How do we replace ourselves?
The earnest question was posed during an allied group summit Jan 5 at the AVMA's 2001 Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.
Expressly, how should the profession cultivate leaders for the future? And inspire coming generations of veterinarians to enter underserved areas such as food animal medicine?
Officers and delegates from at least 15 allied organizations represented in the House of Delegates came together for the summit. Most were already in Chicago for the leadership conference or HOD informational assembly.
Dr. Jane Brunt, delegate to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, said the AAFP, historically an educational organization, is a "relatively new presence in the AVMA" but is looking to embrace and enhance its collaborative efforts with the parent organization.
The summit was called to identify the contributions and expertise of constituent organizations, so the profession could leverage those resources to advance common goals and issues. At the heart of it was dialogue not so much about issues but the process.
Co-moderators were AVMA president, Dr. James E. Nave and Dr. Peter F. Haynes, one of three HOD representatives on the Long-Range Planning Committee.
The summit was an initiative of the AVMA Long-Range Planning Committee approved by the Executive Board in November 1999. One of the committee's goals is advancing strategic alliances. Dr. Haynes told attendees, "We felt strategic alliances need to start at home. You could state it a different way: what are the ways the allied groups, individually and collectively, can strengthen the AVMA, and the reverse—what can the AVMA do to strengthen the allied groups?"
President Nave began, "I look at allied groups as a tremendous resource.
"The liaisons appointed by the allied groups to the AVMA take their job very seriously. Executive Board members who are liaisons to allied groups feel the same way, and argue passionately for your positions when it comes time."
He encouraged them to offer their expertise, specifically mentioning the Model Practice Act Committee chaired by Executive Board member, Dr. Roger K. Mahr.
National issues call for unified action, but what if there are divided opinions? "There are some issues the bovine practitioners, for example, might feel differently about than the small animal practitioners," Dr. Nave acknowledged, "but when you listen to both positions, you generally come to the right solution."
Dr. David Madsen shared three "real issues" the American Association of Swine Veterinarians is concerned about—antibiotic resistance, food safety, and animal welfare and good management practices. "We're too darn small to do it by ourselves," the AASV delegate and president-elect said, "so from our perspective, we need the AVMA's support on issues that are more political than substantive," he said.
Dr. Tom Burkgren, AASV executive director, extolled AVMA staff who get out to work with allied groups on common goals but encouraged more of them to follow suit.
Speaking for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Dr. Tom Lenz, alternate delegate, said that what the AAEP can do for the AVMA is work with the Association when a horse issue arises. Some of the areas with which the AAEP welcomes AVMA involvement are animal welfare issues, meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse membership, and nonveterinarians practicing alternative medicine and dentistry.
Echoing the concern about laypersons performing veterinary procedures, especially in horses, was the Society for Theriogenology. Dr. Juan Samper, president, cited animal science departments teaching ultrasound and palpation as other disturbing examples. The society would also like the AVMA to help increase its exposure and tell new graduates of the importance of reproduction.
Dr. Rick Stobaeus Jr, president-elect, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, called for more involvement with veterinary students. Dr. Dale Boyle, delegate and executive vice president, National Association of Federal Veterinarians, spoke of the difficulty in recruiting veterinarians for federal government positions.
Clearly, an area where allied groups welcome AVMA leadership is in influencing the veterinary curriculum. Time after time, allied group officials spoke about the power of the curriculum in shaping the future of the veterinary profession.
"We are considered the stepchildren at veterinary schools," said Dr. John Donahoe, president-elect of the American Association of Avian Pathologists, "and this may happen to other groups, too." Stay involved in the curriculum through the Council on Education, he urged, as well as in drug issues.
Dr. Samper said the Society for Theriogenology is concerned because reproduction is losing importance in some veterinary school curriculums.
Likewise, in some—although not all—veterinary schools, food animal medicine doesn't have the emphasis it once did, according to Dr. James Jarrett, alternate delegate, American Association of Bovine Practitioners. Even companion animal veterinarians need to know about food safety, he noted, as illustrated by public concern over bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Dr. Jarrett was the one who posed the question, "How do we replace ourselves?" He said, "If we're not careful, 20 years from now food animal veterinary education could very well not be taught in some veterinary colleges."
A former Council on Education member noted that a college itself establishes its curriculum; the council's accreditation process revolves around evaluating whether the institution is accomplishing what it states it is doing in its self-study. Dr. Nave said, "Everyone believes more should be added to the curriculum, but no one wants to take anything out. Certain colleges are doing more in certain areas. He believes more should be done to enable veterinary students to spend time at other veterinary colleges to pursue areas of interest.
Rob Richardson, delegate, Student AVMA, said it would be great if students at more schools could train for four to six weeks at other schools. He added that, if students are taught about anatomy and pharmacology and things political, maybe they should also learn about leadership, because, he said, it is not being nurtured. "The most important thing we're looking for when we graduate is mentorship."
Various views on tracking in the curriculum were expressed. Dr. Taylor Bennett, delegate, American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners, said, "We're not graduating kids who have a good feel for a broad variety of other species."Another participant said that veterinarians need a basic education in all species, even to be able to understand journal articles.
Dr. Rosemary LoGiudice, president-elect, Illinois State VMA, said she is glad her veterinary education did not include tracking. An equine practitioner, she turned to small animal medicine while a shattered leg healed, and now enjoys both areas of practice.
Having agreed on the importance of the AVMA capitalizing on allied group expertise, and the allied groups looking to the AVMA for a unified voice on issues, what are the best avenues of communication?
The co-moderators asked whether the allied groups would like to see the AVMA expand the Legislative Advisory Committee model of allied group involvement. This idea was favorably received.
The Legislative Advisory Committee, which came into being in June 1999, was the first AVMA entity in recent times where the major allied groups are represented and can discuss their sometimes diverse viewpoints. The committee framework enables the AVMA to serve as the unified legislative voice of the profession.
Dr. James Payne represents the American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians on the committee: "It is a model that is working. I've never seen a group of people so diverse work so well together," he said, also giving credit to the AVMA Governmental Relations Division staff.
Last November, the Executive Board approved Dr. Nave's recommendation to apply a similar formula to the Animal Welfare Committee. To better represent the opinions of the allied groups, the committee has new categories replacing areas of species or discipline representation. Dr. Nave favors the same thing for the Committee on Environmental Affairs.
Dr. Charles Farho, alternate delegate to the American Association of Industrial Veterinarians, noted that in the '70s, the AVMA Drug Availability Committee (now called Drug Advisory Committee) drew on the expertise of allied group members. "Allied groups do represent all of veterinary medicine. I encourage AVMA to continue supporting that approach."
Another topic of discussion was motivating more allied groups to meet during the AVMA Annual Convention. Currently the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners and American Association of Avian Pathologists are the only two groups that do. Dr. Y. M. Saif, AAAP delegate, said, "Our meeting is rather unique." The AAAP sessions don't fit the usual format, and in the past this posed a problem. Recently Dr. Saif has seen the AVMA become more accommodating, and he believes the social and professional benefits of meeting during the AVMA convention are considerable.