that tells you if the practice uses the support staff effectively. And it tells you about the progressiveness of the practice. I have them look at how the practice conducts staff meetings and training.

In addition to the Mentoring Center, we need to mentor new graduates in person, whether it's as an employer in private or public practice or a faculty member during an internship or residency. I think applicants to veterinary medical school have an ideal of taking care of animals. When they graduate, they realize it's much more dealing with people and being able to make ends meet financially—personally and in business. And we're also in a transition time from old-style management and compensation to the level of sophistication that veterinary medicine has achieved and the diversity in the areas of animal and public health.

Somewhere down the line, the AVMA needs to look at assuring good mentorship for new graduates after veterinary medical school. I hope to initiate the discussion on that issue.

What recommendations have you offered students and veterinarians for developing human relations and business skills?

I tell them that before the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, I paid consultants to help me with the business issues. Practitioners still need those consultants. But basic tools are available to them now for free online at, so I always direct them to the Web site.

Dr. Tom Kendall, vice president before me, was an active practice manager and promoted business skills. Partly because of that, schools have initiated business clubs, and there's a huge interest by the students in understanding business. They understand the importance of being able to pay their debts and make a decent living.

As far as the importance of communication skills, I think that message is being clearly delivered now from the AVMA and the veterinary medical schools. I also tell students to take every opportunity for leadership or public speaking to give them more confidence, recognition, and influence in their communication skills.

Why do you think the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience is valuable?

It is a tremendous investment in the future of this profession. The program is wonderful. The leadership, teamwork-building, and communication exercises are well-documented to be successful across the board in business organizations. The program brings together a rather segmented population in an informal, fun environment to teach us about how we can work better together. It teaches us how to value communication skills and various personality types.

We need to be collaborative colleagues and learn to let go of our competitiveness. I think this program is much appreciated by the student population and leadership in getting together all of these factions—students, faculty, organizational leadership, administration. The results will be exponential with time.