September 15, 2012


 For veterinary medicine, it’s the best—and worst—of times

AVMA President Aspros on the state of the profession

Posted Sept. 5, 2012

Charles Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities” offers a good description of the current state of the veterinary profession, according to AVMA President Douglas G. Aspros.

Speaking at the AVMA House of Delegates regular annual session Aug. 3 in San Diego, Dr. Aspros told the assembly that had Dickens also been a veterinarian, he might have penned “A Tale of Two Professions” instead of a book about the French Revolution. “He wrote, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.’ It pretty neatly sums up where we find ourselves today,” said Dr. Aspros, who succeeded Dr. René A. Carlson as AVMA president Aug. 7.

State funding for veterinary colleges is declining. Practitioners are confronted with a stagnant economy and a rapidly evolving world of service delivery. New equine veterinarians face the lowest starting salaries among all private-sector practitioners. Companion animal practices reliant on drug sales, vaccinations, and spays and neuters are seeing greater competition from low-cost providers. Consolidations within the animal agriculture industry have resulted in decreased demand for veterinary services.

These are but a few of the challenges Dr. Aspros said today’s veterinary profession must deal with. But does this mean veterinarians are currently living in the worst of times? “Not by a long shot,” he countered.

Veterinary education is more sophisticated and research-driven now than at any other time. Veterinarians are willing to champion animal welfare even when doing so discomforts clients or colleagues. Pain management has been embraced as an ethical obligation. Veterinary specialization has helped raise standards of practice, to the benefit of patients and clients. Veterinarians hold key government positions, including in the departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as demand for veterinary expertise grows. The one-health movement that brings veterinarians and physicians together to enhance our understanding of health and disease is gaining ground.

Taken all together, Dr. Aspros has “great expectations” about the future of the profession. “Veterinary medicine survived its first great dislocation in the last century when the horse stopped being the main source of transport, and many city-based veterinary colleges closed,” Dr. Aspros said. “With the surviving colleges in the land-grant system, we turned to animal agriculture and food production as our primary charge.

“Today, we look to biomedical research and public health to recast our mission for the future. These are important endeavors for which we are uniquely qualified, and society would benefit from our increased participation in these spheres.

“But offer no apologies for treating companion animals, given the importance of pets in the developed countries. This is not a trivial reason for us to exist as a profession. With a growing population in a world where people are rapidly losing physical communities and replacing them with virtual ones, supporting the human-animal bond is both a vital and a noble undertaking. Companion animal veterinary medicine plays an important role in enhancing the emotional, psychological, and physical health of people.”

2012-2013 AVMA President Douglas G. Aspros addresses the AVMA House of Delegates during its regular annual session in San Diego this past August.​

Dr. Aspros has practiced small animal medicine in New York state since graduating from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1975. He was the District I representative on the AVMA Executive Board from 2006-2010. Previously, Dr. Aspros served six years on the AVMA Council on Education, including a year as chair. The AVMA House of Delegates elected Dr. Aspros the 2011-2012 AVMA president-elect last year in St. Louis.

Dr. Aspros says he is proud of the Association’s rapid evolution from “the slow-moving, deeply conservative, resistant-to-change organization” he encountered when he first joined the Executive Board, to become “the far more dynamic and engaged AVMA of today.”

For instance, the Executive Board recently appointed Dr. Beth Sabin, an assistant director of the AVMA Education and Research Division, to help the Association promote diversity within the veterinary profession. Additionally, the AVMA no longer eschews veterinary business issues, as evidenced by the recent formation of the Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee and Veterinary Economics Division as well as the commissioning of a study of the U.S. veterinary workforce. “By next spring, we should have high-quality data to forecast, more accurately than ever before, the demand for veterinarians and veterinary services in the next decade,” Dr. Aspros said.

The Executive Board has also been collaborating with veterinary college deans to identify strategies for easing the educational debt burden experienced by large numbers of recent graduates, according to Dr. Aspros.

“Regardless of the challenges, I believe that the AVMA of today can face our times—the best and the worst—in a strategic, focused, even visionary way,” he said.

In his speech Dr. Aspros highlighted the ongoing work of the AVMA Task Force on Governance and Member Participation, calling the initiative “this generation’s opportunity to remold the Association into a better tool” for now and the future. “I’ve said before that AVMA is one of veterinary medicine’s best tools,” he said. “We can’t afford to work like a typical multipurpose tool: doing everything but nothing very well.”

Dr. Aspros addressed the controversy surrounding the AVMA Executive Board’s vote this February to support the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798). Backed by the United Egg Producers and Humane Society of the United States, H.R. 3798 would establish national standards for the treatment of egg-laying hens. The board’s action upset many in the animal agriculture community who consider the legislation an unprecedented expansion of government oversight of the nation’s farms.

“AVMA needs to remain broadly focused on the needs of all of our constituencies, yet ready to lead even when leadership is painful,” Dr. Aspros said. “AVMA’s support for the UEP-HSUS legislation on poultry housing sent shock waves through the profession and right on up to Capitol Hill. With all due respect to those who opposed our stance, it was the right position for AVMA, because it was the right one for the veterinary profession.

“This kind of disagreement will happen again—we’re not a monolithic profession—and it’s critical that we mitigate the impact on our Association so we can remain the united voice for veterinary medicine.”

To help meet that objective and to promote unity and understanding, Dr. Aspros said the AVMA is planning a summit this year to advance an intraprofessional dialogue on both pet and production animal welfare issues.

“It’s important that we respect, and work to understand, the roles and responsibilities of veterinarians across the spectrum of professional activity,” he said. “AVMA needs to remain broadly focused on the needs of all of our constituencies and be the voice for us all, while being ready to lead even when leadership is painful.”

Dr. Aspros said he is honored to serve the veterinary profession and the AVMA as 2012-2013 president and concluded his remarks before the AVMA House of Delegates where he had begun them.

“At the end of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ facing the guillotine in Paris, Sydney Carton said this: ‘It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.’ I hope that’s true for me this year and that I can make it true for you all, too. But I hope to keep my head.”