Leaders of veterinary profession assemble in Chicago

Diversity and other professional issues discussed
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Lt. Col. Donald Noah"Leadership is what will sustain, in great part, this profession," Air Force Lt. Col. Donald Noah said to his colleagues at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and House of Delegates Informational Assembly, Jan. 13-15 in Chicago.

Some 400 leaders of the veterinary profession gathered for the event. Representatives from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, veterinary and governmental organizations, and AVMA entities assembled for the event. Constituent organizations brought 62 recent graduates to the meeting.

Although Dr. Noah was one of the event's closing speakers and his topic was bioterrorism preparedness, his insights on leadership and professionalism resonated. A veterinarian with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, "It's wildly fascinating to be in this profession doing some of the things it has allowed me to do."

Growing leaders should be one of the profession's first jobs, he said. The profession has been lucky that leaders have voluntarily stepped up to the plate, but Dr. Noah believes the profession could do better with mentoring and completing the "leadership evolution."

"The AVMA has done a great job of maintaining us as a professional entity," he said, defining professionalism in terms of veterinarians' knowledge, cohesion, and original motivation to become veterinarians. "But our true professionalism is really bestowed upon us by society."

Diversity, animal rights, mentoring

Presenter Lisa Greenhill, associate executive director for diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, briefed attendees on the importance of diversity in the veterinary profession. In her role at the AAVMC, Greenhill focuses on the ongoing development and implementation of the association's DVM: DiVersity Matters national initiative.

"Veterinary medicine will always be relevant in the future, but how we are perceived hinges on the profession's collective ability to embrace diversity in all its forms," Greenhill said.

Increased diversity in the veterinary schools and colleges will lead to greater cultural competence among veterinarians and improved health outcomes in the communities they serve, according to AAVMC. A few of the program's goals are to grow a veterinary medical school applicant pool that mirrors the U.S. population demographic, and foster a welcoming environment for students and faculty of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Greenhill encouraged attendees to support business models that embrace diversity, and explore all issues of cultural competence. "Diversity is not just a clinical issue, we're looking across every area of the veterinary profession," she pointed out. Greenhill recommended attendees log on here, operated by DiversityInc Media LLC, to learn more about the business benefits of diversity. She also suggested visiting the Health Professionals for Diversity Coalition's Web site to learn more about promoting diversity in the U.S. health care workforce. The AAVMC is a member of the HPD Coalition.

Wes Jamison, PhD, spoke about how veterinarians are the only credible authorities able to mediate the complex human-animal relationship in a culture struggling to understand the moral value of animals.

Dr. Jamison, associate professor of agriculture at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, characterized society as "schizophrenic" in its thinking about animals. A moral dissonance exists within a society that deems some animals as companions and others as food and subjects for biomedical research. "Is a pig a pork loin or a lifelong companion?" Dr. Jamison asked, summing up the dilemma.

The modern animal rights movement is simply a natural outgrowth of an urbane, rights-centric populace inclined to believe animals are similar to people in many ways, including being capable of determining right from wrong, Dr. Jamison noted.

Veterinarians must help people make sense of these competing attitudes about animals, according to Dr. Jamison, adding that surveys show even die-hard animal rightists see veterinarians as authorities on the subject.

"As veterinarians, you and only you can help bridge the gap between perception and reality," Dr. Jamison said. "You must reconcile where possible, counsel when necessary, treat when called for, and adjudicate competing perceptions of reality."

Mentoring matters, according to remarks from Dr. Ronald Cott, associate dean for student and alumni affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Cott began his presentation by telling three fictitious tales, to contrast with a couple of true success stories from the AVMA Mentoring Center.

Lisa GreenhillIn the fictitious tales, Dr. Cott envisioned a veterinarian who wanted to own a clinic but graduated with heavy debt and practiced for only six years as an associate. He depicted a practitioner with leadership potential who lost interest in veterinary associations and became active in a humane society. He imagined a veterinarian who planned to practice bovine medicine but went to work in companion animal medicine.

