September 15, 2017


 For Topper, leadership development is job one

AVMA's new president wants to ensure profession's future

Posted Aug. 30, 2017

Dr. TopperDr. Michael Topper

Training veterinary leaders to ensure the future of the profession will be Dr. Michael Topper's top priority as AVMA president.

In his address to the AVMA House of Delegates on July 21 in Indianapolis, the retired Army colonel outlined the focus of his presidency in the coming year. In addition to leadership development, Dr. Topper will use his office to address shortages in the federal veterinary workforce, strengthen AVMA leadership in the one-health movement, and promote member wellness.

"One thing I learned in my 22 years as an officer in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps is that a successful leader takes care of their troops," he said. "This conviction has guided me throughout my career in both the paid and volunteer workforce, and it is why I embrace the principles of servant leadership."

He succeeded Dr. Tom Meyer as AVMA president at the conclusion of AVMA Convention 2017 on July 25.

Dr. Topper enlisted in the Army Veterinary Corps in 1980 after receiving his DVM degree from the University of Georgia. He worked in various capacities during his military career and was running the pathology division at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research when he retired from the Army in 2002. A board-certified veterinary pathologist, Dr. Topper is currently director of clinical pathology at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pennsylvania.

For the workplace, the key priorities of servant leadership, Dr. Topper explained, are developing people, building a trusting team, and achieving results; the key principles are service first, persuasion, and empowerment; and the key practices are listening, delegating, and connecting followers to the mission. He said the AVMA can do more in promoting leadership development, specifically by helping veterinary practice owners develop team-building and team-leadership skills.

(A) successful leader takes care of their troops. This conviction has guided me throughout my career in both the paid and volunteer workforce, and it is why I embrace the principles of servant leadership."

2017-18 AVMA President Michael Topper

"By better utilizing the annual Veterinary Leadership Conference, our Future Leaders Program, and our Early Career Development Committee; by expanding our partnership with the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative and other leadership programs; and by improving existing seminars, workshops, and online leadership training, we can better meet this need for our members and for our principal and constituent allied veterinary organizations," Dr. Topper said.

"And so, let's work together and make the AVMA the center of excellence for veterinary leadership development for our next generation of leaders," he added.

The AVMA also must continue to work on finding ways of growing the federal veterinary workforce, according to Dr. Topper. There is an ongoing concern that federal agencies lack sufficient numbers of veterinarians necessary to mount an effective response to a highly contagious or economically devastating animal disease, he said.

Dr. Michael Topper outlines his priorities as president in his address to the AVMA House of Delegates in Indianapolis.

"We can do our part by advocating for the creation of new jobs and increased responsibilities in all public practice areas," Dr. Topper said. "We also have two resolutions before this body that call for assistance in supporting the federal veterinary workforce." (See "USDA recruiting for slaughter inspectors".)

Regarding one health, Dr. Topper believes the AVMA should strengthen its commitment to the movement. "Ultimately, people and animals rely on the environment for their nourishment and survival, and it's these interconnections that make the practice of one health so critically important for each of us," he said.

Dr. Topper highlighted AVMA initiatives promoting veterinary wellness and well-being such as "Question, Persuade, and Refer" training to identify those at risk of suicide; the AVMA Wellness and Well-being community on LinkedIn; and cyberbullying resources. The AVMA is working with veterinarians in the United Kingdom and Australia on enhancing outreach in this critical area, he added.

Dr. Topper concluded his HOD address by encouraging his colleagues to "own" their profession.

"If we veterinarians do not own the professional issues dealing with the diverse practice of veterinary medicine, somebody else will. We must own advocacy at the state and national levels to prevent legislators from telling us how to treat animals. We must own production animal welfare to prevent consumers and retailers from telling us the best way to humanely raise these animals. We must own being the public face of veterinary medicine to prevent others from being the go-to source for information," he explained.

"Owning it may force us out of our comfort zone because it will mean being proactive and not reactive, and being willing to take on challenges that are best for the profession," Dr. Topper said. "But I believe we have it in us."