Major policy changes and new initiatives are not the approach Dr. Jim Brandt envisions for his prospective year as AVMA president in 2001-2002. What stirs this year's candidate for president-elect is the opportunity to carry forward with an action plan to address issues crystallized in the 1999 economic Megastudy.
"This will be a primary emphasis during my entire term. New projects would slow down progress, when everybody is already busy with existing issues. I would rather work diligently to see that the issues before the economic commission get properly addressed quickly."
Dr. Brandt was just back from a Florida VMA board meeting and was headed for the AVMA Executive Board's April meeting, and then the legislative seminar in the capital. His campaign travels have led Dr. Brandt to the encouraging realization that many veterinarians have read the executive summary of the Megastudy (published in JAVMA, July 15, 1999, pages 161-183). "This in itself is a great advancement in that the AVMA, AAHA, and AAVMC have made their members aware the study exists, and people are talking about the issues it has raised."
While the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) develops an action plan, Dr. Brandt said, it is important to keep the momentum alive within the profession, now that the Megastudy is uppermost in their minds. "The Megastudy is perceived as the recognition of the profession's economic woes, and, right or wrong, it is the manual we will go by until future studies show that these results were either factual or erroneous."
As he climbs what he calls "a very steep learning curve this year," Dr. Brandt has attended most regional meetings where the AVMA campaign rules allow candidates to speak, a meeting of the Steering Committee on Judicious Therapeutic Antimicrobial Use, the inaugural meeting of the Legislative Advisory Committee, the Executive Board Budget and Finance Committee meetings, and all recent Executive Board meetings.
"The Legislative Advisory Committee is a valuable addition for the AVMA and our constituents," he said. "The AVMA Governmental Relations Division does an excellent job of monitoring positions and detecting legislation that could affect our profession. The committee's involvement will help ensure that members affected by the legislation will be aware of the issues that might require grassroots action."
Along with legislative advocacy in Washington, Dr. Brandt cites AVMA insurance as one of his more important AVMA membership benefits. "The members of the Group Health and Life Insurance Trust have, over the past 36 years, made my life much less worrisome, because I know that if any misfortune occurred, my family would be adequately covered by the insurance. The trust has made numerous improvements over the years, and if it's feasible, I would like to see dental coverage added."
His interest in the Budget and Finance Committee goes back many years, and Dr. Brandt himself is a longtime student of economics and a bank director. He was also a director of the local hospital, where Medicare accounted for 87 percent of coverage. "We know what low income is and how you have to consolidate and, basically, try to conserve so you don't compromise patient care. I can transfer this knowledge to veterinary medicine, where it seems that some consolidation would alleviate part of the economic deficiencies we are facing."
Trepidation arising from inadequate training in economics and business is what Dr. Brandt suspects accounts for what has been labeled low self-esteem among veterinary students and recent graduates. "Despite their uncertainties, recent graduates are extremely intelligent and scientifically well educated," he said, "and they know what they want.
"I am concerned over what might happen if the economy were to take a downturn, something recent graduates may not have experienced. I don't know to what extent a loss of discretionary income would affect veterinary practice, but it's something we have to be concerned about, and I wonder how well recent graduates would be economically positioned to withstand a recession. This is where a retired veterinarian's mentoring would be very helpful — teaching the economics of practice as well as the art of practice. If recent graduates would just ask an older veterinarian, they would be surprised at the willingness to assist."
Dr. Brandt would like to see more retired veterinarians share their valuable experience with recent graduates through a mentoring program. He credits his own mentors with inspiring him to become active in the Florida VMA, which led to his 10 years representing Florida in the AVMA House of Delegates and his decision to run for president-elect.
Besides mentoring, Dr. Brandt is optimistic the Senior Citizens' Freedom to Work Act of 2000, which President Clinton signed into law April 7, will lead some retired veterinarians to reenter the workforce in practice management and other areas that capitalize on their experience. The new law protects the social security benefits of workers ages 65 to 69, regardless of their income. He said, "There may be a niche developing that allows older veterinarians an opportunity to participate. Our society is going toward more flextime and part-time work, and a lot of older practitioners would fit into the program very well."