In such situations, mentoring matters, Dr. Cott said. He said mentors and mentees help one another professionally and personally by discussing failure as well as success. "We need to tell our stories," Dr. Cott said. "Our stories are important, and they develop the relationship between mentor and mentee."

He said the profession needs more mentors, even though some veterinarians protest that they don't have time. Then he talked about real veterinary students who found mentors through the AVMA Mentoring Center.

One student was considering joining the Air Force, and her mentor put her in touch with a veterinarian who had served in that branch of the military. Another student found two mentors, and she said you could never have too many people caring about you and your success. The AVMA Mentor Center is on the Web at mentoring.avma.org.

From the AVMA

AVMA President Henry E. Childers began his review of the Association's activities with comments on the profession's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "Never before have our profession and those we care about been so ravaged," he said, adding that if anything good came out of it, it was the profession's response. The president said that since he took office, the profession has weathered some challenges and celebrated some victories. He touched on Dr. Leon H. Russell's election as World Veterinary Association president, challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his own attendance recently at the first meeting of the AVMA Task Force on Diversity. He called on the assembled leaders to pledge their commitment to and involvement in diversity.

A more detailed picture of the Hurricane Katrina response was painted by Drs. William S. Stokes, Cindy Lovern, and R. Tracy Rhodes. Dr. Stokes, veterinary chief professional officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, focused on the animal issues the profession has confronted with evacuated and rescued pets. He showed visuals of Blackhawk helicopters dropping water and bales of hay for trapped livestock in Louisiana, and noted that not only pets but also research animals were left behind by people thinking they would be back with them in a few days.

Noting how veterinarians from many sources came together under the Incident Command System, Dr. Stokes said the mission of preventing post-hurricane disease outbreaks and reuniting families with healthy pets was accomplished. Dr. Lovern, assistant director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, elucidated the mission of the AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams and the chain of actions that must precede VMAT deployment. Dr. Rhodes, as chair of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, noted the dramatic impact the relief efforts have had on the foundation. He reported that as of mid-January, the AVMF had taken in $1.75 million to the Animal Disaster Relief and Response Fund and had given out approximately $765,000 to veterinarians and the VMATs.

Wes Jamison, PhDIn his first address to the leadership conference as AVMA treasurer, Dr. Bret D. Marsh delivered a top 10 list of 2005 fiscal highlights that represented "some challenges and some victories," ranging from getting hit with a Schaumburg real estate tax bill in 2005 that was 58 percent higher than in 2004, to display and classified ad revenue exceeding three-quarters of a million dollars over projections. He followed that with his top 10 list of financial impacts in the $26.3 million AVMA budget for 2006.

Adrian Hochstadt, JD, CAE, AVMA assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs, recounted how his department became operational at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., in March 2005. He described the work already accomplished and the contributions of the State Advocacy Committee. "Your vision—so many of you sitting in this audience made this happen," he said. Looking at 2006, Hochstadt said his department and constituent associations would be doing "a lot of exciting things together."

An overview of the Association's federal legislative efforts was provided by Dr. Michael Chaddock, AVMA director of the Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C. Acquiring sufficient funding for the National Veterinary Medical Service Act continues to be a priority, Dr. Chaddock said, as does addressing welfare concerns associated with the nation's unwanted and retired horse populations. The Executive Board recently authorized a bold plan for drafting legislation to do just that, Dr. Chaddock noted.

Dr. Rosemary LoGiudice updated delegates on the initiative to create and implement a national radio frequency identification standard for companion animals, birds, and equids. As director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, Dr. LoGiudice works with the Council on Veterinary Service, which developed objectives and key elements at the behest of the House of Delegates.

Dr. Charlotte A. LaCroixIn November 2005, the Executive Board approved the CoVS plan, which identifies the objectives of an effective system of electronic identification of animals as being to accurately identify animals to aid in reuniting them with their owners and to accurately identify animals for regulatory purposes. The four key elements necessary to achieve the objectives of an effective system of electronic identification, the council reported, are the RFID device; the scanner or reader network; database operation and management, including the process of registration of implanted animals; and defined operating procedures.

