AVMA leadership holds listening session in nation's capital

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AVMA President Bonnie V. Beaver and President-Elect Henry E. Childers recently met in Washington, D.C., with leading veterinarians in the federal government, uniformed services, and allied veterinary organizations.

The AVMA President's Roundtable has been a venue for AVMA leadership to not only learn of current government programs but also to inquire as to how the Association can support its members engaged in these pursuits.

The site for the Sept. 15-16 events was the Radisson Barcelo Hotel, which is only a few steps from the recently purchased AVMA Governmental Relations Division building, just off Dupont Circle.

Those attending the Sept. 15 roundtable dinner were Drs. Bonnie Buntain, chief veterinary public health officer with the Department of Agriculture, Peter J. Fernandez, associate administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Tom McGinn, medical adviser for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and T.J. Myers, director of certification and control team with APHIS.

Bioterrorism, foreign animal diseases, and other security-related topics were the dominant themes of the evening. The collaborative relationship between the United States and Canada in sharing laboratory resources was touted as a valuable mechanism for providing North American biosecurity.

The importance of educating veterinarians and veterinary students to increase their vigilance with respect to foreign animal diseases was the overarching message delivered by the participants. One way to accomplish this is through modifying national veterinary accreditation to encompass foreign animal disease instruction.

The exchange of veterinarians between countries during times of biomedical disasters can also be an effective way of disseminating necessary technical skills. An increased emphasis on foreign animal diseases and public health in the professional curriculum was also promoted.

The devastation and destruction resulting from recent hurricanes in Florida prompted extended discussion about the need to inform the public about the invaluable dedication of veterinarians in such disasters.

For their assistance in recovery operations and contributions in restoring animal and human well-being in Florida, AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams are deserving of national accolades, according to the attendees. It was also suggested that physicians should be made more cognizant of the benefits of partnering with veterinarians during such catastrophes.

Dr. Chester Gipson, deputy administrator for APHIS Animal Care, commenced the presentations by thanking Dr. Beaver for her statements relating to animal welfare in her presidential address at the July AVMA convention.

He emphasized the need for veterinarians to gain greater recognition as advocates for animal welfare. Agriculture, in particular, needs a strategy for animal welfare, perhaps in the form of a central policy point. In addition, Dr. Gipson recognized the need for industry to play a role in policy making related to laboratory animal welfare.

Lieutenant Colonel William Courtney, associate chief of the Biomedical Sciences Corps for Public Health with the Air Force Medical Support Agency, discussed the strategic role of veterinarians in serving the nation's public health and preventive medicine needs.

Veterinarians occupy half of the 200 positions in the Biomedical Sciences Corps for Public Health. Lieutenant Colonel Courtney expressed a need for veterinarians interested in public health administration and is an advocate for joint DVM-MPH degree programs. Those who have from two to 10 years of practice experience often make good candidates and are sought after by the Public Health Service.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, touched on the recent request made by the FDA for Fort Dodge Animal Health to withdraw its ProHeart 6 heartworm preventive (see JAVMA, Oct. 15, 2004). He said the FDA-CVM would be sending advisory letters to small animal practitioners.

Dr. Sundlof favorably noted the recently passed Minor Use Minor Species legislation, and advised that it will require a specific office in the FDA-CVM to address the expanded uses of drugs permitted by the new law.

Writing the rules and regulations for MUMS will take several years. Also of interest was news that the FDA-CVM has hired veterinarians to review drug applications that have been submitted in accordance with the provisions of the relatively new Animal Drug User Fee Act.

Dr. Franziska Grieder, director of laboratory animal sciences in the Division of Comparative Medicine with the Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized the need to support training for veterinarians and veterinary students to become proficient in biomedical research.

This is especially important in supporting the development of animal models for human diseases. She articulated the need for veterinary schools to promote research as well as other alternative career pathways. The National Institutes of Health currently supports 35 tracks for training veterinarians for research, although it does not offer residencies in the agency.

In addition, Dr. Grieder promoted the concept of loan repayment programs for veterinarians pursuing research careers.

Dr. Peter Johnson, national program leader for animal health with the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, highlighted the 2005 National Research Initiative Programs at CSREES.

Under the Animal Protection Program are initiatives in Animal Disease Countermeasures with high-priority areas for aquaculture, equids, poultry, ruminants, and swine. Additionally, there are programs for Animal Well-Being Assessment and Improvement and Veterinary Immunological Reagents. The $10 million funding for the program has remained fixed for the past decade.

Dr. Johnson noted that proposals for the 2004 NRI programs have been received and reviewed for the Animal Biosecurity Program and the Food Safety Coordinated Agricultural Project.

The National Association of Federal Veterinarians represents the more than 2,600 veterinarians serving in agencies of the federal government. NAFV Executive Director Dale Boyle touched on the priorities he faces, which include increasing veterinarians' competitive edge for promotions as well as helping them acquire the tools necessary to properly accomplish their various missions.

He stressed the necessity of being proactive rather than reactive in seeking those goals. In Dr. Boyle's opinion, the AVMA can best complement the NAFV by assisting in the securing of funds required for these initiatives. The NAFV encourages its younger members by annually presenting the Daniel E. Salmon Award to a federally employed veterinarian with less than 10 years of service and a rating of GR-13 or less.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, associate executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, reported that the AAVMC reconstituted its Animal Care Committee. This will allow the monitoring of animal use in all its constituent colleges.

Dr. Maccabe spoke emphatically of the need for veterinary colleges to address the serious imbalance in racial and ethnic diversity within their collective student bodies. For the veterinary profession to properly serve the diversity in this nation, it is important that all the professions, including veterinary medicine, accurately mirror that heterogeneity, he said. Fewer than 4 percent of the nation's veterinary students represent such ethnicity.

The AAVMC recently recruited an associate executive director for diversity to address and provide remedies for this important facet of the veterinary profession's demography (see JAVMA, Oct. 15, 2004, page 1174).

Finally, Dr. Maccabe touched on the need for veterinary education to expand beyond its present enrollment capacity, which dovetails with the AAVMC's efforts to address future needs in veterinary public practice.

The final speaker for this informative noontime session was Col. Jack Fournier, chief of the Army Veterinary Corps. He advised the audience that Army veterinarians are providing invaluable assistance in nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan. While applying their skills to rehabilitate infrastructure, U.S. military veterinarians are building important relationships with Iraqi and Afghan veterinarians.

Colonel Fournier noted that the Army's facilitation of a meeting of American veterinarians with Iraqi, Afghan, and Kuwaiti veterinarians, in Kuwait, to further help develop infrastructure and educational curriculum (see page 1501).

President Beaver and President-Elect Childers provided the capstone comments at the ends of the luncheon and dinner. Reflecting their desire to benefit all members of the veterinary profession, they encouraged the presenters to contact them at any time they felt that the assistance of the AVMA would advance their varied needs.