July 15, 2014

 

 The next AVMA vice president

​Russak and Stinson explain they’re up for the job

Posted July 1, 2014

In addition to choosing a president-elect, the AVMA House of Delegates will elect a new vice president during its regular annual session this July in Denver.

Two candidates are running for the office, a two-year position as the AVMA liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters. It also entails a seat on the AVMA Executive Board as a voting member.

Dr. Walter R. Threlfall was elected AVMA vice president in 2012, and his term is coming to an end. Looking to pick up where he leaves off are Drs. Rebecca Stinson of Reidsville, North Carolina, and Mark Russak of Berlin, Connecticut. Here, each candidate explains why he or she is best-suited for the office.

Dr. Russak responds:

Why do you want to be AVMA vice president?

I have dedicated the last 11 years of my career to working with students from virtually every veterinary school in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. I have noticed there is an apparent disconnect between the students, new veterinary graduates, and the AVMA. The value proposition of joining and supporting the AVMA has not been conveyed in a way that is resonating with our young doctors. These are challenging times for our profession, especially for those just starting their careers. They need to realize that the AVMA leadership is quite aware of the issues they face and is doing what it can to facilitate the long-term changes necessary to help them succeed. That being said, it is up to the students to communicate their wants and needs to the AVMA. Meeting these challenges is a process, and change will not occur overnight. Challenges always present opportunities; I want to focus on the opportunity. This is a two-way street, and communication both ways is critical to eventual mutually beneficial solutions. I believe I can be the communication conduit that can make this a reality. 



 Dr. Mark Russak
 

What makes you the best person for the office?

My career includes the military, private companion animal practice, leadership within organized veterinary medicine, and academia, giving me a unique perspective of the diverse paths within our profession. That career diversity allows me to see our profession through its many different facets. This gives me a unique perspective of the varied career tracks within our profession, having actually lived them, and allows me to understand the unique needs of each professional niche. I have given over 70 educational presentations in the last four years at veterinary schools throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. The message I have been delivering, which is all about personal and professional success, must be resonating, as I have been brought back to speak at several schools multiple times. Being retired from private practice and academia has afforded me the opportunity to have the time for the travel this office requires, and I look forward to continuing a rigorous travel schedule as the AVMA vice president.

What qualifications and experiences do you bring to the position?

My professional resume includes being a veterinary technician in the U.S. Air Force for four years, and as a practitioner I founded and for almost 25 years owned and managed a top-notch American Animal Hospital Association–accredited companion animal hospital. This was followed by seven years in academia, teaching primary care, business, and communication at Mississippi State University, where I received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Additionally, I spent two years as the director of student affairs, and I was the faculty AAHA, AVMA student chapter, and Veterinary Business Management Association student adviser. I am a recent board member and past president of AAHA. My academic career has made me realize that my passion lies in helping students get the tools they need for successful veterinary careers, whatever paths they choose.

In your opinion, what is the AVMA vice president’s role?

The role of the vice president is that of central communicator. Bringing an understanding of the AVMA message and activities to the students and what this means to everyone engaged in our profession is critical. Equally important is bringing the student message back to the Executive Board so they can better understand the students’ concerns, allowing the board to respond in an appropriate and timely manner.

“The biggest challenge (facing veterinary students and graduates) is the current state of the veterinary economy. This is a complex issue involving multiple forces, which the students feel are out of their control—and for the most part, they are correct.”
-Dr. Mark Russak

What do you see as the most important challenges and opportunities facing veterinary students and recent graduates today?

The biggest challenge is the current state of the veterinary economy. This is a complex issue involving multiple forces, which the students feel are out of their control—and for the most part, they are correct. Some of the current dynamics contributing to student worries are rising tuition costs, increased class sizes, additional veterinary schools, the shrinking job market, and student debt-to-salary ratios that are financially unsustainable, among others.

As vice president, how would you direct the Association’s response to these areas?

I have always believed challenges equal opportunities. Over the last decade, consumer spending on pets has been on the rise, yet the veterinary piece of that pie continues to shrink and yet our clients spend record amounts on Halloween costumes for their pets. Wellness care is being neglected, heartworm disease is on the rise, and diabetes and obesity in companion animals is becoming an epidemic. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of our clients consult Dr. Google before bringing their sick pets to the veterinary office. Partners for Healthy Pets is a major initiative within our profession like we have never seen before. We need to better educate pet owners about the real value we bring, in keeping their furry friends healthy and increasing their time together. At the same time, if we teach practitioners how to communicate that benefit, demand for our services will rise. The next part of that equation is to teach students how to be successful through understanding the economics of veterinary medicine, gaining client trust, and enhancing client bonding and communication. As AVMA vice president, I will continue to stress those critical success skills as I educate and communicate with students.

