Profession's inclusiveness would be Cook's priority

Published on April 15, 2007
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With his term on the Executive Board winding down, Dr. James O. Cook appears set to become the next AVMA president-elect. No one is contending with the mixed-animal practitioner for the office, which the AVMA House of Delegates will fill when it meets in Washington, D.C., this July.

Dr. James O. Cook

For the past six years, Dr. Cook has represented Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia on the board and currently, he is its chair. Since declaring his candidacy for president-elect last year, Dr. Cook has campaigned with the message that the AVMA belongs to its members, who have the power to effect major changes not only in their profession but society as well. Dr. Cook recently answered a series of questions for JAVMA News.

Why are you running for AVMA president-elect?

The position will allow me to give back to our profession. Hopefully, I can carry the message of what a great organization the AVMA is and how individual members can benefit from our vast resources and willingness to promote the profession.

What skills and experience do you bring to the job?

I grew up on a livestock farm in the small town of Lebanon, Ky., and have worked in a mixed animal practice for more than 30 years. That practice has evolved from a predominantly food animal/equine practice to a small animal/equine practice and from a predominately ambulatory practice to an almost entirely haul-in practice. Living and working in these environments have exposed me to many different veterinary issues.

To keep current, I have maintained membership in local, state, and national veterinary organizations including the AVMA, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Animal Hospital Association—I'm an AAHA-certified hospital owner—and American Association of Equine Practitioners.

I have served in local and state veterinary officer positions up to the HOD and now as chair of the AVMA Executive Board. For additional information, my president-elect Web site can be seen at

What do you hope to accomplish as AVMA president?

I want all veterinarians—whether they are practicing veterinarians, teachers, researchers, public health officials, or retired from the profession—to realize the AVMA is their organization. It is constantly working for them and accomplishing things that will eventually make their lives and work easier and more beneficial for not just animals but everyone involved.

By the end of my term, I hope more veterinarians realize they can make a difference. This might be accomplished by being willing to make a phone call to a legislator, give a few dollars to the AVMA Political Action Committee, or serve at the local, state, or national level of organized veterinary medicine. Each person can and, hopefully, will be willing to help.

As board chair, what have you learned about leadership and the responsibilities of the Executive Board?

The volunteer Executive Board demonstrates an unselfish leadership style that truly addresses the needs of the entire profession. They accept the responsibility charged to them and work hard to do as much for the profession as the budget allows. Never have I worked with a more dedicated group.

How do you see the board and House of Delegates working together?

I served in the House of Delegates before serving on the Executive Board, and at no time have I seen the two groups work more closely together than they do now. Both appear to be dedicated and focused on what's best for AVMA without a concern for who gets credit.

At the candidates' breakfast in Hawaii, you identified animal welfare, economics, and veterinary education as key challenges confronting the veterinary profession. How so, and, as president, how would you address these issues?

I hope to carry the message that AVMA is the authority for veterinary-related welfare issues. These issues need not only be emotionally acceptable but also scientifically based. The end result has to be an overall benefit for the animal. I will continue to encourage veterinarians who have not yet used the resources of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues to do so.

We must educate both veterinarians and their clients about the implications of a change in the legal status of animals and the resulting increase in the cost of animal care.

We need to continue encouraging legislators to fund the National Veterinary Medical Service Act so we can provide veterinary service to presently underserved areas.

As chair of the Executive Board, I recently appointed a task force to review the selection process for members of the Council on Education. This will provide the best process to select members who will establish standards and make accreditation decisions so that our veterinary schools produce the best possible graduates.

What is the AVMA's role as the umbrella association for organized veterinary medicine?

Veterinary medicine is so diversified and segmented there needs to be a unifying factor to concentrate the efforts for the profession. The AVMA is this unifying factor and is a tremendous asset for each and every member.

Are you satisfied with the Association's communication with members and the public?

We have made great strides in recent years communicating with our members, limited only by technology and our budget. Everyone realizes the JAVMA is the oldest and best continuously published veterinary medical journal in the world, with all recent issues being online and searchable.

The recently formed AVMA/American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives Committee is proving to be a real asset to developing ways to disseminate information quickly by blast e-mail or fax.

Immediate contact with individual AVMA members is becoming more and more necessary. And of course, the AVMA will also continue to send out officers and staff, since face-to-face communication is always important.

How is the AVMA faring in the federal and state legislative arenas?

We are having a difficult time getting a lot of state and federal legislators to understand our issues. Many of them have no practical concept about routine food production, animal training, or commonsense, hands-on animal safety and disease prevention measures. This lack of understanding can make the AVMA's scientifically based positions, especially on animal welfare issues, emotionally unacceptable to them. Their head, heart, and pocketbook rarely link up.

Currently, there are an overwhelming number of issues affecting veterinary medicine. Animal welfare, small business, the environment, wildlife, homeland security, federal regulations, veterinary workforce, and education are just a few of the issues AVMA is working on. At the most recent Legislative Advisory Committee meeting, I counted 167 bullet points identifying concerns.

I was recently in Washington, where the AVMA Governmental Relations Division staff has undergone many changes, but as one seasoned, retired senator said, "They appear to be the best and brightest we have ever had." This, together with veterinarians increasing their PAC donations and more local involvement between veterinarians and their legislators, should add up to more legislative successes in the future.

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

We must never jeopardize our ability to provide the very best for our clients—be it animal care or contributing to the public's health. Our high accreditation standards for our teaching institutions and strict licensing requirements have allowed our profession to maintain very high respect from the animal-owning public and the public in general.

Every AVMA member is a valued and needed asset for the promotion of the veterinary profession. Whether it's contacting their legislator, contributing to the AVMA PAC or Foundation, or volunteering to serve on a council or committee of the AVMA, each of these actions helps. Almost all veterinarians belong to the AVMA, but we are still small in numbers when it comes to promoting our profession. This makes it even more important that each of us do our part.