Shortage in the Veterinary Workforce - AVMA President-elect Address to the House of Delegates

July 14, 2007

President Mahr, members of the House of Delegates, Executive Board and guests. It is my honor to stand before you as the next president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. I pledge to you that I will work everyday of the next year on behalf of our great veterinary medical profession.

I would first like to introduce the most important people in my life, my family: my wife Karen and daughter Jill, my son Scott, daughter in law Sara Kate and grandchildren Kirk and Addie Caroline.

Next I would like to introduce the greatest staff on earth. These dedicated professionals work on our behalf in Washington D.C. and Schaumburg Illinois everyday to inform, educate, influence and persuade on behalf the veterinary profession. Will the AVMA staff please stand and be recognized?

I think that we can all agree that we are facing some significant challenges in the years ahead.

  • The challenge of becoming a leading resource for sound, science-based guidance on animal welfare by convincing influence-leaders that the advice of veterinarians is the most responsible and countering the myriad of attacks on our profession by those who would like to replace us as stewards of animal well-being.
  • The challenge of becoming a more diverse profession, mirroring the public we serve while remaining unified, and keeping our collective voice strong for veterinary medicine on the national scene.
  • The challenge of preserving our position as one of our nation's most trusted professions.

No other challenge, however, is as significant as the crisis we face in addressing shortages in the veterinary workforce. The situation is critical in public health practice, including areas that ensure food safety, fight bio-terrorism, and oversee environmental health and regulatory medicine. This is in addition to significant shortfalls in rural and food supply veterinarians. Together these threaten our country's ability to protect our nation's wholesome food supply from the farm to fork.

The good news is that we have both the capacity and the opportunity to fix this problem while it still can be solved. Our active support for the passage and funding of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act (S746) is the key to solving this crisis. The enactment and full funding of this legislation will provide competitive grants to veterinary colleges in the United States to improve teaching facilities, build classrooms and research laboratories, and resolve the shortage of veterinarians entering the field of public health.

We can talk about solving this problem or we can actually solve it! It's your choice. The time is NOW for you to get involved. It's time for you to participate. Your passion and the passion of those you inspire is what will solve this impending crisis.

At a time when more and more emerging disease is zoonotic and the potential for bio-terrorism and food safety disasters are increasing, our capability to respond is decreasing! Does that make sense? Of course not, but we can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. There is nothing we can do to change the past, but we, as a profession, control our future.

You must get involved. You must enlist your clients and friends to call their congressional representative or to write their senator. You must spread the word about what a shortage in public health veterinarians will mean to public safety and security.

The AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges are already working diligently for the passage of the Workforce Expansion Act. But they cannot do it alone. Without grass-roots involvement it simply will not pass. We must all get involved again, just as we did with the successful passage of AMDUCA, NVMSA and MUMS. To that end, I assure you that AVMA will be your tireless partner.

I am calling upon all AVMA councils and committees to develop plans of action at their fall meetings that will support passage of the Workforce Expansion Bill in this 110th Congress. I am asking all state VMAs and allied organizations to become involved by developing their own plans of action and grassroots activities. You are the vital conduits to our members. I am calling on the officers and executive directors of these organizations to present a plan of action to their membership that will support the involvement of both their members and their clients.

We must all get involved now.

A recent AVMA white paper identified two alarming facts that could become a painful reality for this American public if the veterinary workforce is not expanded.

  • Food animal production is a $124 billion piece to the annual U.S. economy. The health of these animals is protected by veterinarians, but a single highly infectious disease that is not rapidly diagnosed could destroy much of our livestock, with devastating effects like economic collapse and mass starvation.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 80 percent of potential agents used in bio-terrorism are diseases that spread from animals to humans. Failure to diagnose these diseases in animals before they spread to humans could result in catastrophic loss of human life.

We have a chance to prevent these calamities. Do you need more reasons to participate in the political process and help pass the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act?

Pick up the phone. Write an e-mail. Drop a letter to your representative in a mailbox. Make that phone call to your Senators. The consequences of your inaction may be devastating ... to our profession and to our country.

President Kennedy once said, "There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction." I am pleading with you to take his advice to heart and let our nation's leaders know that public health veterinarians are an important key to our country's health, safety and security.

Veterinarians are not only our nation's most respected profession, but its most passionate as well. Veterinarians are passionate about their patients, their family and their community. It is that passion that gives me the optimism that we will succeed. It is that hope that we will continue to attract the best and brightest young people to take our places.

You must continue to encourage the next generation. Too often, we veterinarians have been the worst advocates for our profession. How many times when you've talked to someone who wants to become a veterinarian have you used phrases like, "too many hours," or "too much debt," or "too low of a salary?"

We've got to stop that now.

Please stand up at your chairs—Raise your right hand and repeat after me:

I will not/ ever, ever again/ discourage bright young people/ from careers in veterinary medicine.

Please remain standing.

Colleagues, we must use our limitless passion to plead our case for passage of the Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. We must channel our infinite enthusiasm for our profession into encouraging young people to become veterinarians. And, we must sustain our hope that the future is bright for the next generation of veterinarians and, most of all, for the well-being of our nation.

You are a select group—a privileged few. You are veterinarians. You are leaders in your community, your state—your nation. Your profession has been good to you. Now it is time for you to stand up for the future of your profession.