AVMA President Address to the Veterinary Leadership Conference

January 2006

THANK YOU, DR. DE JONG. COLLEAGUES AND INVITED GUESTS. I AM PLEASED TO JOIN YOU TODAY AND WELCOME THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT THE ANNUAL PRESIDENT'S REPORT AT THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE.

IN MY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH LAST YEAR, I COMMITTED MY TERM IN OFFICE TO PROMOTING AND PROTECTING UNITY WITHIN OUR PROFESSION AND THE AVMA. TODAY I'D LIKE TO EXPAND ON THAT THEME.

WHAT BRINGS THIS TO MIND IS THE EXCEPTIONAL EXAMPLE OF PROFESSIONAL UNITY THAT WE SAW DURING AND AFTER WHAT MAY BE THE WORST, CATACLYSMIC DISASTER TO EVER HAPPEN IN OUR COUNTRY ... HURRICANES KATRINA AND RITA. NEVER BEFORE HAS OUR COUNTRY, OUR PROFESSION AND THOSE WE CARE ABOUT BEEN SO RAVAGED. IF ANYTHING GOOD CAME OUT OF THOSE DISASTERS, IT WAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW WELL TRAINED, DEDICATED AND COMMITTED VETERINARIANS AND THEIR ASSOCIATIONS ARE IN A TIME OF NEED.

IN PREPARATION FOR HURRICANE KATRINA, ALL FOUR OF AVMA's VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE TEAMS WERE MOBILIZED AND PUT INTO POSITION ... THE FIRST TIME THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. AT THE SAME TIME, VETERINARIANS AND THEIR ASSOCIATES AT GROUND ZERO ... SOME OF WHOM LOST THEIR PRACTICES, THEIR HOMES, THEIR JOBS AND, IN SOME CASES, THEIR LOVED ONES ... CONTINUED TO WORK TIRELESSLY AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS TO HELP RESCUED ANIMALS, ASSIST ON ISSUES OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY, AND SET AN EXAMPLE OF DEDICATION AND DETERMINATION FOR THOSE WHO WERE SORELY TEMPTED TO GIVE UP.

AT AVMA HEADQUARTERS, THE ASSOCIATION RESPONDED BY PUTTING ADDITIONAL RELIEF MEASURES IN PLACE. AVMA PLEDGED HALF-A-MILLION DOLLARS TO MATCH DONATIONS MADE TO A SPECIAL FUND CREATED BY THE FOUNDATION TO PROVIDE RELIEF FOR ANIMALS AND VETERINARIANS.

AN ONLINE HURRICANE RECOVERY AREA WAS ESTABLISHED ON THE AVMA WEBSITE TO PROVIDE EASY ACCESS TO INFORMATION ABOUT DONATIONS, VOLUNTEERING, CONTACTS FOR AVMA INSURANCE TRUSTS, AND DAILY DISASTER UPDATES.

AVMA STAFF WORKED WITH OTHERS, INCLUDING THE CDC, TO CREATE ANIMAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY INFORMATION FOR USE BY VETERINARIANS, RELIEF AGENCIES, AND PET OWNERS, AND TO PROVIDE BACKGROUND MATERIALS FOR THE MEDIA.

TO ASSIST THE DISPLACED, THE AVMA ESTABLISHED A DATABASE OF PEOPLE AND CLINICS WITH AVAILABLE JOBS AND HOUSING, AND WORKED WITH LICENSING BOARDS AND STATE VMAs TO ESTABLISH GUIDELINES FOR TEMPORARY EMPLOYMENT.

FINALLY, A CALL CENTER WAS ACTIVATED AT HEADQUARTERS TO HANDLE THE MORE THAN 2,000 ADDITIONAL PHONE CALLS RECEIVED DAILY.

