Speeches - AVMA President Address before the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges/Association of Schools of Public Health Joint Symposium

April 24, 2007

When my colleagues and I repeated those words and were admitted to the veterinary medical profession, we had just earned the value of a lifetime...the value of our veterinary diploma.

I suspect that each of you who are members of other health science professions made a similar commitment when you acquired the value of your diploma.

With that value also comes responsibility.

I believe it is most fitting today, as we convene together in partnership as health science professionals, to ask the following questions:

What is our value and responsibility as a health science professional?

What is the value and responsibility of our professional associations, colleges, or schools?

It is with that sense of responsibility to the future that the AVMA has identified and is focusing on five top strategic issues. Those issues: Animal Welfare Economic Viability, Veterinary Services, Veterinary Education, and Veterinary Workforce.

My focus during this session will be on two of those critical issues—Veterinary Education and Veterinary Workforce. These cannot be separated.

AVMA accredited colleges and schools of veterinary medicine are an essential and valuable first line resource in preparing the next generation to fulfill critically important roles.

We need an increase in the applicant pool, both in numbers and in the diversity of applicants:

  • A diversity in professional interests, from public health, comparative or biomedical research, food animal or rural practice, to academia and government service.
  • And a diversity of race, gender and ethnicity, if we are to meet our goal of serving the diverse needs of society.

In addition, critical paradigm shifts are needed in our approach to education if we are to meet the growing demands of our profession.

  • We need creative approaches – such as collaborative training across universities.
  • We also need to bridge relationships among disciplinary areas, such as veterinary medicine with public health, human medicine, biomedical engineering and animal science.

During the past year, three studies have been released which underscore the urgent need for more veterinarians in the United States. Two were produced by the National Academy of Sciences—"Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Medicine" and "Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting and Diagnosing Animal Diseases". A third, addressing the shortage of food supply veterinarians, was commissioned by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition.

The overriding recommendations from all of these studies focus on improving communication, coordination and collaboration among professional associations, colleges, government agencies and industry.

Last year, Dr. David Schwartz, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, unveiled a strategic plan for the scientific community. It emphasizes the use of environmental health sciences to better understand the causes of disease and improve human health.

He stated that "almost every human disease can be caused, modified, or altered by environmental agents."

Tuberculosis, HIV, West Nile Virus, monkey pox, avian influenza and many more certainly prove this statement. They also underscore the concept of one health, one medicine.

Let's look further:

  • 75% of the diseases that have emerged in the past 25 years are zoonotic.
  • 38,000 animals cross U.S. borders every day.
  • 21 billion animals were produced for food and fiber around the world last year alone.
  • The factors creating emerging diseases remain intact.

I truly believe that animal health is at a crossroads. Its convergence with human and ecosystem health dictates that the "one world, one health, one medicine" concept must be embraced.

As veterinarians, collaborating and cooperating with our colleagues in human medicine, public health, and the environmental sciences is imperative. Together, we can accomplish more to improve health worldwide than we can alone...and we, as the veterinary profession, have the responsibility to assume a major leadership role in that effort.

It was upon that basis that last July as I addressed the AVMA House of Delegates and became AVMA president, I revealed my vision for a one health initiative. An initiative that will ultimately define a national action plan and establish a driving force to meet today's critical challenge: Expand the veterinary workforce to meet our societal responsibilities and establish a coordinated mechanism to facilitate collaboration and cooperation with a focus on one world, one health, one medicine.

I am pleased to report that the AVMA Executive Board has taken action to establish a One Health Initiative Task Force. This Task Force will comprise 12 of the most committed visionary individuals who have an appreciation of the one health concept, and who are excellent communicators and collaborators from academia (including student representatives), government, industry, and various health science professions.

The One Health Initiative Task Force is charged to:

  1. Articulate a vision of One Health that will enhance the integration of animal, human, and environmental health for the mutual benefit of all.
  2. Identify areas where such integration exists and where it is needed.
  3. Identify potential barriers or challenges to such integration.
  4. Identify potential solutions to overcoming barriers or meeting challenges.
  5. Prepare a comprehensive written report for the AVMA Executive Board detailing its findings and recommendations.

I consider the One Health Initiative Task Force as the first step, and most critically important, of the one health initiative. I envision the success of this task force will lead to an integrated national strategy for one health, one medicine.

I further envision the final step to be the establishment of a driving force such as a National Commission for the One Health Initiative. This National Commission would be charged to execute and implement the national one health action plan, and would have a refined partnership structure to maximize the impact of one health, one medicine.

Potential outcomes that may be possible from a One Health Initiative include:

  1. Enhanced collaboration among colleges of veterinary medicine in developing centers of excellence for education and training;
  2. Enhanced collaboration among veterinary clinicians and researchers to embrace the concept of translational medicine;
  3. Collaboration between the veterinary medical, public health and human medical professions to address critical needs to improve animal and human health globally;
  4. Collaboration among multiple professions—veterinary medicine, public health, human medicine, ecology, and wildlife—to meet new global challenges head-on;

In closing let me return to where I started:

What is our value and responsibility as health science professionals?

What is the value and responsibility of our professional associations, colleges and schools?

It is my fervent hope and vision that we as health science professionals, and as professional associations, colleges and schools, will assume our collaborative responsibility...to protect and promote our immeasurable value, to utilize that value to its fullest, and to make sure that our future is a promising future...a future of even greater value.

By working together we can convert our 21st century challenges into opportunities. We can improve the lives of our patients, our clients, our colleagues, and our society in general, truly fulfilling all of our professional oaths by using our knowledge and skills for the benefit of our global society.

One World. One Health. One Medicine.

That, my colleagues, translates to value.