AVMA President's Address to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

March 9, 2012

Famed economist John Maynard Keynes once said, "The difficulty lays not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones."

Raise your hand if you think we need fresh approaches, broader insight and greater collaboration in order to address the challenges facing veterinary medicine and veterinary education.

How many agree that the status quo just doesn't cut it anymore?

No one can argue that veterinarians are among some of the best and the brightest. We have earned tremendous respect from the public, from government and from our peers in science – because of what we do and because of the universal impact we have on virtually every species on this planet. And we've been doing it for a long time now.

Last year, we all celebrated World Veterinary Year, recognizing the founding of the first veterinary school in Lyon, France, 250 years ago. As the AVMA looks forward to celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2013, and as AAVMC looks ahead to its 50th anniversary in 2016, we can all say that we've come a long way, baby. Today we are successfully treating more illnesses, diseases and medical conditions than ever. We are protectors of public health and stewards of the environment. The human-animal bond has never been stronger. We have made huge contributions to animal, human and global health.

We are – and we should be – quite proud of our accomplishments.

But we are also struggling. Struggling to ensure that veterinary medicine is a personally and financially rewarding profession. Struggling to make sure that we can continue to cultivate and nurture future generations of young, talented veterinarians. Struggling both within ourselves, and as a veterinary community, with questions and concerns about the veterinary workforce, veterinary education and veterinary economics.

Perhaps – in light of all these concerns and struggles – we do need to take a deeper look into how and why we are doing things. As Keynes said, perhaps we need to escape from the ways of the past.

I am not here proposing dramatic changes to veterinary education and to how we practice veterinary medicine. I believe that we continue to serve as the gold standard when it comes to educating veterinary students, and I am confident that we provide the best possible veterinary medicine in the world.

I think we can all agree that what we need is an evolution, not a revolution. That's why we are here today. And that's why, just the other day, we held the second of what we hope will be ongoing, critically important discussions designed to address the future of the profession, with, of course, a continued emphasis on high standards for veterinary medical education.

After meeting with many of you Wednesday, I must say that I am even more inspired now than when we first met at NAVC last month. Our discussions continue to be open, candid and supportive. I am not aware of any similar gatherings of our collective minds ever happening before, so, from that aspect alone, what we are doing is historic.

We are focused on developing a common understanding of the many educational and economic challenges we are facing as a profession. And now it's time to start taking some definitive actions. From our second meeting, we have agreed to focus on: the veterinary medical workforce, veterinary educational debt, how we will continue this critical dialogue and what steps we need to take next.

Our discussions have been both lively and constructive. And I commend each of you who have committed to this cause – for providing your insight, your expertise and your time. We have only just begun, but I think we are off to a terrific start. And I am equally convinced that by working together, we can make a difference.

The AVMA and the AAVMC have enjoyed a sound working relationship for decades now. We have committed ourselves to achieving common goals; we have collaborated to address common concerns. Can we work together even more closely? Of course we can. And considering today's climate and the challenges we face, I think we all agree that it is imperative that we do so. Considering the joint commitment we have made to this cause, I think we are proving that we can – and will – tackle these challenges together.

We need each other in this endeavor, because the road ahead isn't as straight as we might like. We need each other's skills and experience. We need each other's guidance and support. We need all the eyes and ears we can get. We need to be equally skilled at using both the rear-view mirror and the windshield to be an effective driver of positive change.

As we drive this change together, we need to keep an eye on the past and what we've accomplished, but our eyes must always be clearly focused on what lies ahead, so we can prepare for our future and navigate the road not yet traveled. And most importantly, we need to travel this road together.

Along the way, we need to be well-equipped.

We need reliable, fact-based studies that will paint for us a clear picture of the veterinary workforce, and how we and our young colleagues can thrive, both personally and professionally. We are all anxiously awaiting a much-delayed study by the National Academy of Sciences on this very issue. And we, the AVMA, are in the early stages of developing a similar workforce study. We have distributed requests for proposals to potential vendors who are experts in this field, and we hope that our efforts will result in a quantitative, authoritative study that will help us get our heads and our arms around the workforce issue. And, along the way, we will continue to collaborate with AAVMC on the final design of this study.

We need pilots, co-pilots and navigators who can take a disciplined, introspective look at veterinary school tuition and educational debt.

We need to work together to raise the confidence of our graduates.

We need to build and inspire confidence among the public – so that veterinary services remain valued, with an educated understanding that they are critically important for both animal and human health.

All of this is within our grasp. And each of us in this room today – passionate about veterinary medicine – is committed to making things happen.

We know the challenges we face, and I am confident that we can successfully address them. I know that there is no magic bullet. We all know that we didn't get here overnight, and that we will not solve all of our problems today. But we will solve them.

Together, we will improve upon the best things we have already accomplished. And arrive at solutions that exceed even our own expectations. Through continued commitment, we will continue to produce – and practice – excellence.

Thank you.