THROUGHOUT THESE UNREMITTING DISASTERS, COLLABORATION AND UNITY WERE THE WORDS THAT DEFINED OUR EFFORTS. FROM THE VALIANT EFFORTS AT THE VETERINARY COLLEGE AT LSU...TO THE TIRELESS WORK DONE BY THE TEXAS, MISSISSIPPI AND LOUISIANA VMAs. FROM THE BELEAGUERED STATE VETERINARY OFFICES TO INTREPID ALLIED ORGANIZATIONS AND GENEROUS INDUSTRY PARTNERS... ALL OF WHOM STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE AND PERFORMED MIRACLES. FROM STUDENTS WHO DIDN'T SLEEP FOR DAYS ... TO THE AVMA VOLUNTEER LEADERS, EMPLOYEES AND FOUNDATION STAFF MEMBERS WHO WORKED 18 HOURS A DAYS, EVERY DAY FOR WEEKS. FROM COLLEAGUES AROUND THE WORLD WHO OFFERED ASSISTANCE, ESPECIALLY OUR CANADIAN COLLEAGUES, THE GENEROSITY AND CARE THAT LIT THOSE DARKEST MOMENTS ARE A TESTAMENT TO THE ENDURING IMPORTANCE OF OUR PROFESSION'S UNITY.

DR. LOVERN WILL BE GIVING YOU AN UPDATE AND MORE DETAILS ON AVMA'S HURRICANE RELIEF EFFORTS IN A FEW MINUTES. AND DR. RHODES WILL BE FILLING YOU IN ON THE FOUNDATION'S EFFORTS TO HELP THOSE AFFECTED BY THE HURRICANES. THEY'LL BE FOLLOWED BY DR. STOKES, WHO WAS AT GROUND ZERO IN LOUISIANA AND WHO, I AM SURE, WILL HAVE SOME PRETTY AMAZING STORIES TO TELL FROM HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AT THE GONZALES CENTER.

I AM PROFOUNDLY PROUD OF ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THAT MONUMENTAL EFFORT. I HOPE AND PRAY WE NEVER HAVE TO FACE THAT TEST AGAIN. BUT I AM EXTREMELY CONFIDENT THAT, SHOULD WE BE TESTED, WE WILL AGAIN EXEMPLIFY THE EPITOME OF PROFESSIONAL DEDICATION AND UNITY.

AT THE VERY SAME TIME THAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT UNITY IN MY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, DR. LEON RUSSELL, PAST PRESIDENT OF THE AVMA AND PROFESSOR AT TEXAS A&M, WAS BEING ELECTED THE FIRST AMERICAN PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD VETERINARY ASSOCIATION. DR. RUSSELL'S PRESIDENCY PROVIDES A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE AVMA TO PLAY AN EVEN MORE IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP ROLE IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY, WHERE UNITY WILL BECOME PIVOTAL IN THIS AGE OF EMERGING ZOONOTIC DISEASES.

AS PART OF ITS AGENDA AT THE EXECUTIVE BOARD STRATEGIC PLANNING MEETING IN JUNE, WE WILL SPEND SOME TIME FOCUSING ON AVMA'S GOALS IN THE GLOBAL ARENA AND STRATEGIZING ON HOW THEY CAN BE REALIZED, PARTICULARLY DURING THIS OPPORTUNE PERIOD OF DR. RUSSELL'S PRESIDENCY. WORLD LEADERS ARE JUST BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE THE IMPORTANT ROLE VETERINARIANS PLAY IN PUBLIC HEALTH. IT IS CRITICAL THAT AVMA SEIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO BE HEARD AND TO BECOME KEY INFLUENCERS, INTIMATELY INVOLVED IN DECISIONS THAT HAVE RAMIFICATIONS WORLDWIDE.

MANY OF US GOT TO EXPERIENCE GLOBAL UNITY PERSONALLY WHEN WE MET VISITING COLLEAGUES FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN AT OUR ANNUAL CONVENTION IN MINNEAPOLIS. AS YOU KNOW, BOTH U.S. MILITARY AND PRIVATE PRACTICE VETERINARIANS HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN REBUILDING THE AGRICULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURES OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN ... WITHOUT WHICH, THE FUTURE OF THOSE COUNTRIES IS COMPROMISED.

