Vision to lead

Hammer, Stoltenow in AVMA president-elect race
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When the AVMA House of Delegates assembles in Hawaii this July, one of its responsibilities will be to vote on the next AVMA president-elect. Dr. Gregory S. Hammer of Dover, Del., and Dr. Charles L. Stoltenow of Fargo, N.D., each believes himself to possess the qualities worthy of the office. In the following interviews, the candidates make their case for why they are fit to lead the Association.

Drs. Hammer (left) and Stoltenow

Dr. Gregory S. Hammer

Why are you running for AVMA president-elect?

I don't think anybody goes into their interview for vet school thinking, "Boy I'd like to be president of AVMA someday." You just want to do well and get in. I had the good fortune of having great mentors at Kansas State—Drs. Jake Mosier, Russ Frey, John Noordsy, Larry Wallace, my classmates, and many others. They all preached about contributing to the profession. Along the way, many others have influenced me and taught me the importance of contributing to the community and veterinary medicine, and putting family first. I have been blessed. By using past experiences and future visioning, I believe I can be an effective spokesperson for our membership. I want to do the best job I can representing veterinary medicine to the public and government.

What are your qualifications to lead the Association?

There is no manual or job description to lead AVMA. I was in a mixed practice in Kansas before being stationed at Dover Air Force Base. The Air Force gave me the opportunity to practice public health, food safety, and personnel management. For the last 30 years, I have been an owner/partner in a small animal/equine practice. I have been involved in organized veterinary medicine my entire career. At the state level, I have been active in the Delaware VMA. I represented Delaware in the House of Delegates for 13 years and for the past six years represented the 12,000 veterinarians of District II on the AVMA Executive Board. All of these experiences in public practice, clinical practice, and organized veterinary medicine have provided me with a broad knowledge of veterinary medicine to be an effective spokesperson for our members in the AVMA. I am ready to use my background as president-elect of AVMA.

What would your agenda be if you were elected?

I have always believed it is wrong for the AVMA president to have an agenda. Issues can change so quickly. Dr. Nave saw the inequities of the Army Veterinary Corps lacking a general officer and corrected it. Dr. Brandt had to deal with September 11. Dr. Beaver realized the need to do more about animal well-being and helped push the new Animal Welfare Division. None of those presidents had an agenda but took on current issues and responded effectively. No one can be sure what new issues will face our profession.

There are, however, five areas I would like to see AVMA continue to improve: animal welfare, communications, legislative impact, relationships with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and professional unity. Animal welfare continues to affect all of us every day in every aspect at all practices. We must continue to be leaders for animal well-being; we cannot let others dictate to us. We need to use the expertise of our allied organizations to answer the concerns of a public raised farther from the farm.

Our Communications Division has been completely overhauled. AVMA is responding quickly. AVMA is helping the state VMAs. AVMA is marshalling a corps of media-savvy veterinarians to speak to the media. Our marketing department is publicizing our profession with new enthusiasm to the public. The Communications Task Force's recommendations are being implemented, and we will do more.

Legislative issues are affecting us at the national and state levels like never before, and we are addressing these concerns. While I was on the AVMA Executive Board, we funded a new department to communicate and facilitate an interaction between state VMAs and state legislation. We are working harder in D.C. to lobby for veterinary medicine on student issues, small business concerns, research, agriculture, and any other matter of concern to our members. We have the opportunity to help our veterinary colleges immediately. Schools are working with 30-year-old or older infrastructures. We must get behind the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act and get it passed. We will improve our relationship with all veterinary medical colleges and lobby with them.

Finally, we need to improve our professional unity. We are a very small voice nationally—73,000 strong—and we cannot splinter off; we must remain unified.

What are the greatest challenge and opportunity facing the veterinary profession? How would you address each?

The greatest challenge currently facing our profession is animal welfare. We need to be on the front pages of the news, speaking for animals. All media need to ask veterinarians and AVMA first about animal well-being. We have the greatest opportunity to get involved locally and nationally for animal welfare. We must take the opportunity to remind the public that we are the experts on food safety, public health, and pets. I intend to improve our visibility to the press. I intend to have a greater presence in D.C. And I intend to enlist each and every member in making sure veterinarians are the spokespersons for animal welfare.

What qualities are members of the House of Delegates looking for in a president?

I hope they are looking for the qualities I possess: a broad knowledge of, and experience in, many aspects of veterinary practice. I am a strong believer in states' rights. I believe the HOD should have the final say in AVMA matters. The HOD's involvement in our profession is the key to AVMA success.

Why are you a better choice for president-elect than Dr. Stoltenow?

I am not running against Dr. Stoltenow. I am running for AVMA president-elect. Dr. Stoltenow is a good man with many strong attributes. We have shared many stories on the campaign trail. I think I have considerably more experience than my opponent. My 13 years' experience in the HOD and six years on the AVMA Executive Board, with liaisons to more than 20 councils and committees, give me a broad knowledge base to speak from. My experience in mixed practice in Kansas, the United States Air Force, and, currently, private clinical practice, gives me the ability to speak to a majority of AVMA members. I know how to listen, and I know how to get things done at AVMA.

Are competitive elections at this level beneficial to AVMA governance or do they breed animosity and divisiveness?

I hope they do not breed ill feelings. I have seen some ugly politics in my 20 years of involvement in the HOD and Executive Board. That has been unfortunate. We must not lose sight that we are doing this for our members and the profession. We must continue to take the high road and do what is right.

