AVMA president address to Ohio State University Food Animal Educators

May 19, 2005 

I can't tell you how delighted I am to be back at school. Like most of you, some of my fondest memories...some of my longest lasting friendships...began in veterinary school. Veterinary school was where I truly learned the meaning of team work...of professionalism...and of unity. Regardless of our species interest, we knew that together we could climb any hill...pass any test...forge any challenge. That unity made us more than a whole. It left us with a sense of purpose. That unity provided us with a foundation that still stands.

Today, as you and I look at the future of veterinary medicine ... which radiates in the faces of your students ... we envision a small yet distinctive profession with great opportunities. The challenges and responsibilities you face as you educate tomorrow's food animal veterinarians are formidable. But the entire profession will reap the rewards of your educational efforts if we can sustain the unity that you are instilling in your students.

At AVMA, we are partners with you in that effort. AVMA is the unified voice, as well as the unifying voice of the profession. Whether in large animal, companion animal, food safety or industrial research, AVMA's top five strategic issues touch every aspect, every level of our profession ... from student to established veterinarian. These issues are animal welfare, economic viability, veterinary workforce, veterinary education and veterinary services. As unified professionals, we must set the standard and expect no less than the best outcome ... for our profession, and for the animals and clients we serve.

In order to effectively address the animal welfare issue, the AVMA has committed to establishing an Animal Welfare Division. To further address this important issue, six goals, to be achieved in the next 3 to 5 years, have been approved. These include:

  1. AVMA is the leading advocate for, and the authoritative, science-based resource on animal welfare.
  2. AVMA has definitive core values and principles to guide policy development for animal welfare.
  3. All audiences are made aware of the veterinary profession's essential role in animal welfare.
  4. All veterinarians have a clear understanding and appreciation about the science and ethics of animal welfare including historical, political and social constructs.
  5. The legal status of animals is uniformly defined in all states consistent with AVMA policy.
  6. AVMA has the infrastructure and resources to anticipate and proactively address emerging animal rights issues.

It is clear that, in order to meet these goals, all segments of our profession must be engaged. As input was acquired from the various AVMA internal stakeholders, animal welfare was clearly a high priority with those involved in food supply veterinary medicine. If you look closely at each of these goals, it is readily apparent that food supply veterinary medicine is related to each one. It is therefore essential that food supply veterinarians be actively engaged, as action is developed and implemented to meet these goals.

Intertwined among these animal welfare goals are the key elements of education, research and communication. Involvement and input from of all segments of our profession is essential, if these elements are to be developed and utilized both within and outside of the profession. The reactions and expectations of veterinary students, as well as those of consumers and retailers, toward animal welfare are significant. They must be considered and they must be met.

The issue of economic viability continues to be addressed by both the AVMA and the National Commission on Veterinary Economics (NCVEI). The NCVEI was established over five years ago with a mission to strengthen the economic base of the veterinary profession. In addition to analytical pricing tools and benchmarking models for companion animal and equine practitioners which have been delivered by NCVEI, the AVMA has provided funding of $150,000 to develop benchmarking tools for food animal practice. These tools are anticipated for delivery in July. We are your partner in ensuring a bright economic future for your students.

Another area in which the NCVEI has been extremely productive is the skills, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes working group. Their efforts have had a direct impact on applicant evaluation for the various colleges of veterinary medicine. In addition, a Veterinary Teaching Hospital Business Model has been developed, a process which also included evaluating the role of the veterinary teaching hospitals. Support of veterinary leadership development and mentoring programs for students to help ensure their success as professionals and business leaders have been incorporated into the services offered by AVMA. Our on line, AVMA mentoring program has been launched, and we are receiving rave reviews from students and mentors alike.

As we look to the issues of veterinary workforce and education, food supply veterinary medicine is once again at the forefront. In May 2004 the AVMA joined with the American Association of Bovine practitioners, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, the American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians, the American Association of Avian Pathologists, the Food Safety Inspection Service and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to form the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition (FSVMC).

With funding from Bayer Animal Health as well, the FSVMC commissioned a comprehensive study entitled "Estimating Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Demand and Maintaining the Availability of Veterinarians for Careers in Food Supply Related Disciplines in the United States and Canada." This study is being directed by David Andrus, PhD, Professor and Head, Dept. of Marketing, Kansas State University. The project addresses student recruitment, retention, and appropriate training of food supply veterinarians ... critical areas if we are to meet our responsibility to serve society. Slated for completion in late summer 2005, it is anticipated that the study will not only identify a critical need for food supply veterinarians, but will provide insights for admissions officials and faculty of colleges of veterinary medicine for recruiting and training students likely to pursue careers in food supply veterinary medicine.

Very much related to food supply veterinary medicine is public veterinary practice. When we look at food supply veterinary medicine or public health, we see not only the need for practicing veterinarians, but the critical shortage already apparent in the areas of food safety and food security, biomedical research, epidemiology, academia, regulatory medicine and emergency health preparedness. It is readily apparent ... at least to you and me ... that the nation's veterinary educational capacity is insufficient to meet this demand for veterinarians. We must, in a unified voice, let others know of that shortage.

That's why AVMA has been diligently at work in Washington to garner support for the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate three weeks ago by a fellow veterinarian, Senator Allard from Colorado. This legislation would provide a competitive grants program to help build infrastructure, including classrooms, teaching laboratories, research laboratories, BSL-3 laboratories and administrative space.

Many members of Congress have no idea that veterinary medicine is an integral part of our public health system. They don't understand that veterinary colleges are a national resource, but they are primarily supported by only 27 states. In a unified voice, we are letting them know that it has been nearly 30 years since the federal government provided general funding for veterinary medical colleges. As a result, our nation's veterinary medical capacity has not changed appreciably in 20 years. We hope you will join us by writing to your Senator and Representative to let them know that you expect their support for this bill.

There is yet another area of federal funding which dovetails with AVMA's workforce strategic issue, and one about which we must speak with a unified voice. The National Veterinary Medical Service Act (NVMSA) was signed into law in December 2003. The NVMSA provides veterinary educational debt assistance by allowing veterinarians to provide services in veterinary shortage situations such as rural areas, inner city areas, governmental public health positions and federal emergency situations in exchange for payment of qualified educational loans. Sounds good, doesn't it? But what you many not know is that this Act was never funded. Again, the AVMA is seeking $1 Million in congressional appropriations to start a pilot program under the NVMSA. We must unite and let our leaders know that they help ensure the health and safety of America when they help ensure the success and economic viability of veterinarians.

With each of the strategic issues AVMA has identified, our ultimate intent is to better serve society. No where is that more essential than in our efforts to have the veterinary profession recognized by the media, government and the public as the leading resource in animal health policy issues. Of particular importance to food supply veterinarians are policy initiatives related to drug compounding, antimicrobial use, animal identification and the practice of veterinary medicine by non veterinarians. Our efforts are unrelenting on behalf of you and your students. We will never stop saying ... in a unified voice... we are veterinary medicine and we are here to serve.

I cannot emphasize enough how important unity in our profession is. We face challenges we never dreamed of, and responsibilities we never imagined. But when I look in the eyes of our students, I know that my commitment and that of the AVMA to presenting a unified voice that speaks on their behalf and on behalf of the animals and clients we serve must never waiver. By working together we can convert the challenges of our profession into opportunities. And in so doing, we will improve the lives of our patients, our clients, our colleagues, including students, and society in general. We have no greater responsibility. We have no greater love.

On behalf of the AVMA I want to again thank you for your support and involvement in our great profession.