Veterinary shortage areas would be Mahr's primary focus as AVMA president

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When Dr. Roger K. Mahr made up his mind to pursue the office of AVMA president-elect, he recognized that he could not devote the time and attention required for that office and the presidency while continuing to manage his practice. The decision to sell the small animal practice he established 31 years ago in Geneva, Ill., came with greatly mixed emotions. Although he misses his practice, he feels fortunate as a veterinarian to have many other opportunities to explore within the profession after he completes his AVMA service. During the transition, Dr. Mahr is doing much-needed relief work for other practitioners.

In July, Dr. Mahr's term will end as District VI representative on the AVMA Executive Board, which he chaired this past year. His bid for president-elect will then be taken up by the 2005 House of Delegates when he is nominated by the Illinois State VMA. The 1971 graduate of Iowa State University became an advocate of organized veterinary medicine early in his career. He has served as president of the Illinois State and Chicago VMAs. Additionally, he has chaired the Illinois Veterinary Licensing and Disciplinary Board. Dr. Mahr is the only announced candidate for the top AVMA office. During one of his frequent visits to AVMA headquarters, he responded to a series of questions.

Q:  Why are you the best candidate for AVMA president-elect? 

A:   Over the past 34 years, I've acquired valuable experience as a small animal practitioner and practice owner. In addition to that, I've been involved with organized veterinary medicine from the beginning of my practice career. The past six years of experience in particular have prepared me for the position of president-elect and ultimately, president. Serving as Executive Board liaison to various councils, committees, and associations has expanded my knowledge base in the areas of education, research, food supply veterinary medicine, animal welfare, public health, state legislative issues, disaster and emergency preparedness, and the environment. Last year as liaison to the Strategic Planning Committee and this year as Executive Board chair, I have helped facilitate the board in its visioning and strategic planning process. That will allow me to make the transition and stay focused on the strategic issues we have identified. 

Q:  What personal qualities would you bring to this office?
A:   I readily acknowledge that I've accomplished little without the support of others. I have a strong faith in God and family, and certainly those elements have been my greatest support. I'm optimistic. I envision the challenges of our profession as opportunities. I have strong beliefs and am committed to those beliefs involving strategic planning, teamwork, collaboration, and communication. I particularly enjoy people, and the opportunity to get to know them and to work with them is extremely rewarding to me.

Q:  As board chair, did you gain insights into the relationship between the board and House of Delegates?
A:   Each year as an Executive Board member, I witnessed the various relationships between the board and the House of Delegates. I'm pleased with the collaboration that's gone on between the two entities within the past two years, particularly involving the Executive Board/House of Delegates Constitution and Bylaws Review Task Force and the Task Force on State Legislative and Regulatory Issues. This collaboration and communication are essential, not only between the Executive Board and House of Delegates but also among the councils, committees, and task forces as well as staff, as we focus to address our strategic issues.

Q:  How can we achieve the unity within the profession that you said is important for meeting future challenges?
A:   As we look to the future of veterinary medicine, we can envision a small profession with great responsibilities and vast opportunities. To achieve the unity required for us to meet those challenges or to reap the rewards of those efforts, a shared vision must be developed. That process of visioning is what we refer to as strategic planning. Last fall, the Executive Board completed the first step of that process by identifying the AVMA's five strategic issues. This spring, our councils, committees, and task forces as well as the organizations represented within the House of Delegates are coming forth with what they believe are the primary goals that the AVMA wants to achieve for each one of those issues. Then, actions can be identified and implemented to meet that shared vision. The real key to the process of achieving unity, however, is communication. The efforts that are being put forth now to develop an integrated communication plan within the AVMA will help tie all segments of the planning process together. As a result, the strategic planning process will become a business culture of the AVMA.

Q:  What other priorities would you focus on as president?
A:   The five critical issues that have been identified are animal welfare, economic viability, veterinary manpower, veterinary education, and veterinary services. I see the important area that has not been effectively addressed initially as being the shortage of veterinarians in the work force. A significant shortage is present within food supply veterinary medicine. The other area very much related to that is public veterinary practice. That area will need intense focus, and we're preparing to do that. When we look at food supply veterinary medicine or public health, we see not only the need for practicing veterinarians, but there's a critical shortage in areas of food safety and food security, biomedical research, academia, regulatory medicine, and emergency health preparedness. Tying in veterinary work force needs with veterinary education is one area that I will focus on.

Q:  Are there any member or student services you would like to add?
A:   With our focus on students, the mentoring program that has just been established and leadership development for students are areas where we'll provide services. As the AVMA strategic issues are addressed, I would expect that other member services would evolve, such as happened with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues with the establishment of pricing and benchmarking tools for companion animal and equine practitioners; benchmarking tools for food animal practitioners are coming out soon.

Q:  Are you satisfied with the AVMA's progress in moving forward with actions aimed at helping constituent VMAs address state legislative and regulatory initiatives?
A:   The role of the AVMA in managing state legislative and regulatory affairs has now been clearly defined, as documented in a guide produced by the Task Force on State Legislative and Regulatory Initiatives. The Executive Board adopted their guidelines. This past summer, a very successful public policy training symposium was put on by the AVMA for representatives from state and allied organizations. Likely, there will be additional ones, perhaps on a regional basis to allow more members to participate. An extremely important part of addressing the role of AVMA is the establishment of the department for state legislative and regulatory initiatives within the Communications Division. The AVMA has hired an assistant director to head that department, and he joined the staff in mid-March. Another staff position will be filled to assist him. Software has been acquired for use by that department to identify and track state proposals. I believe that the state veterinary associations will soon see the value of the AVMA's role in helping them to address these big issues.

Q:  How important is legislative and regulatory advocacy?
A:   Involvement in public policy making by the veterinary profession is extremely important. I'm pleased with the 108th Congress, where our voice was recognized with the passage of three important bills and the defeat of another bill. The 109th Congress must recognize that veterinary medicine is an integral part of our public health system as we actively pursue passage of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act when it is introduced. This bill will help address the critical need for public practice veterinarians that I spoke of earlier. It was developed a great deal by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and we are working closely with them.

Q:  What is your vision of the AVMA's global role?
A:   It is fitting for the AVMA to maintain its leadership role in the veterinary profession around the world. The Council on Education accreditation standards are the gold standard for veterinary education. It is important to share those standards with foreign veterinary colleges and encourage them to achieve them. Also, the effort to build international relationships through the World Veterinary Association and the Panamerican Association of Veterinary Sciences, or PANVET, contributes to the advancement of the veterinary profession worldwide. The AAVMC/AVMA Task Force on Veterinary Infrastructure for Iraq and Afghanistan is an example of our veterinarian-to-veterinarian outreach.

Globally, animals and people moving from one country to another create vulnerability to the transmission of foreign animal diseases, so it's important that underdeveloped countries be developed to the point where they can better diagnose and control these diseases. Sharing through the areas of education, research, and the practice of veterinary medicine globally is a benefit for all of us. The AVMA's support of the tsunami rebuilding effort for countries in South Asia through Heifer International is an example of our commitment to the AVMA mission of "improving animal and human health" not only in the United States but around the world.

Coming May 1: an interview with Dr. René A. Carlson, candidate for reelection as AVMA vice president.