Improving veterinarians' income a top goal of AVMA president-elect candidate Childers

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Dr. Henry E. ChildersAs his term representing District 1 on the AVMA Executive Board draws to a close, Dr. Henry E. Childers hopes to serve the profession he loves in a new capacity: AVMA president-elect. Leadership is nothing new to the 1954 graduate of Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Childers was twice elected president of the Rhode Island VMA and has held the office of president of the New England VMA and AAHA. He has been a member of councils and committees of numerous national and state veterinary organizations. Since 1957, Dr. Childers has owned and managed a small animal practice in Cranston, R.I. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. In addition to his business and participation in organized veterinary medicine, Dr. Childers is an assistant clinical professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Now, Dr. Childers hopes to apply his passion and years of experience as the AVMA's top officer, president.

Why are you running for AVMA president-elect?

I have a genuine desire to serve as AVMA president. I want to provide continuity of leadership by emulating past AVMA presidents who have initiated and supported programs in the best interest of the AVMA and the profession.

What skills and experience qualify you for the office?

Humility, dedication, and an obsessive love for veterinary medicine. I have been involved in organized veterinary medicine with many organizations on many levels for an extended period of time.

Who has nominated you?

The Rhode Island VMA nominated me. Although I didn't formally request it, because I reside in Rhode Island, the Massachusetts VMA, of which I am a life member, the AAHA, of which I am a past president, and my specialty board, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, would have sponsored me.

In your mind, what are the responsibilities of the AVMA president-elect and president?

To make the AVMA the best organization it can be, to resolve all aspects of veterinary medicine in its governance, and to address the concerns and needs of all the veterinary profession's constituents.

At the candidates' introductory breakfast in Denver, you said the economy is the No. 1 issue facing veterinarians. Do you still feel this way? Why?

The economy of the profession is markedly improved, thanks to the efforts of organized veterinary medicine using the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues as a focal point. However, we haven't gotten there yet. And we must always be ever aware that a healthy veterinary economy is necessary to attract applicants to veterinary schools and colleges who will be a credit to the profession.

You also cited mentoring, enhancing AVMA's communications to members and the public, AVMA accreditation standards, and professional unity as important priorities. Are these areas you would focus on as president? Are there others?

Yes, I would certainly place emphasis on these areas. I would also support AVMA taking an active role in assisting constituent associations' efforts to respond to legislative and regulatory initiatives. Often, success or failure in addressing legislative initiatives at the state level can set a precedent for multistate or national actions. Also, the AVMA can best coordinate a uniform approach to this problem.

Your state of Rhode Island is the only state to refer to pet owners as pet guardians. Did this action by the state legislature affect your view of animal protection groups?

Since pet guardianship is a reality in Rhode Island, hopefully it will lead to more responsive pet ownership. Rhode Island veterinarians, based on a state association survey, are not overly concerned about the consequences of this bill.

What is your assessment of the AVMA's response to recent publicity campaigns by such groups as Animal Rights International criticizing AVMA policies on induced molting and sow housing?

Any decision that the AVMA makes must be science-based. We also must continue our role as the protectors of the welfare of animals. In my opinion, rather than fighting them, our main thrust should be fact-finding, education, and animal welfare. The AVMA must continue to be the science-based resource. We must become more accessible to the public on issues of animal welfare.

It has been said that the AVMA doesn't do enough to promote racial and ethnic diversity in the veterinary profession. Is this a fair assessment?

U.S. veterinary colleges have been directed by the U.S. Department of Labor to promote racial and ethnic diversity in the admissions process. Despite considerable efforts and largely due to circumstances beyond the control of the colleges, the profession has not been too successful. In my opinion, the AVMA should continue to encourage racial and ethnic diversity in the profession, and the involvement of all veterinarians in leadership positions of the Association.

What about gender? Studies show women are quickly dominating the profession. And yet, women, as well as minorities, are underrepresented on the Executive Board, House Advisory Committee, and House of Delegates. Why is this the case? Should the AVMA leadership seek to rectify this disparity?

Because women account for a growing number of graduating seniors, they will soon become the predominant gender in the profession. Since this is a recent trend, women veterinarians tend to be younger veterinarians and more concerned with beginning their professional careers, earning a living, and raising a young family. AVMA leadership is aware of the disparity and is actively involved in encouraging women veterinarians to seek leadership roles, both at the state and national level.

The AVMA Governmental Relations Division has seen a flurry of activity of late. In November alone, two pieces of legislation important to the AVMA—NVMSA and ADUFA—were passed. What's your take on the recent legislative victories, plus the growing attention being paid to veterinary issues in Washington, D.C.?

I am proud of the efforts of the Governmental Relations Division and the Legislative Advisory Committee in shepherding the National Veterinary Medical Service Act and the Animal Drug User Fee Act through Congress. The first act places veterinarians in areas of need of veterinary health care, such as rural and inner-city areas, by offering grants to help repay educational debt. This benefits the recent graduate, as well as the underserved community and animals. Enactment of the other bill allows the Food and Drug Administration to collect user fees from drug companies to defray the costs of hiring additional scientific reviewers to accelerate review of new animal drugs. The FDA's review process for new animal drugs typically takes five to 10 years, resulting in major delays of badly needed new animal drugs.

How do you feel about the Executive Board's decision to rejoin the Pan American Veterinary Congress? How important is it for the AVMA to participate in these foreign veterinary bodies?

I'm supportive of the board's decision to rejoin PANVET. In my opinion, the AVMA has a responsibility to be involved in international veterinary medicine. The remainder of the veterinary world relies on us for advice and counsel. We set the standards for veterinary medical college accreditation, as well as for veterinary medicine, in general. The AVMA plays a prominent role in the World Veterinary Association. The United States isn't an island. We can't control epizootic and zoonotic diseases without cooperating with other veterinary communities in our hemisphere.

Are you confident that the AVMA and American Association of Veterinary State Boards will reach a suitable agreement on their competing programs for certifying foreign-trained veterinarians?

It appears that the majority of veterinarians feel that it's in the best interest of the profession and the public to have only one program. Representatives from both associations are meeting regularly in an attempt to work out the details.

Other subjects you'd like to speak about?

In my opinion, it is extremely important that U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine develop or enhance public health and food safety education in the veterinary curriculum. There is a need to establish a baseline standard for public health/preventive medicine education. Veterinary public health and preventive veterinary medicine have become especially important because of the recognized threat of bioterrorism and agroterrorism, as well as the increased risk of new emerging diseases, many of which are zoonoses. At its November 2003 meeting, the Executive Board approved encouraging U.S. veterinary colleges to implement a model veterinary public health/preventive curriculum.

In addition, I am very concerned about the economics of food animal medicine. Work must begin to address the specific needs of food animal medicine. We must identify the resources and tools that will enhance the economic base of these veterinarians.