The presentation was followed by brief remarks from candidates seeking high office in the AVMA. Drs. Gregory S. Hammer of Dover, Del., and Charles L. Stoltenow of Fargo, N.D., are running for 2006 AVMA president-elect (see article). Seeking the office of AVMA vice president is Dr. Charles M. Hendrix of Auburn, Ala.

Leadership matters

The Saturday session of the HOD Informational Assembly began with an announcement by Dr. Richard M. DeBowes, delegate representing the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians, that a half-day Mini Veterinary Leadership Experience is planned for a limited number of interested HOD members July 13 in Honolulu. The VLE is a five-day annual retreat that promotes nontechnical competencies such as personal growth, self-awareness, and leadership qualities among veterinary students. In 2005, the AVMA Executive Board made a major financial commitment to the event for the next four years, and it is now known as the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience. Dr. DeBowes told delegates that at the half-day event, "We can give you a good feel of what we're trying to accomplish with those young colleagues."

The seventh draft revision of new AVMA Bylaws is being reviewed by AVMA leadership, and at the Informational Assembly, delegates discussed them in reference committees and in general session. The attorney who is working with the AVMA on the new document made a presentation and visited each of the seven reference committees to answer questions. The process began in 2003 when the Executive Board created the Executive Board/House Advisory Committee Constitution and Bylaws Review Task Force. In 2004, an amendment to strike the AVMA Constitution in its entirety was introduced. If adopted, the revised bylaws will supersede the current constitution and bylaws. Each draft, including draft seven, incorporated suggestions submitted by members of the HOD, Executive Board, House Advisory Committee, Judicial Council, and other AVMA entities.

Delegates revisited a topic discussed on previous occasions—whether the HOD or Executive Board, or both, are authorized to set AVMA policy. The focus was on what effect, if any, passage of the new Bylaws as currently drafted would have. Dr. Charles Stoltenow, most recent chair of the now-sunset Executive Board/House Advisory Committee Constitution and Bylaws Review Task Force, said the task force has tried to draft a document that encourages the two bodies to work together. Executive Board Constitution and Bylaws Committee chair, Dr. Jacky Horner, noted that there are two kinds of policy decisions, those involving veterinary medicine and those relating to other matters.

Another issue discussed was whether the HOD envisions the Informational Assembly evolving into an official meeting just as the current Annual Session of the HOD preceding convention is. Hawaii delegate, Dr. Cordell W. Chang, invited delegates to the Honolulu convention, and Louisiana delegate, Dr. V. Hugh Price thanked the assembled leaders and the AVMA and AVMF for their "outpouring" of support in the hurricane response, asking them to carry that message of appreciation to their constituents.

Professional issues

On Sunday, the closing session featured three speakers. Dr. Philip Bushby, chair of the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates, gave a presentation on the role of the ECFVG, how it accomplishes its mission, and how it maintains program quality.

Dr. Noah characterized the existing U.S. bioterrorism preparedness system as a "detect to protect" system that will alert us after a natural or terrorist attack, enabling use of post-attack precautions such as vaccines, antimicrobials, and quarantines. The goal is a "detect to warn" system that detects an impending attack.

The veterinary profession has a distinct role in the defense community, he said. He advised practitioners to be curious; participate in continuing education. Engage your local physician or human health care provider community—you can even be the local public health community. Be familiar with and apply various tenets of epidemiology. Communicate with clients on zoonotic diseases. Volunteer on an AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team. Be an AVMA and state VMA member.

In being vigilant, know the diseases to report, the reporting chain, and who to turn to for help, Dr. Noah said. Engage other medical communities. And apply cowside diagnostics. If you hear hoofbeats, think horses—but don't completely forget zebras.

The final speaker was Dr. Charlotte A. LaCroix, a veterinarian and attorney in Whitehouse Station, N.J. Veterinarians have legal and ethical duties to their patients, clients, and the public welfare. When problems occur, which trumps which? Dr. LaCroix discussed two distinct legal issues: animal guardianship and noneconomic damages in animal-related lawsuits. A person can agree with both concepts, only one of them, or neither, she noted. Dr. LaCroix left some advice for state veterinary medical associations, practice tips for veterinarians—and even some alternative concepts.