Candidates vie for AVMA vice presidency

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When Dr. Joe Kinnarney completes his term as AVMA vice president in July, one of two contenders will succeed him—Dr. Tom Kendall of Sacramento, sponsored by the California VMA, or Nevada VMA nominee, Dr. Jack Walther of Lamoille.

The vice president is the AVMA's official liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters, and has a vote on the AVMA Executive Board. On July 13 the House of Delegates will elect a candidate to a one-year term, with eligibility for reelection to a second one-year term.

Dr. Kendall owns a small animal practice, co-owns three other practices, and is a partner in an emergency clinic. The former California VMA president is currently the association's legislative chair. In California he has worked to defeat the challenge to the AVMA accreditation process. He also broadcasts pet health segments on news radio and television.

Dr. Walther recently sold his two practices in Reno, practices part time in Elko, and ranches on the side. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Nevada's delegate to the AVMA, he is also completing a term on the AVMAPAC Policy Board. He has served on the state veterinary board, and as Nevada VMA president and legislative chair.

In April the candidates took time out for an interview while at AVMA headquarters for the Executive Board meeting.

Why are veterinary students of special interest to you?
   Kendall: My experience having students in our hospital for the past 27 years is that they are a vital link to the future. We get invigoration from the students. The seniors are ready to surge out there, where we in the rest of the profession have forgotten our initial enthusiasm. They are the future of this profession.

Dr. Jack Walther
Dr. Jack Walther

   Walther: They are the future of our profession. I became involved with veterinary students because as a young preveterinary student, I could not go to the University of Nevada to do my undergraduate work. When I returned to Nevada to practice, I was determined to get the preveterinary course at the University of Nevada upgraded, which I did. For the next 30 years I worked with students who were doing preveterinary studies and became very fond of watching young people learn about veterinary medicine, become veterinarians, and then become leaders.

How have you mentored and been an advocate for students?
   Walther: During my 30 years with the preveterinary program, every student who went through the program at the University of Nevada had to spend at least a day with me, for I felt it was important that before they spent all that time and energy to become veterinarians, they needed to get a feel for what happens in a veterinary hospital.
   Since that time, I was involved in acquiring the largest single endowment ever made to the University of California veterinary school at Davis. This came about when I encouraged one of my very first clients to contribute to the school in her will. She left her entire ranch, valued at more than $7 million, to the school, which will use it to help build new facilities.
   I am currently chairman of a committee that started a scholarship program sponsored by the Western Veterinary Conference—we are going to give a $2,500 scholarship to every US veterinary school and bring the recipients to the Western conference in Las Vegas.
   Kendall: Our practice started participating 27 years ago in the University of California-Davis' externship program. Since then we've had 27 students spend time in our practice. I've also been involved in mock interviews and other projects with the student chapter at Davis for several years, including their senior career day.
   At Davis we've participated in various mentoring programs. A few young veterinarians who've been out of school a few years have recently come back to me for help purchasing a practice. The mentor and the mentoree both get a lot of satisfaction.

What have you done that prepares you for this position?
   Kendall: I was involved with changes in the California practice act a couple of years ago to allow licensure in California if you had a license in another state for five years, hadn't had any disciplinary actions, and had taken and passed the national and state boards in that state. This is very important to students. There are a lot more women in the profession than there were several years ago, so there's the issue of two-income households.
   Recently my practice merged with a couple other practices and built a state-of-the-art building. With the economic study, I've seen the key role that practice mergers are going to play. I'd like to develop a program to work with students and show them ways they can merge practices if they want to move into a smaller community.
   Walther: I was the chairman of the AVMAPAC and have spent a lot of time in Washington promoting legislation and overseeing contributions to congressmen and senators who supported the AVMA cause. I've been chairman of the state board of examiners in Nevada for 10 years and represented Nevada for the past 10 years in the AVMA House of Delegates.
   Looking outside the veterinary profession, I served as chairman of the Airport Authority of Washoe County and was chairman of the air service task force, whose responsibility was to bring new airlines to Reno. During the four years I was chairman, we brought eight new airlines to the city of Reno—that's never been done anyplace else. In addition, I just finished as chairman of the National Championship Air Race Association, the only true air race in the world.

