An eye on the future - June 15, 2004

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Dr. Dennis A. FeinbergDr. Dennis A. Feinberg expects to be spending a lot of time with the future of veterinary medicine. Veterinary students, that is.

"They're tomorrow's veterinarians and where our profession is going," said Dr. Feinberg, who was elected AAHA president during the association's 71st annual meeting this March in Tampa, Fla. More than 1,500 veterinary care providers from the United States, Canada, and overseas attended the meeting at the Tampa Convention Center.

The Charleston, S.C., veterinarian plans on spending his year in office proclaiming the value of the AAHA as a resource and how its Standards of Accreditation benefit practices and patients alike.

Much of Dr. Feinberg's energies will be directed at veterinary students to educate them about all the AAHA offers. His plan enlists AAHA members living near veterinary schools or colleges to become much more active with AAHA student chapters.

A self-described, behind-the-scenes leader, Dr. Feinberg left a job as a pharmacist at Johns Hopkins Hospital to enroll in Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine in the early 1970s. Now, he wants to give something back to the profession he loves.

Two years after receiving his DVM degree in 1975, Dr. Feinberg joined the AAHA, beginning his rise through the association ranks.

He has also held leadership positions in the South Carolina and Charleston VMAs and served on the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for six years, three of them as chairman.

In addition to his participation in organized veterinary medicine, Dr. Feinberg owns a four-veterinarian, small animal practice in Charleston.

Keeping in mind that the veterinary profession is gradually becoming younger and increasingly female, the AAHA is launching a Web site this fall aimed at veterinary students and recent graduates.

Unveiled at the Tampa meeting, the site will help the new generation of veterinarians find a balance between their personal and professional lives, Dr. Feinberg explained. Various features will be offered on the site, such as a job bank, tips on interviewing and loan consolidation, and a chat room.

There are plans to eventually expand the site to cater to veterinary technicians, assistants, and other members of the veterinary practice team, as well.

Dr. Feinberg sees the Web site as a way for the AAHA to be an inclusive organization, one that embraces all members of the practice team—from veterinarians to office staff. "There's something in AAHA for everybody," he said.

He also wants the AAHA to be progressive in setting animal welfare standards while also remaining relevant to practitioners—not an easy goal.

For instance, Dr. Feinberg noted how a small minority of AAHA members objected to the board of directors' approval this past October of an amendment opposing cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking (see JAVMA, Dec. 15, 2003).

That a growing number of veterinary students and recent graduates see those surgeries as unnecessary and painful, however, is a matter that the AAHA cannot ignore, Dr. Feinberg said. What's more, the association must continue acting in the best interest of the patient, he said.

Every organization deals with the tension between balancing the interests of new and long-term members, but Dr. Feinberg believes the AAHA isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers when it means doing the right thing.

"I strongly feel that we're not afraid to take a stance," he said. "It may not always be popular, but it's up to us to explain why it's beneficial. You run the risk of losing some people for that very reason, but you do what's right."

Since last year, the AAHA has undertaken several broad initiatives that include canine vaccine guidelines, revised Standards of Accreditation, and studies on owner compliance with treatment regimens. With some 32,000 individual members across North America—an association record—the AAHA appears to be doing something right.

The accreditation standards, which address the quality of veterinary care a practice provides, continue to be the AAHA's top priority. The latest standards are more comprehensive than before, totaling 829 standards with 19 sections, said Dr. Feinberg, who helped write them as a member of the AAHA Standards Enhancement Task Force.

Accreditation standards have also been crafted for specialty and species-specific practices. The specialties are ophthalmology, emergency and critical care, surgery, house call and mobile practices, and feline and avian species.

Previously, practices seeking accreditation had 45 days to correct deficiencies and notify the AAHA that they had done so. With the new standards, practices are given a pass or fail grade the day of the evaluation. Dr. Feinberg said consultants at AAHA headquarters are available to help practices satisfy the requirements prior to evaluation.

"The board of directors approved the new standards with the understanding that raising the bar for quality of care could potentially result in the loss of some members who could no longer achieve accreditation," he said. "We were prepared for that.

"The AAHA's primary goal is to retain members through direct support and resources to raise their bar and level of care, and recruit new members where they understand the benefits of membership."