Dr. Henry E. Childers formally dedicated his term as AVMA president to promoting unity within an increasingly diversified profession confronting unprecedented challenges.
Without attention and care, professional unity and the principles that bring veterinarians together can erode, Dr. Childers warned. "That's why I'm dedicating my presidency to the care and nurturing of our professional unity—the cornerstone of our great profession," he declared.
Dr. Childers, who, at the time, was AVMA president-elect, was addressing the AVMA House of Delegates July 15 prior to the AVMA Annual Convention in Minneapolis.
The small animal practitioner and clinical assistant professor from Cranston, R.I., assumed the presidency at the close of the convention, succeeding Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver to become the Association's 143rd president.
AVMA delegates elected the unopposed president-elect candidate by unanimous consent last year in Philadelphia. The Rhode Island VMA had nominated Dr. Childers for the office, with backing from the California and New York VMAs.
For Dr. Childers, a 1954 graduate of Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine, leadership is nothing new. Twice he was elected president of the Rhode Island VMA; he was president of the New England VMA and the American Animal Hospital Association, and is a former District I representative and chair of the AVMA Executive Board.
Dr. Childers, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, has owned and managed a small animal practice in Cranston since the 1950s. In addition to running his practice and his participation in organized veterinary medicine, Dr. Childers is a clinical assistant professor in the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
In his address, Dr. Childers told delegates how previous AVMA presidents had introduced programs and initiatives that have resulted in positive changes for the Association. But different times call for different approaches, he said, as he explained that his year as president will be spent "working to reaffirm our unity."
No matter how veterinarians use their skills—be it with animals, in research, or with the government—Dr. Childers believes they share a common commitment to ensuring the highest standards in human and animal health.
This unity must be strengthened because now, more than ever, the veterinary profession is facing extraordinary challenges. "From town hall to Capitol Hill, from the classroom to the laboratory, from the farm to the dinner table, our attention is being pulled in a myriad of directions," Dr. Childers said.
"While we may practice in different disciplines involving different species of animals, we must be of one vision, one voice," he said. "We must maintain the highest standards in medicine and public health."
Professional unity has to transcend international borders, as well, Dr. Childers said, and he called for greater cooperation and collaboration among veterinarians around the world. He highlighted the AVMA's commitment to global unity through its Council on Education's system for accrediting foreign veterinary colleges.
As more and more foreign colleges seek AVMA accreditation, "it's self-evident that the world looks to us as the gold standard in educational goals and expectations," he said.
On the home front, the nation is experiencing "crisis-level shortages" of food animal and public health veterinarians at a time when the threat of zoonotic diseases looms large, according to Dr. Childers. The veterinary profession, he said, must find ways to encourage undergraduates to consider employment in these areas of practice.
Dr. Childers pointed out the AVMA's ongoing efforts to resolve these shortages. These include funding a study of the future supply and demand of food animal veterinarians in the United States and Canada, as well as making economic tools for production animal practitioners available on the Web site of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.
On the legislative front, the AVMA Governmental Relations Division is trying to encourage Congress to fund the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, a law offering financial incentives to recent veterinary graduates to work in underserviced areas.
In addition, the GRD is lobbying for the passage of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act. The bill is intended to increase the number of veterinarians working actively in public health.
"Without an adequate number of public health veterinarians, the well-being of our nation—yes, even the world—is at risk," Dr. Childers said. "I intend to do everything I can during my tenure as president to provide support to the effort to pass the (act)."
Dr. Childers promised to support specialty organizations as they attract and train new practitioners. A substantial difference exists between the incomes of specialists and nonspecialists practicing in similar disciplines, he said. As AVMA president, Dr. Childers said he would encourage the commission of financial surveys for the purpose of motivating undergraduates to seek specialty status, which results in higher-paying jobs.
The gender and racial makeup of the veterinary profession was another area Dr. Childers identified as in need of unification. While noting the growing number of femal veterinary graduates and praising their contributions to the profession, Dr. Childers made a commitment to resolve the income inequalities that exist between male and female veterinarians.
Professional unity, Dr. Childers said, can be achieved only by embracing a commitment to inclusiveness. Therefore, the AVMA "must now seek to represent every race, creed, and color," he said. "We must become a profession more reflective of the population we serve.
"In order to achieve our diversity goals, we must initiate both practical and creative ideas to arrive at an enriched membership. It is up to us, all of us, to reach out to young people and nurture their interests and talents so that we become the shining example of professional diversity."