Dr. Brandt believes the Executive Board took a step in the right direction when it incorporated the Honor Roll and Recent Graduate committees into the Member Services Committee. "This new committee will be a more efficient way of getting the issues from both segments of the profession to the Board."
Attending the Executive Board meetings has been a revelation to him in terms of "how much work the board, councils, committees, and staff are doing to keep veterinary medicine ahead of the curve."
A 1964 graduate of Oklahoma State University, Dr. Brandt operated AAHA small animal practices in Nokomis and Venice, Florida from 1965-1997. He became involved in organized veterinary medicine in 1971, when he served as program chairman for the Florida VMA meeting. His mentors in Florida were also active in the AVMA and influenced him to follow their lead. They included Drs. Shelton Pinkerton, Bill Jackson, and Jack Knowles, past AVMA presidents; Dr. Ralph Wilhelm, former AVMA vice president; and Drs. Standish "Peter" Piper, Ron Jackson, Clarence Dee, Charlie Bild, and many others who expounded the positives of organized veterinary medicine.
Dr. Brandt has served on the FVMA executive board since 1981, as president in 1989, and on the fiscal advisory, foundation, budget, legislative, and membership committees. In 1993 the Florida VMA named Dr. Brandt its Veterinarian of the Year.
The Florida veterinarian, completing the last of his 10 years representing the Sunshine State in the AVMA House of Delegates, said, "As delegates we get a synopsis of an issue; we see the final product, not the entire work that went into developing it. I like to know how and why issues have occurred. The only way you can do that is to serve on a committee, council, or the Executive Board." Dr. Brandt explained that running for the AVMA's top elective office was a wishful dream until the position became an unexpected possibility for him.
For veterinarians who are interested in the leadership aspect of the AVMA, Dr. Brandt said the AVMA Web site is very valuable, and he spends much time there. In his address at the Candidates Introductory Breakfast last July in New Orleans, where the Florida VMA officially nominated him for AVMA president-elect, he said he hoped the AVMA Network of Animal Health would eventually become a free membership service. He is pleased that will happen this August and encourages members to use it liberally. "Everybody should avail themselves of the opportunity to be computer literate, for it's the way the world is going to operate."
Dr. Brandt has mixed emotions about the AVMA becoming involved in e-commerce, but acquiesces the phenomenon is here to stay. "The AVMA should be positioned to look at e-commerce as a possible venue for the future. There are several areas of the Internet — such as diagnosing and prescribing, and the veterinarian-client-patient relationship — that must be monitored by all members."
In terms of globalization of the profession through the World Veterinary Association, Dr. Brandt believes the AVMA should be "extremely active" because the AVMA and veterinary medicine in the United States can contribute to the advancement of leadership.
Dr. Brandt advocates working with organizations that share goals. From 1994-1998 he headed the Sarasota County Animal Welfare Committee, one of his many areas of involvement with the Southwest Florida VMA. The animal welfare committee comprised a dubious mix of veterinarians and representatives of animal rights and animal welfare organizations. Despite their various agendas, the group came together and selected worthy organizations to receive a series of grants, "the same way that the AVMA will have to occasionally partner, because we're just too small to get some things accomplished by ourselves."
He regards the 1998 decision to hold an Informational Assembly of the House of Delegates each January as an example of progress. "This informational meeting is held in conjunction with the Veterinary Leadership Conference, so it does much to stimulate interest among state leaders in becoming involved in their national association," Dr. Brandt said.
So upbeat is he about the January event that Dr. Brandt believes it is the ideal place for candidates for AVMA president-elect and vice president to speak, in addition to the eight regional meetings where the AVMA campaign rules allow candidates to speak. He said, "This is the only place where many presidents and other leaders at the state level get to hear each candidate's message.
"I look forward to serving the AVMA as its president. One way I hope to contribute is by communicating to the members the necessity for them to be involved. Our more-informed members will make clearer decisions about their economic future, no matter what their area of veterinary medicine."