Improving the field of swine medicine

AASV meeting takes on topics of professional betterment, animal welfare
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Members of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians met in balmy Orlando, Fla., from March 3-6 to learn how to make the leap from good to great.

AASV logo

The theme of the 38th annual AASV meeting came from the best-selling book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, who studied the characteristics of elite companies. Speakers at the opening session applied the theme to the AASV, veterinary profession, and individual practitioners.

Keynote speaker

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the AASV, gave the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture during the opening session. His topic was how to take the association from good to great.

"We are a very good association, but I don't think we're great—because there is so much more we can do," he said.

Dr. Tom Burkgren

Dr. Burkgren said that disciplined people, thought, and action are just as important to a nonprofit association as they are to a for-profit company.

The association needs to recruit and retain the right people for swine medicine, Dr. Burkgren said. The AASV is reaching out to students, but the association also needs to help provide good job opportunities by addressing the marginalization of veterinarians in some production systems.

Dr. Burkgren said the association must confront some other facts. The AASV is a small association. The public doesn't understand population medicine. And groups that oppose animal agriculture are growing.

The association should focus on its core concept, which is increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians, Dr. Burkgren said. The AASV can increase members' knowledge of both medicine and industry issues.

The association can improve by stopping a couple of activities, too. Dr. Burkgren said the AASV should not maintain inactive committees, and the annual meeting should not be in the Midwest so often as the membership becomes more international.

Other opening speakers

Dr. Beth Lautner, director of the Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories, spoke during the opening session about improving professionalism in veterinary medicine from good to great.

"You really earn the title of being a professional during the course of your career," Dr. Lautner said.

She noted that the University of Kansas School of Medicine has undertaken an initiative to promote professionalism from the first day of medical school.

The initiative identified the core components of professionalism as altruism, accountability, excellence, duty, integrity, respect for others, and a personal commitment to lifelong learning. Challenges to professionalism include abuse of power, discrimination, breach of confidentiality, arrogance, greed, misrepresentation, impairment, lack of conscientiousness, and conflict of interest.

Dr. Steve Henry of Abilene Animal Hospital in Kansas gave the first Alex Hogg Memorial Lecture during the opening session. He turned to the example of Dr. Hogg, a notable swine veterinarian who died last year, in examining how an individual can go from good to great.

Dr. Hogg was a builder, Dr. Henry said. Dr. Hogg always continued to learn and to teach, during the course of a career that lasted more than 50 years. He combined leadership, passion, and vision with humility.

Dr. Henry's presentation included suggestions for how the AASV can help educate swine veterinarians around the world. The association can implement higher-end communication technologies and more multilingual capabilities, for example.

Animal welfare

Throughout the annual meeting, animal welfare and anti-agriculture activism were among the topics of discussion.

Kay Johnson, executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, focused on the topic of activism during her presentation.

Activist groups say they want to work with agriculture, Johnson said, but some really have more radical agendas.

Dr. Alex Hogg

"If you start to make changes, they're going to ask for more," she said.

Some groups also back regulations, legislation, and ballot initiatives to govern animal agriculture. Some want to amend the Animal Welfare Act to include farm animals and amend the 2007 Farm Bill to include an animal welfare title. The groups are filing more and more lawsuits, too.

Dr. C. Scanlon Daniels of Circle H Animal Health in Texas spoke about welfare issues with euthanasia.

Dr. Daniels presented results from an on-farm survey by the AASV Swine Welfare Committee regarding euthanasia practices and attitudes. Most respondents said they would prefer a less painful method for euthanasia than bolt gun or blunt trauma. They expressed concerns about their own safety, too.

Dr. Daniels went on to discuss how to effectively use carbon dioxide as a method of euthanasia in swine. He also recommended turning to a decision tree to determine when to euthanize swine.

Meeting round-up

Several of the sessions at the AASV meeting focused on porcine circovirus-associated disease and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. Other sessions addressed economics, epidemiology, and diseases of finishing swine.

The student seminar ran concurrently with research topics and the industrial partners' sessions. Twenty-five students representing 10 universities submitted abstracts. Sponsor Alpharma Animal Health provided a $750 travel stipend to each of the 15 students who gave presentations.

The AASV Foundation awarded scholarships to student presenters. Aaron Lower (IL '09) received a $5,000 scholarship through Alpharma Animal Health for the best student presentation. Eli Lilly and Company Foundation provided funding on behalf of Elanco Animal Health for four $2,500 scholarships, five $1,500 scholarships, and five $500 scholarships.

The annual meeting attracted 912 attendees, including 109 students. About 30 percent of the attendees hailed from outside North America, representing 29 countries. The AASV now counts 1,604 total members, including 208 students and 326 international members.

This year, the AASV will offer a summer wet lab for the first time. Advanced Techniques for Swine Veterinarians is June 5-6, prior to the World Pork Expo, at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.