Members of the House of Delegates, Executive Board and Distinguished Guests, welcome to the City of Chicago and our annual Veterinary Leadership Conference.
These are exciting times here in the Windy City. What should be a hotly contested mayoral race is beginning to take shape. And you don't have to look very hard to see Chicago and its sports-crazed fans are truly excited about the Chicago Bears being in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season.
My home team Houston Texans won't be playing in the postseason, but as the old adage goes, "There's always next year."
It is my pleasure to address you this afternoon and give you a brief update and review of our activities these five months since our annual Convention in Atlanta last year. Just like the enthusiasm we're seeing here in Chicago, we too have a lot to be excited about as an association and as a profession. Our membership continues to grow and thrive. We are now more than 80,000 members strong, representing more than 83% of the veterinarians in the United States.
We are experiencing a more stable financial situation, with the AVMA Executive Board approving a balanced budget for this year. Dr. Bret Marsh, our AVMA treasurer, will be updating you on our financials momentarily.
We had more than 8,500 total attendees at our annual Convention in Atlanta last August, and registration and housing for the 2011 Convention in St. Louis will open later this month. We're excited that our convention attendance will continue to grow, and I ask that all of you join me in the Gateway to the West as we gather next July.
At our November Executive Board meeting, we elected Dr. Barbara Schmidt – from among a field of six candidates – to succeed Dr. Marsh as our new AVMA Treasurer this July.(Pause)I would like to take a couple of minutes to highlight a few issues of interest and recent actions taken by your AVMA Executive Board:
Starting this month, AVMA member and public comments will be solicited regarding the updating of the AVMA Model Veterinary Practice Act. I urge each of you to weigh-in on this important topic by visiting www.avma.org to share your thoughts about how this important document can better reflect professional, technological and societal changes affecting veterinary medicine.
Last November, the AVMA Executive Board approved a Future Leaders Program to identify and mentor 8 to 10 upcoming leaders within the AVMA membership.
Also at the November meeting, the Executive Board revised our Veterinarian's Oath to emphasis our responsibility to promote animal welfare and prevent animal suffering. As many of you might already be aware, these revisions have prompted some lively discussion among us.
Our advocacy efforts – and particularly those of our Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C. – paid major dividends when the USDA's Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program named the first 62 award recipients who have pledged to work in underserved rural areas in exchange for veterinary school debt relief. These awards average more than $96,000 and will go a long way toward addressing this nation's shortage of rural private and public practitioners.
AVMA and WebMD are collaborating on The Pet Health Exchange, an online forum for pet owners seeking information about animal health issues. The Pet Health Exchange was launched last February and has hosted hundreds of discussions to date and has received a generous amount of positive feedback.
This is the second year the AVMA Member Services Committee has identified 10 AVMA constituent organizations (8 state VMAs and 2 Allied Organizations) and provided them each with $1,000 to provide them with an opportunity to bring an additional Emerging Leader to this Veterinary Leadership Conference.
With much work by our aforementioned GRD Staff in Washington, D. C., and because of your own outreach to your federal legislators, veterinarians last month received an exemption from the FTC's "Red Flags" Rules, saving us the cost and administrative burdens of requirements that we believe are inappropriate for small healthcare professionals like veterinarians.
Our AVMA Legal Outreach program has been active for 2 ½ years now and has assembled 25 speakers across the country. The program has been presented to 15 law schools and bar associations so far.
The AVMA Council on Education is scheduled for recognition renewal and review by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) this year.
The North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC) submitted a Draft Report to the AAVMC Board of Directors for additional comments, and a final report is anticipated in March.
Our very own American Veterinary Medical Foundation has partnered with Pfizer Animal Health to award 225 annual scholarships through 2012 in the amount of $2,500 each to help address veterinary student debt, the shortage of food animal and rural veterinarians, and to help increase diversity in veterinary medicine. There were more than 1,250 applicants by the deadline for these scholarships, the next round of which will be awarded later this year.
These are just a few of the activities your AVMA has been engaged in on your behalf over the past several months, and in some cases, several years.(Pause)In Atlanta, I spoke of the respect I have for all members of our profession who uphold the ideals of our Oath through dedicated service to our profession each and every day. I believe this respect is mutual and is the foundation upon which our profession and this association have been built. And I also believe that this level of respect is clearly demonstrated by our membership strength and the public respect we enjoy.
Some of the issues related to Animal Welfare, the use of antibiotics in Food Animals and the Accreditation of Foreign Veterinary Schools are still being debated among us, but I sincerely believe the respect we have for one another and the importance of presenting a united front on many of these issues will prevail.
I also spoke of the importance of a stronger bond between the AVMA and the AVMF. And the great strides we have taken toward unification have resulted in a closer alignment with this charitable arm of the AVMA. We undoubtedly will be stronger due to this closer affiliation between our two organizations.
With this meeting, I will have spent 72 days during my first 5 months as AVMA President away from our home and practice in Houston. The next 7 months promise to be very busy as well.
At each stop along the way, I am – and will always be – proud to represent the veterinary profession, the AVMA and all its valued volunteers. And with that said, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your hard work, dedication and commitment to the AVMA and to veterinary medicine as a whole.
I would be remiss if I did not again recognize my wife, Chris, and all the support and encouragement I have received from my family, clinic staff, friends and colleagues in serving on your behalf, not only this year as your President, but over the past 13 years on several AVMA entities.
All of this support I receive – both in big ways and small – is truly representative of all the respect we have earned as veterinarians and caregivers to all things great and small.