September 01, 2013


 Cast of characters opens historic convention

Bill Kurtis emcees AVMA opening session in Chicago 


 Veteran anchorman Bill Kurtis hosts the AVMA opening session. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Famous veterinarians from the annals of U.S. veterinary history joined broadcast journalist Bill Kurtis the evening of July 19 as he hosted the opening session of the AVMA’s 150th anniversary convention at Chicago’s McCormick Place, sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition. 

Cameos by veterinary figures from centuries past traced the course of the profession through six eras, accompanied by audio and visuals recreating the times. 

A ‘60s veterinarian: “Man, it was a groovy time. Why? Because, like J.F.K. said, ‘We choose to go to the moon.’ And who was going to help us get there—veterinarians, of course.” (Photo by Matt Alexandre/Robb Cohen Photography)

“In the Beginning,” from 1863-1900, was a time when the nation’s population increased and demand for safer food and better disease control grew. Animals played an integral role in agriculture and the Civil War, but educated veterinarians to keep them healthy were in short supply. “So the stage was set for a more formal endeavor on behalf of veterinary medicine,” Kurtis said.

The character of Dr. Alexandre Liautard, one of the 1863 founders of the United States Veterinary Medical Association—the AVMA’s precursor—was first to take the stage. “Our early efforts with the USVMA focused on setting higher educational standards for the profession … and graduation requirements for all veterinary students,” he said. “The fledgling organization was serious about its desire to help shape public policy, so we began openly lobbying the federal government on behalf of its members and the profession.” Dr. Liautard was also the first editor of the American Veterinary Review, which became JAVMA. 

Other advances during that era included the work of Dr. Daniel Salmon and Theobald Smith, MD, and the federal government replacing farriers and uneducated “horse doctors” with veterinarians.

The character of Dr. Elinor McGrath narrated “A New Century,” 1900-1929, telling how she became the first female AVMA member, following in the footsteps of the first female veterinary college graduate, Dr. Mignon Nicholson. “Taking another progressive step, the first African-American members were admitted to the AVMA in 1920,” she noted. 

Nineteenth century Dr. Alexandre Liautard to a 21st century veterinary graduate: “It’s such an exciting time to be in this industry!” (Photo by Matt Alexandre/Robb Cohen Photography)​

With the end of World War I and a decline in the need for horse care came companion animal veterinarians, Kurtis said. “And so it’s been throughout the AVMA’s history, the organization has always responded to the direction and needs as set by our culture and our society.”

During this era, Kurtis said, a boy was born in Chicago who would dedicate his life to advancing the understanding of the connections between human and animal health. To the audience’s delight, Dr. James H. Steele, known as the father of veterinary public health, appeared via video, congratulating the AVMA on its anniversary. The centenarian noted the Association was 50 years old when he was born and expressed hope that many present would be back for the AVMA’s 200th anniversary.

The next era, “A Changing World,” 1930-1959, saw the stock market crash and Great Depression. AVMA milestones included formation of the Council on Research and founding of the American Journal of Veterinary Research and the AVMA’s Washington office.

A World War II era newsboy strutted across the stage hawking copies of JAVMA that told of veterinarians’ far-ranging wartime contributions, from checking sanitation conditions to caring for messenger pigeons and guard dogs.

“Staying the Course,” 1960-1979, was personified by a ‘60s veterinarian praising veterinary involvement in the space program, and Kurtis recounting creation of the first euthanasia panel and the work of Dr. Calvin Schwabe, the father of veterinary epidemiology.

“An Evolving Profession,” 1980-2000, saw a majority of AVMA members working primarily in small animal practice, the emergence of technology, and formation of the AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams.

The final scene: In the “The New Millennium” era, a graduating student and Dr. Liautard are left to ponder the daunting task facing contemporary veterinarians of choosing from among so many species and specialty career focuses.

During the opening event, two veterinarians were recognized—Dr. James H. Brandt with the top honor, the AVMA Award, and Dr. Benjamin Hart with the Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Practitioner of the Year Award.

Dr. Ellen Lowery of Hill’s and AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven talked about the nationwide Partners for Healthy Pets preventive care program, being led by the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association. Dr. DeHaven encouraged attendees to activate the campaign in their practices by enrolling here, where they can also find relevant practice tools. See this story about the program.

In conclusion, Kurtis said the profession has come from small beginnings to global influence, adding, “American veterinarians are admired and respected worldwide. And the American Veterinary Medical Association stands as their voice, their foundation, and their biggest supporter.

“Congratulations to each of you for picking a profession so profoundly compassionate and caring.”