What have you learned since starting your campaign?

I have learned that it is a long year from the Candidates' Introductory Breakfast until the election. I have learned to listen carefully to the concerns of the states and the individual members. That's why all of us do this, to make things better for those who will follow. I have learned that we have a great student population and our future is in good hands. I have learned that we cannot become complacent with our respected position in society—we must work for it.

Dr. Charles L. Stoltenow

Why are you running for AVMA president-elect?

I was asked to run by previous leaders concerned about the future of the AVMA. The profession of veterinary medicine is becoming more and more visible in the public eye. The AVMA needs leaders willing to listen, and able to formulate policy that is inclusive and lead in uncharted territory. I think I have those qualities.

What are your qualifications to lead the Association?

My qualifications are that I have an intimate knowledge of just about every aspect of veterinary medicine. Being the president of the AVMA is more than being involved in the Association; it is being involved in the profession. To serve and relate to our members, I think the president should have some experience living in the members' shoes. My AVMA activities have included serving in the House of Delegates, serving as the chair of the Veterinary Leadership Planning Committee, the chair of the combined Executive Board/House of Delegates Constitution and Bylaws Task Force, and the chair of the House Advisory Committee.

In addition to my AVMA activities, I've served in a multitude of different aspects of our profession. I've worked as a private practitioner and started my own practice. I've served in the Department of Agriculture as a federal veterinarian. I've served as an epidemic intelligence officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I've served in public health as the assistant state epidemiologist for a state health department. I've served as a researcher and published in both the JAVMA and the AJVR. I've served at the pleasure of governors as an appointed horse racing commissioner and as the consulting veterinarian to a state board of animal health. I've served as an international consultant in biologic warfare, specifically anthrax. I've served as a dairy consultant in China. I've served as a consultant to the Department of Defense. I've served industry as a contractor. And now I serve as an extension veterinarian.

I believe that the most qualified person to lead the AVMA is a person fully engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine. Some would say that you should be retired and wealthy to be the president of the AVMA. I disagree, and I am neither. I believe that the best candidate for president is the one who is going to have to live with the decisions they make as president.

What would your agenda be if you were elected?

My agenda is very simple. My agenda is to get the veterinary profession engaged in AVMA. We will need every member engaged in the activities of the Association for AVMA to be successful in facing the upcoming challenges and opportunities. One person cannot figure out the answers to the complex questions facing us. But the 73,000-plus members of the Association can.

What are the greatest challenge and opportunity facing the veterinary profession? How would you address each?

Our greatest challenge is our own success. As a profession we have made huge strides in veterinary medicine, and as a result, are becoming very specialized. This specialization can bring divergence on important issues. These issues include animal rights, shortage of food animal veterinarians, and increased litigation, to name just a few. Our challenge is that as we become more and more specialized, we don't tear ourselves apart as a profession. The AVMA must have policies that create unity and inclusion among our members.

Our opportunity is that through specialization and diversity, we can provide even better service to our clients and their animals. The future of veterinary medicine looks very bright.

The key issue is the status of animals in U.S. society. Are they property, or are they something else? I believe we, as veterinarians, must remain united in this area. I believe we must maintain that, even though a person can be emotionally attached to a piece of property—an animal, car, painting, or heirloom—it is still property. If we cross that line granting animals worth above and beyond that of property, we will lose the battle of animal rights and we will become veterinarians only to the rich who can afford to pay for inflated malpractice insurance.

What qualities are members of the House of Delegates looking for in a president?

The House of Delegates is also looking for a president who inspires confidence and respect. Because of the diverse groups represented in the House, it is looking for a president who can connect with all the different aspects of the profession and bring them together. The House of Delegates is looking for a president with a proven track record of listening to differing viewpoints, developing a strategy of success, communicating a cohesive vision, and leading toward that common goal.

The House of Delegates is looking for leaders with grass stains on their knees. I firmly believe that the leaders of the AVMA should be on their hands and knees studying the veterinary medicine turf at the grassroots level. Leaders must not only study it, they must listen to it, and they must nurture it. The House of Delegates knows me very well. I think I have what they are looking for.

Why are you a better choice for president-elect than Dr. Hammer?

I do not look at this election as a "better" choice. I look at it as choosing a direction. The real choice is this: Does the House of Delegates want a leader to lead the AVMA where it has already been, or does the House of Delegates want a leader able to lead the AVMA where it needs to go? The future promises uncertainty and ambiguity. I will lead in uncertain times with a clear vision of unity and inclusion.

Are competitive elections at this level beneficial to AVMA governance or do they breed animosity and divisiveness?

I think competitive elections are vital for the health of the AVMA. A verse says that as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. A competitive election forces the candidates to clearly define who they are, what they stand for, and how they are going to lead. A competitive election allows the House of Delegates a more in-depth knowledge of the candidates. That's why I developed a Web site—so people could find out more about my candidacy: The House of Delegates and the AVMA can only benefit from a competitive election. If a competitive election breeds animosity and divisiveness, then the candidates and the House of Delegates are focusing on the wrong issues.

What have you learned since starting your campaign?

I've learned that the AVMA is a grassroots organization. The key to this grassroots organization is the general membership. In the AVMA, we have yet to wake the sleeping giant of our general membership. The depth, breadth, and power of our profession are awe-inspiring. We need to engage the general membership of our profession into the activities of our professional association, the AVMA. If we are successful, the future of the AVMA is exceedingly bright.