McIlwraith sees equine world topside and Down Under

Published on March 01, 2001
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New AAEP president, Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith, who took office in November, sees his job as a simple one: to facilitate the AAEP's long-range strategic plan.

"The AAEP has made commitments to continuing education, horse-owner education, and the development of future practitioners, and I want to help make these plans a reality," he said.

A citizen of New Zealand, Dr. McIlwraith is a US resident who has done much of his leading work in arthroscopic surgery in horses while at Colorado State University. At CSU he is a professor of surgery and director of orthopedic research. His work frequently takes him abroad, principally to clients in England and France. Throughout the world he does consulting and interacts professionally through speaking engagements.

"Being involved internationally gives me overseas perspectives, and I think that's good for the AAEP," he said. "We have a lot of overseas members." Of the 5,862 veterinarian members, the AAEP has 736 members outside the United States and Canada.

"One common international problem is that everywhere I go in the world, equine veterinarians are having trouble recruiting younger veterinarians."

Dr. McIlwraith considers the development of future practitioners as the number one challenge affecting AAEP members. Many members have become frustrated, he noted, when unable to hire an associate who fits their needs.

"One of our challenges is to see that new graduates have options that require fewer hours but can still make a good living. Most of our clients work seven days a week and don't necessarily have empathy for someone who wants weekends off."

Dr. McIlwraith's second issue is preserving the ability to use antimicrobials. In response to the AVMA's request for equine-specific guidelines, the AAEP recently formed a task force.

It's not just antimicrobials, he added, but preserving all treatment options, including alternative and complementary therapies. "We've got to look at them critically and support our members' being able to practice veterinary medicine to their optimal ability. That often means being able to exercise the art as well as the science."

An AAEP survey about three years ago showed that 50 percent of members were using such therapies or referring clients to someone who did. The association has been funding three research projects a year examining an alternative therapy. At its 2000 convention, the AAEP offered a seminar on complementary and integrative therapies.

In early February the AAEP board of directors discussed the draft revision of the AVMA Guidelines for Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine. Afterward, the board submitted written comments to the AVMA expressing various concerns.

Shortly, Dr. McIlwraith intends to form another task force, on equine dentistry. Despite divergent views within the organization on nonveterinarians performing dentistry and alternative therapies, the AAEP has chosen not to ignore it. First, Dr. McIlwraith said, is identifying what constitutes veterinary practice, and second is deciding whether to use dental technicians and at what level, and whether to get involved in a certification process.

The AAEP wants not only horse owners but the profession itself to seek its collective expertise on equine issues. "Our relationship with the AVMA could be further developed," Dr. McIlwraith said. "I'd like to see the AAEP consulted on all equine-specific situations by AVMA."

Last November the AAEP issued its policy on therapeutic medications in racehorses. It states that the only race day medication should be furosemide. Dr. McIlwraith said the policy has been well received by industry, and acceptance among AAEP members is high, although some track veterinarians are concerned it puts them in a difficult position because states vary in their race day medication regulations.

The AAEP is calling for state racing commissions to adopt uniform standards and is promoting its policy as the ideal for the health of the horse and the integrity of racing.

Dr. McIlwraith noted, however, that the AAEP is no longer primarily an organization of racetrack veterinarians. Members devote the greatest percentage of their time—39 percent-to pleasure/performance horses, followed by 20 to reproduction, 17 percent to nonequine work, 11 percent to racetrack work, 9 percent in referrals, 2 percent in the regulatory area, and 2 percent in other areas.

So now the AAEP is preparing to develop a position statement on medication of pleasure/performance horses. This time the leadership plans to proceed more slowly and survey the entire membership to determine whether they perceive a problem and what to do.

Continuing education remains the AAEP's first priority. As 2000 convention program chair Dr. McIlwraith added a new dimension by arranging for overseas speakers.

Dr. McIlwraith attended his first AAEP meetings while serving his surgical residency at Purdue University in 1977 and earning his PhD degree. He began AAEP committee work when he came to Colorado State in 1979, also the year he became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Dr. McIlwraith has been active in the AAEP On Call program, chaired two committees, and served six years on the board of directors. Equally involved in the ACVS, he became president in 1999.

His scientific reports have been published in journals including the American Journal of Veterinary Research and JAVMA. A third edition of his textbook on arthroscopic surgery in horses is currently in preparation. He has also co-authored two other textbooks on surgery and a third on equine joint disease.

It all began in his native New Zealand with his BVSc degree in 1971. He is delighted that graduates of AVMA-accredited and -approved schools now qualify to practice in several countries, including his homeland, and hopes it becomes two-way.

"The world is pretty small now," he said. "I'm very excited about the liberalization of licensing and think there should be a lot more reciprocity."

When Dr. McIlwraith returns to New Zealand, he collaborates on a research project on musculoskeletal injuries in horses at Massey University. But principally, he vacations.