February 15, 2009


 AVMA conference readies leaders for challenges and opportunities

Economy discussed; House of Delegates convenes 
Posted Feb. 1, 2009

Raising up the next generation of veterinary leaders was the subtext of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference held Jan. 9-11 in Chicago. The 476 movers and shakers of the veterinary profession who gathered for the conference included 60 Future Leaders who graduated within the last seven years. The AVMA covered the expenses for each Future Leader selected by an organization represented in the House of Delegates to attend the conference.

Sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. and Fort Dodge Animal Health, the conference provided an opportunity for attendees to participate in leadership development workshops (see story), engage in discussion of AVMA initiatives, and learn about important trends affecting the veterinary profession. Some presenters talked about the need for professional associations such as the AVMA need to reach out to new and recent graduates so as to prepare the next generation of leaders.

On Jan. 9, Hill's also sponsored a mini-Veterinary Leadership Experience for Future Leaders. The mini-VLE provided a forum for Future Leaders to connect and network with one another. It was also an opportunity for attendees to focus on topics such as self-awareness, communication, and leadership.

Dr. Richard DeBowes, an associate dean at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who helped organize the mini-VLE and presented a conference workshop on servant leadership, said, "The Future Leaders program was the highlight of this year's AVMA leadership conference for me.

"Never have I met and worked with so many optimistic colleagues in one day. They were bright, energetic, and unflagging in their enthusiasm for the possibility that their careers could rise beyond their greatest dreams. It was easy to feel very good about the future of our profession."

The second AVMA House of Delegates regular winter session was also held during the conference (see story).  

Political engagement

The opening speaker was Michael Dunn, a public affairs consultant from Washington, D.C. He discussed how veterinarians, individually and as a group, can inject their professional expertise into the federal policymaking process by cultivating relationships with members of Congress.  

"The political process, as much as you hate it, is going to determine what the future of your profession will be," Dunn said.

The AVMA Governmental Relations Division must contend with increasing limitations on lobbying, he said, but AVMA members can help promote veterinary interests as constituents of congressional districts.

Dunn presented a pyramid model of political influence in a congressional district. At the bottom of the pyramid are residents too young to vote. Next are residents who don't register to vote and then residents who register but don't vote. In the middle are residents who voted for a losing candidate. At the top are residents who voted for the winner, campaign contributors and volunteers, and campaign fundraisers and organizers.

Political action committees such as the AVMA PAC carry weight as a bloc of contributors with special interests, Dunn noted.

"You're telling the candidate what legislative issues provoked that support," Dunn said.  

State of the AVMA

AVMA President James O. Cook, in his year-end review before the HOD, continued his push for support of the National Animal Identification System.

Dr. James O. Cook
Dr. James O. Cook, AVMA president, outlines reasons to support the National Animal
Identification System.

He cited the devastating effects of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak a few years ago in England, which cost the government tens of millions of dollars and also impacted the agriculture and tourism industries. A 2007 report specifically noted the unreliability of livestock data as the problem in trying to contain the outbreak.

"Proper identification takes the guesswork out of finding and back-tracing cattle in possible disease events," Dr. Cook said. "This is absolutely critical in protecting the health of this nation's herd and food supply."

As of Jan. 19, 500,378 premises were registered with the NAIS; however, the program has not been without its hurdles.

The issue of confidentiality has been a bone of contention with producers, and also how they can recover the cost of implementing the program. Dr. Cook cited the Department of Agriculture's recently released NAIS tool kit as a great resource for veterinarians to help answer those questions from producers.

"Veterinarians carry a lot of credibility with producers and can create a vital role in getting the program started," Dr. Cook said.

Moving on to the economy, Dr. Cook said "many of us worry pets and vets are going to be left out in the cold." He encouraged veterinarians to work their hardest by providing compassionate care, not only for their patients but also their clients and their situations, while also focusing on preventive care and its benefits.

AVMA Treasurer Bret D. Marsh addressed the recession's impact on this past year's budget as well as future AVMA fiscal policy. The Association's largest revenue stream—member dues—comprises 57 percent of income. Dues came in as anticipated. Other revenue sources—classified ads and page ads in the journals; Annual Convention registration, exhibits, and sponsorships; and investment earnings—all decreased, according to projections.

The Association's investment portfolio took a sizable hit to the tune of $4.8 million, or a drop of about 28 percent. In terms of the 2008 fiscal year budget, the Association remains solvent despite a projection of $6.8 million in expenses exceeding income, which was originally anticipated to come in $118,400 in the black. The AVMA still maintains a reserve of approximately 100 percent of operating expenses.

Dr. Bret D. Marsh
Dr. Bret D. Marsh, AVMA treasurer, describes the
recession's impact on the finances of the Association.

"I think the real take-home message of the day is that (the budget) fundamentally worked," Dr. Marsh said. "We have, for a number of years, enjoyed revenues that we put in our reserves just for a year like 2008. Yes, it's not pretty, and it's red, but it's a challenge and it worked."

Looking to the 2009 fiscal year, unless the income from investments improves more than is expected, he predicts another deficit budget despite efforts by the Executive Board and staff to control or reduce costs.

Also, the Task Force for Future Roles and Expectations is looking at how best to use volunteer leadership efficiently and effectively. A forthcoming report will guide future budgets regarding specific volunteer activities, Dr. Marsh said.

Finally, the AVMA headquarters building's utility rates have been renegotiated, and savings with travel will be looked at, as will printing and postage costs. "Everything is on the table," Dr. Marsh said.

