Hendrix reflects on vice presidency, looks to year ahead

Published on June 01, 2007
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Dr. Charles M. Hendrix will soon complete his first year as AVMA vice president. As the only candidate for the upcoming vice presidency, Dr. Hendrix is all but assured to be elected this July by AVMA delegates meeting in Washington, D.C., to a second and final term in office.

As vice president, Dr. Hendrix has been the Association's liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters of the AVMA. The vice president is also a voting member of the Executive Board. When he's not traveling on AVMA business, Dr. Hendrix teaches pathobiology at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Hendrix recently answered questions for JAVMA News about his first term and what he expects in the year ahead.

What have you accomplished during your first term as vice president?

It has been a privilege to serve as the vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association this past academic year. During my tenure in office, my primary mission has been to serve as liaison to the AVMA's most valuable constituents: our veterinary students—the true veterinarians of the 21st century.

This academic year, I have had the pleasure of visiting students at 14 schools or colleges of veterinary medicine across the United States and in the Caribbean. These institutions of higher education were at Texas A&M University, University of Minnesota, Colorado State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (Tufts University), University of Pennsylvania, Kansas State University, Washington State University, Oregon State University, Iowa State University, The Ohio State University, Ross University, Saint George's University, and University of California-Davis. I greatly enjoyed working with the students in the Student AVMA House of Delegates and attending the SAVMA Symposium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Are there any notable anecdotes you'd like to share?

My most memorable anecdote concerns meeting with veterinary students at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. These Iowa veterinary students are taking the initiative to make grassroots changes on veterinary medicine as a whole, hoping to reverse a trend in declining numbers of veterinary graduates choosing careers in food animal medicine. They started the Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team with financial support from the Iowa VMA Foundation. The purpose of VSMART is recruiting and mentoring mostly high school students across Iowa for careers in food animal medicine. Since then, these ambassadors for our profession have given presentations to more than 3,500 Iowans at fairs, community events, and animal science and 4-H Club meetings.

Like all livestock-dense states, Iowa, which is ranked first in pork and third in beef production in the nation, faces a shortage of large animal veterinarians. A 2003 survey by Iowa State University and the Iowa VMA concluded that Iowa would need 120 additional food animal veterinarians by 2008 to handle the state's animal agriculture demands. As fewer students with agricultural backgrounds enter veterinary colleges, the number of those interested in mixed species or food animal practices continues to decline.

These veterinary students want to become heavily engaged in the recruitment process of their future peers. Our veterinary students are our profession's best advocates. Members of VSMART hope to reverse the declining trend by explaining the educational requirements for large animal practitioners and describing what happens in each year of the four-year veterinary curriculum. Veterinary students often partner with local veterinarians, sharing real-life experiences of rural practitioners. These students hope that they can make veterinary medicine seem less intimidating by giving younger students a chance to interact with both a veterinarian and a veterinary student. I thought this was neat.

What have you learned about veterinary students and veterinary education?

I have enjoyed observing the diverse veterinary curricula across this nation—seeing how students are taught differently in these varied universities. I have seen many strong points in our veterinary curricula but very few weak points. It has been fun observing how these students have the utmost esprit de corps for their schools and the most intense joie de vivre regarding their futures in veterinary medicine. These students' love for veterinary medicine is quite infectious!

What can you say about this up-and-coming generation of veterinarians?

I honestly believe that our profession will be in good hands with the 21st century veterinarians who are currently matriculating in schools across the nation. One of the highlights of working with the Student AVMA is that I get to observe our students in action as they work in the SAVMA House of Delegates. Their leadership skills are outstanding; I marvel at how well they understand the veterinary profession. It has been a pleasure working with Dr. Kara Tassone, the outgoing SAVMA president; I am looking forward to working with Mr. Justin Sobota, our incoming SAVMA president. All of these student leaders and the SAVMA House of Delegates members are winners.

This year, for the first time, female veterinarians are expected to outnumber male veterinarians in the United States. What are the implications for veterinary education?

Balance is important in any veterinary curriculum but especially in the veterinary school population—a balance in gender, race or ethnicity, education or income, learning types, sexual orientation, or living in rural or urban communities. It is important that all groups be adequately represented in veterinary medicine.

Is the AVMA doing enough to promote diversity within the profession? Should it be the AVMA's job to do so?

The AVMA is making great strides in promoting diversity within the veterinary profession. I am proud of the number of women deans and African-American deans heading up our schools and colleges of veterinary medicine. Yet it is not the AVMA's job alone. It is everybody's job to promote diversity within the veterinary profession. It is important to remember what David Satcher, MD, former U.S. Surgeon General, so eloquently said: "The American dream does not end when it comes true for you. It becomes your duty to make it come true for others."

You are a supporter of the one-medicine concept. Do you talk to students about it? What is their response?

The AVMA's one-medicine concept has given me one of the main talking points for my student chapter of the AVMA presentations. I encourage the students to think outside of the box concerning the many ways that the discipline of veterinary medicine can be used in human health promotion and disease prevention. I typically speak regarding the Hill's Public Health Award writing competition and encourage them to come up with innovative ideas to utilize veterinary medicine in human health promotion and disease prevention: human-animal bond, environmental health, preventive medicine, zoonotic disease, and food safety.

The students have responded to this challenge. This year we set an all-time record for student submissions, with nine veterinary institutions submitting a total of 13 papers. We have never had such a response from students before. One veterinary college had four student submissions. I feel that I have accomplished one of the main goals of my vice presidency.

What do you hope to achieve during your second term?

I hope to get more students turned on to joining their respective SCAVMAs and participating in organized veterinary medicine. I would like to increase student participation in one-medicine activities such as the Hill's Public Health Award writing competition. My goal is to have 100 percent of the veterinary schools represented in the 2007-2008 competition. I hope to have an easier time of this, particularly since the award monies have been doubled for next year.

Has your view of the AVMA vice presidency evolved since taking office? How so?

The AVMA vice presidency has afforded me an insight into a premier professional organization. Dr. René Carlson, my predecessor, warned me how labor-intensive the position of AVMA vice president was going to be, and her prediction came true. Serving on the AVMA Executive Board has been a learning experience for me, but I have had excellent teachers and role models on the board. They have made this part of my job quite interesting. I have also become quite impressed with the AVMA staff and how hard they work to accomplish the AVMA's mission. I have been fortunate to have such good colleagues at AVMA headquarters.

Other subjects you'd like to address?

As it stands now, for someone to run for AVMA vice president, one of the requirements is that the individual must have had 10 years of continuous membership in the AVMA. There has been a movement afoot to reduce the years of continuous AVMA membership from 10 to five. I would like to see that happen so that newer members can be eligible for this position at an earlier time in their veterinary careers. I think this would open up our candidate pool. There is also some talk about the vice president receiving a stipend for the time that he or she spends in the position. I would be quite supportive of that—after I leave this office.