March 01, 2018

 

 AVMA explores membership models for national and other large practices

Posted Feb. 14, 2018

The AVMA is starting to explore membership models for veterinarians working in national and other large practices in response to the growth of these practices.

About half of state VMAs offer a reduced membership rate for veterinarians who work in certain types of large practices, with these reduced rates most frequently used by the Banfield Pet Hospital national chain and veterinary colleges. In contrast, the AVMA does not currently have a reduced dues rate for veterinarians working in large practices.

The AVMA House of Delegates, during its regular winter session Jan. 5-6 in Chicago, voted to recommend that the AVMA Board of Directors study membership models that are based on practice size and ownership, including the financial impact of such membership models on member services. The topic was one of three discussed during the Veterinary Information Forum.

Delegates weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the AVMA creating a membership model for larger veterinary practices, which could mean more members for the AVMA while allowing some veterinarians—or employers—to pay less per membership.

During the Veterinary Information Forum, Dr. Stephen Steep, alternate delegate from Michigan, said he "felt cheated" when the board of the Michigan VMA voted to provide membership discounts for veterinarians in national practices. He said, "I felt that my voice had been discounted in favor of a national organization."

Dr. Sandra Faeh, Illinois delegate, said the Illinois State VMA has started a similar program. So far, Banfield and the state's veterinary college are participating. Participants must have one staff person dealing with all veterinarians' memberships, cutting staff time for the VMA. She said it is a concern, however, that the VMA "is giving a discount to a corporation that in theory can afford more than the individual practitioner."

Dr. Melanie Marsden, Colorado delegate, said the Colorado VMA offers a membership program for large practices, with the participants being Banfield and the state's veterinary college. About 15 percent of Banfield veterinarians in the state were members before, but now more than 85 percent are members. She said, "As an individual veterinarian, it's kind of hard to swallow, but having these folks involved, we've gotten some awesome young leaders."

Dr. Michael Ames, Arizona delegate, asked the delegates and audience members to raise their hand if they currently work for a national practice. A scattering of people raised their hands. He said, "In 10 years, if that same question is asked, we are going to see dramatically more hands raised. We all have seen the dramatic increase in national practices, particularly in just the last few years."

Previously a practitioner, he does pet cremation for veterinarians and is stunned at how many of his clients are converting to national practices. For the AVMA to stay relevant, he said, "We are going to need to see a lot more hands coming up."

Dr. Grace Bransford, a member of the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service and a candidate for AVMA vice president, raised the concern that big blocks of members could be in a position to start driving the agenda.

Dr. Sandy Willis, Washington state delegate, said the Washington State VMA offers corporate membership, with Banfield currently the sole corporate member. To qualify, the VMA requires 100 percent of Banfield veterinarians to be members, and the VMA's president-elect came up through the program.

Discussion by delegates and others continued in House committee meetings. Dr. Kelly Cooper, Oklahoma VMA president and Banfield vice president for veterinary quality, said she knows there is concern about the loss of the traditional private-practice model. Nevertheless, she said, "We're not just your competition; we're your colleagues."

Delegates asked the AVMA Board of Directors to report back at the regular annual session of the House this July in Denver with an update on the study of membership models.

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