Energized by the dynamics of their first meeting a year ago in Honolulu, the presidents and chief executive officers of four national veterinary associations recently reconvened, this time in London, for another productive collaboration.
The British Veterinary Association hosted the AVMA, Australian Veterinary Association, and Canadian VMA from March 9-12. Members of the International Veterinary Officers Council attending the second annual event were: AVMA, Dr. Leonard F. Seda, president, and Dr. Bruce W. Little, executive vice president; British Veterinary Association, Eifion Evans, president, and James H. Baird, chief executive; Australian Veterinary Association, Dr. Garth McGilvary, president, and Barbara Horsfield, chief executive officer; and Canadian VMA, Dr. George Guernsey, president, and Claude Paul Boivin, executive director.
Veterinary presidents of four countries come together: Dr. Garth McGilvary, Australian Veterinary Association; Dr. George Guernsey, Canadian VMA; Eifion Evans, British Veterinary Association; and Dr. Leonard F. Seda, AVMA.
Afterward, AVMA President Seda said, "This is an exchange of organizational ideas and principles of leadership for our profession at the national and international level of sharing, which is virgin territory."
This group is uniquely positioned to represent the AVMA and Canadian VMA to the Americas, the BVA to the European Community, and the Australian VA to Southeast Asia and Australia. The officers council also hopes the ongoing exchange of information will produce ideas that benefit the veterinary world at large.
Of the London meeting Dr. Seda commented, "The British Veterinary Association hosted the meeting with a lot of preparation and outlining of issues that made working in that environment extremely productive."
Each national association engaged in dialogue on five session topics developed by the BVA. The first session, "The Public's Expectations of Veterinarians," covered what BVA President Eifion Evans termed "the erosion of veterinary medicine in Britain" and negative public image of veterinarians there. One reason offered for the demise is the public's demand for low-cost veterinary service and drugs, because they perceive that the country's socialized human medicine is "no cost." One thing the BVA is doing is changing the term "veterinary surgeon" to the more inclusive "veterinarian" and seeking to expand career opportunities.
In the session on "Food Safety Policy and Practicalities," discussion centered around replacing the obsolete notion of visiting the farm when something is wrong with the philosophy of doing so to confirm that everything is right. Other information brought to light during the food safety session: release of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy inquiry report in Britain is expected this September; chiropractors, "equine dentists," and other nonveterinarians in the United Kingdom are lobbying for the right to practice on animals; the British government is reducing money for food safety programs because the country is buying an increasing amount of food products from continental Europe; and in Canada, CVMA President Guernsey said, where more large animal practitioners are needed, he envisions a move toward "streaming" or limited licensure in the veterinary curriculum.
"To visit with the son and a client of James Herriot was pretty special," said AVMA president, Dr. Leonard F. Seda (left), with AVMA executive vice president, Dr. Bruce W. Little (second right) in obvious agreement. Standing beside Dr. Seda is Billy Bell, a swine producer who was a client of Dr. Wight. At right is Dr. Jim Wight.
Lord Soulsby, the only veterinarian in the British House of Lords, hosted a dinner forum in the House of Lords that constituted the third session, "International Trade, Politics, Mutual Recognition of Professionals." The statesman arranged presentations by distinguished UK leaders he invited from the medical profession, agriculture, industry, and government. One of the phenomena they described was how the demise of the agricultural economy in the British Isles, combined with the strength of the British pound makes it more feasible to purchase certain products from the European Union than to produce them locally.
Dr. Seda said, "The tour of the House of Lords was extremely special, and it was enlightening to hear what the leaders Lord Soulsby invited to dinner had to say about their agendas in animal care and food safety."
The services each of the four national associations provide for their members was the centerpiece of "The Business of Veterinary Services," the fourth session. An interesting new concept was the BVA's new legal hotline, available around the clock. More than two thirds of the calls relate to employment issues.
Australian Veterinary Association Executive Director Barbara Horsfield led the final session, "Benchmarking the Association." The officers attempted to compare values, capital, and expenditures among their associations, although comparisons were complicated by differences among their nations' policies, economies, and demographics. The officers view the high percentage of US veterinarians who are AVMA members – about 86 percent – as a benchmark. Moreover, in contrast with the BVA, which has no veterinarians on its staff, the AVMA has 23.
In March 2001 the Canadian VMA will host the officers council in Victoria, British Columbia.
Next on the itinerary for the AVMA contingent, at the conclusion of the officers council meeting, was a whirlwind, one-day visit to the veterinary mecca of Yorkshire. Drs. Seda and Little headed north on a high-speed train for the 200-mile ride to Thirsk, a town in the North Yorkshire County dales where famed British veterinarian J. Alfred Wight, better known as James Herriot, once practiced.
Thirsk is now the site of the James Herriot Center and Museum. Opened in March 1999, the museum recreates Dr. Wight's surgery as it was in the 1950s. Its value goes beyond a tribute to him and explores the world of veterinary science and practice.
On arrival in Thirsk, Drs. Seda and Little were greeted by the son of Dr. Wight, Dr. Jim Wight, who practiced with his famous father and has written a biography on him. Joining them for a tour of the museum and its collections was Stuart Gill, manager of the museum, and Paul Whitaker, director of tourism for the Hambleton District Council.
Dr. Little said, "They were very pleased to see visitors from the AVMA and acknowledged the relationship they are trying to develop with veterinary groups around the world."
Gill took the Americans on a guided tour of some of the villages and sites that inspired the works of Herriot. "It is beautiful country and a perfect setting for anecdotes about the everyday life of a general veterinary practitioner," Dr. Little said. "They treat veterinarians with special consideration."
The Northern Echo newspaper in Darlington reported Gill as saying: "[Drs. Seda and Little] were very knowledgeable about Alf Wight and very enthusiastic about the center. We are trying to forge closer links with veterinary organisations across the world and this visit has helped us to achieve that aim in the USA."
Visit the "World of James Herriot" Web site at www.hambleton.gov.uk/tourism/herriot.html.