October 15, 2007


 The voice of the federal veterinarian

Posted Oct. 1, 2007
The voice of the federal veterinarian

July ushered in a time of transition for the National Association of Federal Veterinarians. The organization welcomed a full-time chief executive officer and received a draft of its first strategic plan.

The NAFV represents the interests of about 1,000 federally employed veterinarians. An allied group in the House of Delegates, it was formed in 1918 during the AVMA annual meeting in Boston.

Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C., on the second floor of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division building in the central business district.

"I see the NAFV as the voice of the federal veterinarian," said Dr. Michael Gilsdorf, the association's new CEO.

Dr. Gilsdorf succeeded Dr. Valerie E. Ragan as executive vice president on the heels of his July 2 retirement from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, where he spent more than three decades with Veterinary Services.

"I started with APHIS and Veterinary Services—temporarily—33 years ago, and I felt that what I was doing was beneficial and worthwhile, so I stayed," Dr. Gilsdorf said. "(After retiring) I felt I wanted to continue doing something that was worthwhile, and I thought this might be the way to do it."

Dr. Ragan now works full time for the agricultural consulting company that she co-founded after leaving the USDA. It was through the company that she took the NAFV position as a part-time project.

After helping advance NAFV priorities for almost a year and a half, Dr. Ragan recognized the time had come when a full-time CEO was needed. She knew Dr. Gilsdorf from her previous position as assistant deputy administrator for APHIS-VS.

"I suggested the NAFV position to Valerie in the first place, when she was looking for a way to start her consulting business," Dr. Gilsdorf said. "Then, when she was getting so busy she needed to spend full time on consulting, she called me up to talk me into considering the position."

Sharing space in the AVMA Washington office has built a close working relationship between the NAFV and AVMA staffs. The organizations are collaborating on issues such as the reduction in numbers of food animal veterinarians, particularly in federal service. The NAFV is also working with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the AVMA to achieve more interaction with veterinary students and better inform them about federal service opportunities.

At APHIS, Dr. Gilsdorf worked with Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, the former administrator, on many occasions. Dr. DeHaven, now AVMA executive vice president, met with Dr. Gilsdorf in late August about how the AVMA and NAFV can work together even more in the future.

"When I talked with Dr. DeHaven, the most important thing that we discussed was setting up a working group to increase pay for veterinarians who work for the federal government," Dr. Gilsdorf said. "There are several issues involved with federal pay that we need to work on."

Those salary issues include obtaining pay for veterinarians comparable to that of physicians, called a comparability allowance; board certification pay; and specialty pay for Uniformed Services veterinarians equal to what physicians and some dentists and registered nurses already receive.

"As far as I'm concerned," Dr. Gilsdorf said, "MDs, veterinarians, and dentists all have similar educational requirements. There are shortages of both MDs and veterinarians in federal government, so they ought to be receiving the same sorts of pay support, but they're not."

To pursue the federal salary initiative, he will team up with Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA GRD, to build a working coalition of stakeholders.

Besides federal pay, Dr. DeHaven discussed the AVMA's strategic focus with the NAFV leader, particularly the Association's support of food supply veterinary medicine. They also talked about including more in the NAFV newsletter about the AVMA's efforts on their behalf.

The NAFV has been making incremental changes to its newsletter to increase timeliness and relevance. Through the newsletter, it is utilizing members for task forces and projects, such as reviewing federal draft notices from a field perspective. There is also a push for more original articles for the newsletter to provide information on disease programs and relevant food safety activities.

Enhancing the newsletter is one of the ways the NAFV is trying to add value to membership before embarking on a drive to attract more of the 2,400 federally employed veterinarians, including those in the military.

Another way is the NAFV Web site, www.nafv.org, which has been updated and continues to evolve. One new feature is a bulletin board exchange. An internal section for members only is under development.

"All this is an effort to increase communications with our members and allow them to know what's going on and to then, through their representatives or through the Web page or directly, get back to us so that we can represent them and be the voice of the federal veterinarian," Dr. Gilsdorf said.

"This means that we're the voice when we're meeting with the agency heads or when we're participating in a consultation where our members are presenting issues and hopefully, resolutions."

The NAFV plans to present suggestions on improving APHIS emergency management teams, for example, during the next consultation with APHIS agency leaders. The NAFV regularly inquires about agencies' needs so it can serve as a resource, which includes lobbying efforts in collaboration with the AVMA and consultations with congressional aides.

Looking into additional, useful services that federal veterinarians could provide to government agencies was one focus of those who developed the NAFV's first strategic plan. An NAFV committee led by Dr. Ragan developed the plan. It is aimed at improving the visibility of federal veterinarians—both within the government and to the public—and the importance of the jobs that federal veterinarians do across agencies.

According to Dr. Gilsdorf, NAFV members who attended their 2007 annual meeting during the AVMA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., thought this first draft strategic plan looked very good. He said it dovetails with the priorities that he and the other NAFV officers—including NAFV president, Dr. Doug Fulnechek (Prairie Grove, Ark.)—have been targeting.

It is anticipated that the NAFV board will approve the strategic plan in March, or possibly sooner at a special session.

The NAFV aspires to become a clearinghouse for government agencies seeking expertise, veterinarians needing information-networking capabilities across government organizations, and veterinarians shifting their career focus. Toward the latter, the NAFV is working to assist agencies that need help with veterinary-related projects or that can provide internships for veterinary students and to provide information on opportunities to veterinarians pursuing advanced degrees.

The plan includes a formal structure for developing policy, soliciting member comment, and carrying approved policies forward publicly.

Twenty years of volunteer leadership experience in the NAFV that encompassed the presidency and several board terms have given Dr. Gilsdorf an awareness of issues beyond those of his former agency, the USDA-APHIS. Even so, he is seeking out more about concerns within the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Food and Drug Administration, the military, and others. One of his aims is to develop continuing education symposiums to benefit NAFV members and others, possibly in conjunction with the AVMA, U.S. Animal Health Association, and other organizations.

As a federal veterinarian himself, Dr. Gilsdorf made important contributions. In recent years he led the eradication and surveillance staff for the APHIS-VS National Center for Animal Health Programs in Riverdale, Md., directing all the domestic animal health programs as well as the National Veterinary Accreditation Program. Later, as a director for eradication programs, he assisted Iowa and others in eradicating pseudorabies.

Also within APHIS, Dr. Gilsdorf helped create a group of specially trained veterinarians as embryo transfer specialists for the import and export of embryos from the United States. He also helped develop the concept of a designated epidemiologist for the various eradication programs, starting with a "designated brucellosis epidemiologist" position.

"Those individuals had to have special education and background in order to be designated—they had to be a veterinarian, have 80 hours of on-the-job training classifying animals as reactors, have a basic epidemiology course, and a brucellosis epidemiology course. With that expertise, they were qualified to say to an owner that an animal was truly infected. They were also able to help in speeding up the success of the program," he said.

The program carried over to tuberculosis, scrapie, chronic wasting disease, and other disease programs.

Earlier in his career, Dr. Gilsdorf was the national brucellosis epidemiologist. Several years before that, he worked at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories on adult vaccination for brucellosis, and with his colleagues, showed it to be a valuable tool.

"I feel that adult vaccination is one of the things that turned the program around. Once we started utilizing it around the country, it helped get us to where we are today," Dr. Gilsdorf said. "Hopefully, we are going to be recognized free of brucellosis in all the states this year."