AAFP president thinks globally

Scherk hopes to form alliances, share resources
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Dr. Margie Scherk embracing a cat

Dr. Margie Scherk has never had a dog, but she currently keeps 11 cats between her home and practice—Cats Only Veterinary Clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The incoming president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners wants the organization to help unite cat owners and veterinarians around the world in improving the care of their feline friends.

Dr. Scherk didn't set out to be a cat veterinarian, though.

The veterinarian

As a child in Toronto, she wanted to study the behavior of primates or large cats. Then she spent summers working with horses. She planned to be an equine practitioner when she entered Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, and she wanted to work in dairy when she graduated in 1982.

Dr. Scherk actually entered mixed practice in British Columbia.

"I found that I enjoyed the small animals, but also the interaction with clients—which surprised me because I was going into it for the animals, not the people," she said.

Dr. Scherk later took a job as a staff veterinarian for the Vancouver Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the shelter, she noticed how uncomfortable cats were in an environment full of barking dogs.

"I thought they were getting the short end of the deal," Dr. Scherk said. "I'd never heard of a cat practice at that point in time, so I started doing some house calls while this idea was gelling—along with relief work."

She opened her cat clinic 20 years ago, and she hasn't looked back.

Dr. Scherk became active in the AAFP in 1989. She has served as a member of the program committee and the guidelines committee, and she was the newsletter editor for a number of years. She is the founding editor of the Feline Internal Medicine Folder on the Veterinary Information Network, and she is the North American editor for the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Dr. Scherk became a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners with the first group in the feline category in 1995. She has written questions for the certifying examination and the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. She also helps organize courses in feline medicine for the North American Veterinary Conference summer institutes.

Dr. Scherk spends three days a week in her practice and four days a week outside the office—but still working within the veterinary profession. She devotes time to teaching, surgery, and research as well as organized medicine. She is most proud of helping introduce the transdermal fentanyl patch to veterinary medicine.

The association

As AAFP president in 2007, Dr. Scherk plans to broaden outreach.

"One of our five key goals is growth, so we can get our messages out to more practitioners—to help more practitioners improve the health and well-being of cats," Dr. Scherk said.

Dr. Scherk will encourage small animal practitioners to become AAFP members or to participate in AAFP events. The AAFP also will be monitoring member renewals and whether student members become practitioner members. The association has 35 student chapters—with student benefits that include free access to the electronic journal, electronic newsletter, and AAFP rounds on VIN.

Dr. Scherk also wants to broaden the association's international outreach.

"Sharing our wonderful guidelines and some of the ways we do things, as well as learning from other cultures and other organizations, will benefit everyone," she said.

Dr. Scherk said the AAFP can form stronger relationships with organizations around the world, such as the European Society of Feline Medicine.

Dr. Scherk hopes to strengthen AAFP offerings for continuing education, too. Feline practitioners founded the AAFP more than three decades ago because of the lack of CE and a network structure in the field at that time. Now the AAFP isn't the only organization on the continent to offer CE in feline medicine.

Dr. Scherk added that AAFP members realize they often preach to the choir and that the association can share resources for improving cat care beyond the membership. The AAFP is trying to reach nonmembers with veterinary guidelines, for example, and to reach cat owners and veterinarians alike by building a new Web site.

"I'm hoping it will be 'the' cat information source," Dr. Scherk said.

The AAFP also has partnered with industry to distribute information to a wider audience than in the past. The association is working with Fort Dodge Animal Health on the Healthy Cats for Life public awareness campaign.

Dr. Scherk said the AAFP is partnering with other organizations to look at issues in animal welfare, such as the issue of feral cats.

"I'm all about alliances," Dr. Scherk said.