AVMA staff are working on the 2010 fiscal year budget now. A draft should be reviewed in March, brought before the Executive Board for approval in April, and sent to the House of Delegates in July.

"To accomplish (a balanced budget and preserve long-term reserves), we may need more revenue. I don't know how much that may be, if anything, but we will determine that over the next few months," Dr. Marsh said, noting that if there were a dues increase, it would be to serve the membership's long-term needs and accomplish the Association's strategic goals.

AVMA Executive Vice President W. Ron DeHaven touched on progress seen with the AVMA's strategic goals and their importance to veterinary medicine.

"Indeed, we are facing some critical crossroads as a profession, but with those challenges come some real opportunities ... to shape what the future of the profession will be in three to five years," Dr. DeHaven said.

Among the activities so far is the development of a searchable database of its policies and a staff outreach to 90 law schools with animal law programs to explain the AVMA's perspective on animal-related legal issues.

When it comes to animal welfare issues, especially concerning food animals, the AVMA is working on connecting with other like-minded stakeholders who want to partner on certain positions, Dr. DeHaven said. The AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges will host an animal welfare symposium this November.

The AVMA hopes to strengthen the profession's economic viability through an online database of veterinary hospitals to help the public in locating veterinarians, expand the use of veterinary economic data, address pay inequities, and increase the number of veterinary technicians.

Dr. DeHaven also acknowledged a concern for veterinary education and said it is time for changes with regard to the current education model. Discussions on that topic will take place this year at meetings of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium with the AVMA actively participating.

The Association also is taking steps to examine the feasibility of combining the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates Program with the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence, with the goal of having one testing program.

Another initiative to further brand veterinary medicine was recently rolled out in the form of logos developed for the Council on Education and the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities to identify programs they accredited.

An issue garnering a lot of attention is the pressing concern of diversity in the profession. Proving particularly difficult is addressing ethnic diversity, Dr. DeHaven said.

It must start with a coordinated strategy to reach out to minority students, because "we clearly as a profession don't reflect the ethnic diversity of the general population," he said.

Dr. Althea A. Jones, AVMA online professional services editor, said the AVMA's new online continuing education program, AVMA Ed, is the result of a highly complex project that involves content from the AVMA Annual Convention and JAVMA. About two-thirds of the 100 courses captured on video during the 2008 AVMA Annual Convention are online now, and the site has had about 6,000 visitors from 35 countries since going live Dec. 1, 2008.

Joanne Clevenger, AVMA special projects manager, said teachers are searching for free online materials for their classrooms, and the AVMA is working to provide rich content that is accessible online and is specialized by grade levels.

"We believe there is going to be a lot more content on our Web pages over the next several years to encourage teachers to come on a regular basis," Clevenger said.

The AVMA is also reaching out to teachers and students through the National FFA Organization, National Association of Agricultural Educators, and National Science Teachers Association, Clevenger said. She encouraged attendees to take advantage of the AVMA's educational materials, share them with colleagues, and work with youths at the state and local levels.

The only declared candidate for AVMA president-elect, Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, gave a short address, as did AVMA Vice President Gary S. Brown. Dr. Brown is seeking a second term in office.

Dr. Melanie A. Marsden, a practice owner from Colorado Springs, Colo., spoke about how generational differences may impact the future of organized veterinary medicine. "Who will today's AVMA leaders turn the baton over to?" she asked, reminding attendees they have an obligation to ask others to get involved in their professional associations.

Dr. Marsden encouraged the AVMA to continue dedicating resources to nurturing and recruiting veterinary students and recent graduates who will one day lead the organization.  

Parting thoughts

Engaging and managing Generation Y in veterinary practice and organizational leadership was the focus of closing speaker Peter Sheahan, a native of New South Wales. 

A generational and workforce trend expert, Sheahan cited a survey that showed 71 percent of people would volunteer if asked, compared with 29 percent who volunteer of their own accord.

Michael Dunn
Michael Dunn, a public affairs
consultant, discusses how veterinarians
can promote their interests in
Washington, D.C.

Peter Sheahan, an Australian speaker and author, talks about working with
Generation Y.

"I've heard a couple times today, young people don't want to get involved," Sheahan said. "Is it our responsibility to engage them or their responsibility to engage?"

Drawing from surveys, he said young people today do a pretty good job of volunteering their time, energy, and resources. They're doing less of it for religious reasons, however. And women—especially married women—volunteer more than men.

Sheahan illustrated three traits that are key to engaging the Y generation, born between 1978 and 1994: fast—they were raised with fast food and credit cards and look for things to happen quickly; connected—they are technologically savvy and highly connected to Web sites, many of which are structured for participants to create content, such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and Flickr; and stimulating—Sheahan gave examples of companies that customize products or experiences for young people, such as the Toyota Scion, the political movement Generation Engage, even "American Idol," which gives viewers control through voting.

Characteristics of successful Gen Y movements and associations, according to Sheahan, include a compelling purpose, powerful social identification, technology support/enhancement, participatory/co-creation, and relatable leadership.

Sheahan encouraged the profession to develop customized opportunities for Gen Y and to offer them virtually whenever they evolve to a national level. "Pajama participation" enables mass participation from home and idea submission through wiki-based technology.

He suggested starting some projects and events built around issues important to Gen Y—projects that are event-driven, globally local, pajama-based, conductive to volunteering, and never patronizing.

"Animal welfare was off the Richter scale in surveys of this profession, and this could be a hook," he said.

Most "youth" positions in leadership are token, he said, seeking input only on youth issues. Space and opportunities for full involvement must be created.

"The number one secret to a good relationship," Sheahan said, "is ... a sense of genuinely valuing people."