Describe your campaign and messages you've heard.
   Walther: Running for AVMA vice president is a little different from running for president. First of all, there is no financial support from the AVMA or from my state. All in all, I've still been on the road a lot, having attended all the recent Executive Board meetings, the AVMA budget session, the Student AVMA symposiums, and the Nine States meeting in Wisconsin. Most of my campaigning, however, has been done at the AVMA convention and the leadership conference, and getting on the telephone. The issue I've heard far above anything else is that people are becoming more aware of student debt load, and they are certainly watching carefully what Dr. Jim Nave and his commission are doing to deal with the problem.
   Kendall: When I started this campaign, I wanted to see students' needs and desires brought to the forefront, and that has occurred. Their involvement is important, whether it's going en masse to the AVMAPAC luncheon or being involved in AVMA committees.
   The major thing I've heard from people is that schools need to make practice management, business, and human relations courses more important.

As the AVMA liaison to the SAVMA and student chapters, what would you discuss when visiting the veterinary colleges?

Dr. Tom Kendall
Dr. Tom Kendall

   Kendall: I think the position is evolving in the right direction and the vice president is going to be able to bring student issues to AVMA in the Executive Board position.
   There are a lot of things the schools can do in the areas of practice management and business skills to help students. As AVMA vice president I would want to plant the seeds and encourage curriculum development and sharing among schools. One of the things I think is important, especially in business and economics, is the teachable moment. There was an economic study that found, for example, if you teach students about debt load earlier than the junior year it doesn't have much impact. Continuity from one vice president to the next is also important. Current vice president Joe Kinnarney and other recent ones have really reached out to the students.
   Walther: The students have to have a realistic view of the economics of veterinary medicine. My number two theme is the importance of students becoming part of the profession. There seems to be some apathy, and it concerns me and the profession. Part of my message to students is that to solve the problems, they have to be part of the solution. They need to be encouraged to become members of their state association and the AVMA, and to participate.

While the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues is pursuing its mission, what can veterinary students do to help their economic situation?
   Walther: Again, they have to be realistic of the economics. A lot of students do not realize what having a $100,000 debt load means as far as payback. Most schools don't offer courses or feedback to these students as to how to deal with that. Dr. Kinnarney gave an excellent presentation in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago on just exactly that: if you've got $60,000 debt and you go to work for $41,000, how much does it cost to pay that debt back and still have a life?
   Kendall: It has to come from the students that they need help. There's a difference in advisers from college to college. Some are open and helpful, others aren't. In some schools more than others, the students feel they have a good relationship with the dean and administrator's office. I'm trying to get a perspective on that.
   Those of us in the profession, after we've read the KPMG market study two or three times, are still learning things from it. At UC-Davis there's going to be a meeting in May on needs assessment at the veterinary schools led by Dr. Lonnie King, chair one of the national commission's working groups.

How have you kept current on veterinary and student issues?
   Kendall: Since being president of the CVMA three years ago, I've kept very involved with committees on the state level in California. I'm currently the legislative chairman, so I've had a chance to see a lot of things. On a national level, it has been a matter of homework. That's why I went to the five Executive Board meetings, to see what's going on and talk to people.
   Walther: I'm fortunate because I've been the Student AVMA second adviser, chosen by SAVMA president Rob Richardson to serve during his term ending this July. If I were to be elected vice president, my legacy would be to have information about student issues and problems flow more freely within the AVMA.

Besides student issues, what others would be of special interest to you as a voting member of the Executive Board?
   Walther: I am a very budget-minded person. My previous experience has taught me that how an organization spends its money dictates how well it operates, so I will be an extremely fiscally aware vice president.
   I believe the AVMA reserve fund at this point is adequate. I would never be against going into the reserve for some worthwhile project, but I would be cautious every time we tap into it.
   Kendall: Legislative issues and anything related to business are things I'm really interested in. I've been involved with legislative issues in California, which, fortunately or unfortunately, seems to see a lot of trends first.
   I was involved with the IRS in a three-year battle over my practice's status as a C corporation and was successful. The California VMA ended up co-sponsoring a resolution last year to take what I had learned on a nationwide basis. We asked the AVMA to pursue a technical advice memorandum on C corporation tax filing status from the IRS. The IRS is now going to change the audit technique guide on this issue.
   All of these are areas where I can contribute on the Executive Board. I take the 1 in 15 vote very seriously.