Any final thoughts?

The AVMA is fortunate to have two fine candidates vying for this office. I feel my diverse background, my dedication to working with students, plus the professional credibility and trust I have built make me the best candidate to fill this role. I am passionate and committed to student success, and my knowledge and in-depth understanding of students enable me to serve this office and the AVMA well. This is the greatest profession in the world, and I have been fortunate to be a veterinarian. My ultimate goal is to help make this profession better every day through the resources and opportunities extended to me as AVMA vice president.

 


 

Dr. Stinson Responds:

Why do you want to be AVMA vice president?

I would like to be AVMA vice president because this position is the first face our members put on AVMA. I would like our future members and colleagues currently in veterinary school to realize that AVMA is made up of all types of veterinarians, not only from all facets of practice but truly from all facets of medicine. I would also like the opportunity to help the next generation of veterinarians recognize the value that AVMA can bring to them in their career and personal involvement.

What makes you the best person for the office?

We are truly blessed to have two great people running for this position. What sets me apart is my experience within AVMA as well as the Student AVMA. This gives me a broad knowledge of the inner workings of AVMA and the opportunities and challenges that exist within the current leadership model when new graduates are interested in becoming more involved in the organization. With this knowledge, I hope to bring relevant contributions to the AVMA Executive Board on opportunities to improve our engagement with not only students but also faculty and staff at the veterinary colleges. 

​  Dr. Rebecca Stinson
 

What qualifications and experiences do you bring to the position?

I had the good fortune to serve as Student AVMA secretary my third year and Student AVMA president my fourth year of veterinary school. Since graduation, I have continued my involvement with organized veterinary medicine within my state, with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and serving on AVMA councils, committees, and task forces. Additionally, I have worked with students through many avenues since graduating, including helping with lectures at NC State University, wet labs for AAEP student chapters, working with numerous externs, and serving as the chair of the Student Member Activities subcommittee for the AVMA Member Services Committee. Students may also value interacting with someone who is still dealing with the struggles of buying into a practice, paying off student debt, and managing work-life balance.

In your opinion, what is the AVMA vice president’s role?

The role of AVMA vice president is to be the face to the students on behalf of our over 85,000 members. This calls for being in tune to the needs of the practitioner, academician, and all other segments of the profession.  My experience with the Member Services Committee, Council on Veterinary Service, and as an AVMA Future Leader opened my eyes and mind to the amazing diversity of our profession and the different needs of many of those segments. As vice president, it will be my role to bring those needs back to the Executive Board and work to improve the ways in which the organization can improve our service and relevance to this broad cultural experience.

“Our profession needs to continue to expand our knowledge of good business practices to provide a viable future. The Association has a responsibility to be upfront with potential future colleagues about the current standing of the marketplace.”
-Dr. Rebecca Stinson

What do you see as the most important challenges and opportunities facing veterinary students and recent graduates today?

The most important challenges facing students today are not limited to the veterinary scope. Students are faced with the increasing cost of tuition, leading to increased debt load followed by the challenge of finding a job in a tough marketplace. These challenges are not at all limited to veterinarians but include nearly all of those coming into the job market currently. The good news is that there are also great opportunities. The job market does appear to be improving, albeit slowly. There are ever-changing fields for veterinarians to enter, including policy, public health, industry, and research. The marketplace for practice has expanded to include a focus on rehabilitative medicine, complementary therapy, and opportunities for new ways of practicing.

As vice president, how would you direct the Association’s response to these areas?

As an association, we need to continue to work to improve the economic viability of the profession by emphasizing the value of the profession to public health as well as continuing our marketing strategies to increase visits to veterinary practices. Additionally, we need to work to help students have a clear understanding of the financial realities of student debt. We need to remind students and ourselves that this is an investment in ourselves, and we need to take responsibility for that investment, including using our dollars wisely while in and out of school. Our profession needs to continue to expand our knowledge of good business practices to provide a viable future. The Association has a responsibility to be upfront with potential future colleagues about the current standing of the marketplace. Lastly, we have an obligation to continue to promote the values and core knowledge that a DVM/VMD conveys and the value that brings to careers not traditionally filled by veterinarians.

Any final thoughts?

Along the way this year, I am grateful to have spoken with new people from all over this great country and even from around the globe and am truly struck by the common goals of veterinarians everywhere. I truly believe that we can only move our profession forward by working together.