THE CHALLENGES OUR VETERINARIANS FACE EVERY DAY IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN...FROM ELECTRICAL SHORTAGES THAT AFFECT THE STORAGE OF MEDICINES AND VACCINES TO POTENTIAL OUTBREAKS OF HUMAN HEALTH PROBLEMS WITH ZOONOTIC ORIGINS...IT ALL SEEMED SO FOREIGN TO ME LAST JULY AS I MET AND TALKED WITH OUR COURAGEOUS COLLEAGUES. THEN CAME SEPTEMBER AND NEW ORLEANS, AND IT UNDERSCORED FOR ME HOW MUCH SMALLER THE WORLD GETS EVERY DAY. AND HOW WE MUST, THEREFORE, STRIVE DAILY FOR UNITY WHILE CELEBRATING OUR DIVERSITY. FOR BOTH WILL BRING US STRENGTH.

AND, YES, I DID SAY "CELEBRATE" OUR DIVERSITY. FOR I BELIEVE, AS DO YOU, THAT DIVERSITY WILL ENRICH US PERSONALLY AND HELP ENSURE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROFESSION BY CREATING AND IMPLEMENTING POLICIES AND PRACTICES THAT WILL MAXIMIZE TALENT AND PRODUCTIVITY.

I ALSO BELIEVE THAT ACHIEVING GREATER DIVERSITY IN OUR COLLEGES, AND EVENTUALLY OUR PROFESSION, WILL NOT BE EASY. AND, THAT IT WILL TAKE TIME. BUT WE WILL PERSEVERE WITH BOTH PURPOSE AND DELIBERATION. DIVERSITY WILL MAKE US STRONGER AND BETTER.

I RECENTLY ATTENDED THE FIRST MEETING OF THE AVMA TASK FORCE ON DIVERSITY, AND I HAVE THE HIGHEST EXPECTATIONS FOR THEIR WORK. BUT THEY CANNOT DO IT ALONE. THAT'S WHY I CALL UPON EACH OF YOU, AS LEADERS OF THE AVMA, TO PLEDGE YOUR COMMITMENT TO AND INVOLVEMENT IN AVMA'S DIVERSITY INITIATIVE.

WE KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE, THAT THE TOTAL COMMITMENT OF AVMA'S LEADERSHIP BRINGS LONG-TERM SUCCESS. OVER A HALF CENTURY AGO, AVMA LEADERSHIP PLEDGED ITS COMMITMENT TO THE ACCREDITATION OF VETERINARY COLLEGES AND TECHNICIAN SCHOOLS AND WAS RECOGNIZED BY THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AS THE ACCREDITING AUTHORITY. TODAY, AVMA ACCREDITED COLLEGES OF VETERINARY MEDICINE AND VETERINARY TECHNICIAN SCHOOLS ARE THE GOLD STANDARD THAT ALL OTHER EDUCATION SYSTEMS...WORLDWIDE... EMULATE.

AND OVER 40 YEARS AGO, AVMA BECAME THE GOLD STANDARD FOR TESTING AND CERTIFYING THE EDUCATIONAL EQUIVALENCY OF GRADUATES OF NON-AVMA-ACCREDITED VETERINARY COLLEGES. THE EDUCATION COMMISSION FOR FOREIGN VETERINARY GRADUATES ... OR ECFVG ... REMAINS ONE OF OUR STRONGEST COMMITMENTS TO DIVERSITY... OPENING THE DOOR TO A DIVERSE POPULATION WHILE PROTECTING THE QUALITY AND STANDARDS OF OUR PROFESSION. TOMORROW, DR. PHIL BUSHBY, CHAIR OF ECFVG, WILL BE UPDATING YOU ON RECENT ENHANCEMENTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE TO THIS VERY IMPORTANT PROGRAM.

I STAND BEFORE YOU HALF WAY THROUGH MY PRESIDENCY. SINCE TAKING OFFICE, WE'VE WEATHERED ONE OF THE WORST DISASTERS IN OUR HISTORY AND CELEBRATED AN INTERNATIONAL VICTORY. EVERY MEETING I ATTEND...EVERY PHONE CALL I TAKE...EVERY NEW EXPERIENCE I HAVE IS DEDICATED, AS I SAID IN MY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, TO PROMOTING UNITY WITHIN THE AVMA. I TAKE MY STRENGTH FROM YOU. YOU GIVE ME HOPE THAT THE FUTURE IS TRULY...ONE VISION, ONE VOICE, ONE PROFESSION. AVMA IS VETERINARY MEDICINE.