AVMA President Address to the 53rd International Military Veterinary Medical Symposium

May 8, 2007

General Cates, members of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, Commanders and members of the Allied Nations in Europe, colleagues and friends, I am honored by this opportunity to address you today. I want to commend Colonel Buley and the U.S. Veterinary Services-Europe for organizing this 53rd International Military Veterinary Medical Symposium.

I humbly stand before you with respect and gratitude. Your chosen path in veterinary medicine has had a remarkable global impact on human and animal health.

"I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society."

Colleagues, when you 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.

No other profession, I believe, has a comparable value to society.

No other profession has as much impact on the health of both animals and people.

But with that value also comes responsibility.

I believe it is most fitting today, as we convene together with colleagues from around the world, to ask the following questions:

What is our value and responsibility as a veterinarian?

And what is the value and responsibility of our professional associations?

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.

It does not matter whether one is a student, established veterinarian, companion animal practitioner, food animal practitioner, veterinary researcher, military veterinarian or educator.

During this time, I want to focus 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 and affecting emerging diseases remain intact.

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

One Medicine-One Health is certainly not a new concept to the military. You have always been on the forefront of preserving and protecting human and animal health worldwide.

The military has been living the concept of "One World-One Health-One Medicine" throughout history.

  • In 1898 veterinarians were employed by the U.S. military to over see a safe food supply for troops during Spanish-American War;
  • In 1939 Dr. Otto Stader developed the Stader splint which was extensively utilized for injured soldiers in WWII;
  • In 1956 a U.S. military veterinarian adapted the canine hip prosthesis for use in humans;
  • In 1989 the military played a vital role in diagnosing and managing the Ebola virus outbreak in Reston, Virginia;
  • Today, your contributions to the "one world, one health, one medicine," concept is more important than ever before.

You are at the forefront of nurturing existing international relationships between veterinarians and their colleagues in other medical fields, and establishing new ones.

The AVMA, through participation in the World Veterinary Association (WVA) and other international associations, is working with you to encourage the advancement of the veterinary profession worldwide.

Strengthening relationships with international organizations, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health will further enhance global health and development – and solidify AVMA's role as a visionary leader in global health issues.

Collaborating and cooperating with our colleagues in human medicine, public health, and the environmental sciences is imperative. Together, we can accomplish more to improve animal and human 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 various health science professions, academia (including student representatives), government, and industry.

The One Health Initiative Task Force is charged to articulate a vision of One Health that will enhance the integration of animal, human, and environmental health for the mutual benefit of all. I envision the success of this task force will lead to an integrated national strategy for one health, one medicine.

I further envision an ultimate 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 veterinarians?

What is the value and responsibility of our professional associations?

It is my fervent hope and vision that we, as veterinarians, will assume the mantle of leadership and responsibility...to protect and promote our immeasurable value to society, 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 our professional oath 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.

I thank all of you for being global ambassadors for the veterinary profession.