Investing in the seed stock

Bovine practitioners cultivate diversity in building workforce
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Cattle housed at Golden Oaks Farm

At a time when food animal veterinarians are tapping their ingenuity to find solutions to the critical workforce shortage, it was befitting that the American Association of Bovine Practitioners convene its 40th annual conference in Vancouver, a city known for its innovative spirit.

From Sept. 20-22—following four days of preconference seminars—bovine practitioners enriched their knowledge with more than 22 hours of continuing education, staged harbor side in a convention center overlooking the scenic Port of Vancouver. The American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners met jointly with the AABP, and the educational program covered small ruminant topics.

Attendance surpassed 1,800 and included 1,177 veterinarians and the largest number of accompanying persons in recent history. Because the location was remote for most AABP members, registration exceeded the organizers' expectations. Attendees came from 21 countries.

Side by side with the CE and the attention to practice and organizational issues was a focus on recruiting a diverse student population to bovine practice—and a growing conviction that it could be the key to regenerating a strong practitioner base.

"Diversity may be the answer," said Dr. Charlie Hatcher during the annual business meeting, concluding his year as president with insights about ongoing issues facing the AABP. Change is imminent and may be painful, he said, but it is critical to survival.

In bovine terms, committee chair Dr. David McClary impressed on his colleagues that students of bovine medicine are "the seed stock of our organization" and he especially welcomed the 185 students participating in Vancouver.

The diversity theme wove through the conference. Keynote speaker Brian Sorge's observations about the business implications of gender and generational differences resonated throughout the event. Sorge, vice president of Client Solutions for Lambert & Associates Inc., described each living generation and how their respective traits come into play during interactions with clients and colleagues—differences, for example, in the type of performance feedback they prefer. He did the same with male-female interactions. In today's work world, Sorge said that many people will take a cyclical life path rather than the traditional linear life path of working at one job for a long time. This is one consideration as the veterinary profession pursues solutions to workforce issues.

"One of the things I'd like to challenge you (with)," Sorge said, "is what do you need from an organization like AABP to help support this (change in approach)? What do you need to do individually to have a conversation to help you understand what's required? What can you do within your own work environment to create one that is welcoming and supportive of people and still gets the job done?"

The fledgling AABP Foundation

Dr. Michael Bolton (left) succeeded Dr. Charlie
Hatcher as AABP president.Encouraging more careers in food animal medicine is one of the goals of the new AABP Foundation, which accepted its first pledge during the AABP conference. At the 2006 conference in Saint Paul, the AABP board established the foundation and approved $200,000 in AABP funds as seed money. Dr. Walt Guterbock of Ravenna, Mich., has been the foundation's driving force. In Vancouver, he reported that the foundation now has a board of directors, which he chairs. Until the foundation receives approval as a 501(c)(3) organization, it is accepting monetary pledges only. The foundation's other primary goals are to increase CE opportunities for bovine practitioners and to sponsor applied research in animal production, nutrition, and management. Secondary goals are communicating to farmers and consumers the contributions of veterinarians toward safe and economical animal protein production.

Students recruiting students

Iowa State University veterinary students Jon Nielsen and Rachel Friedrich told AABP board members and veterinary industry media about the inroads being made by VSMART, the Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team. Iowa State veterinary students started VSMART in 2004 to recruit and mentor primarily high school students across the state for food animal medicine careers.

"Their energy and passion for what they're doing is purely contagious," said AABP President Hatcher. Because the shortage of food animal practitioners is not just an Iowa problem, VSMART hopes to expand to other veterinary schools; eight have expressed interest. This year, the AABP approved a $3,500 grant to help support VSMART, and the board of directors of the AABP Foundation has voted to continue this support once the Foundation receives its tax-exempt status.

Engaging future veterinarians

It is not enough, though, to attract bright and diverse students to bovine practice; Incoming president, Dr. Michael Bolton, said the profession must make sure it's a career worth choosing (see page)

In Vancouver, a half-day session designed for students touched on the unique skills and knowledge needed by new food supply veterinarians and offered advice on transitioning to such a career.

To "pump up" student interest in organized bovine medicine, the AABP offered a new format for discussion of contemporary challenges and identification of priorities. The new Issues Forums replace the more structured committee meetings as informal sessions on key topics in all the areas represented by AABP committees. Mastitis was one of the forums popular with students.

Hoping to make it more feasible for recent graduates and practitioners to run for office, the AABP board of directors approved a measure to reimburse board members for travel and housing expenses for the board meeting held in conjunction with the annual conference. Board work adds about a day and a half to the trip. This recommendation came from an ad hoc committee aimed at promoting greater practitioner involvement in AABP leadership. Travel expenses for industry veterinarians who serve on the board are often reimbursed by their company. The AABP bylaws require that practitioners must hold more than half of the board seats.

The board is also considering a recommendation from the Information Management Committee that the AABP adopt a more proactive position on students serving as nonvoting members of committees, notably Information Management and Membership.

Even students focused on companion animal practice were not overlooked by the AABP. The board voted to endorse a pilot project to educate small animal-focused veterinary students about contemporary food production issues. The target veterinary schools are the University of Georgia and Kansas State University.

Bovine benchmarking tools

From an economic standpoint, Howard Rubin, then CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, discussed the benchmarking tools that are raising income and making bovine practice an increasingly attractive option.

Rubin said that more than 1,200 bovine practitioners—about 700 dairy and 500 beef—are currently using the NCVEI benchmarking tools for bovine medicine, and he hoped to motivate even more to participate.

The 12 bovine benchmarks represent a full range of areas. Rubin said about 9 percent of NCVEI users are bovine practitioners, and 8 or 9 percent are mixed animal practitioners.

To get started, bovine veterinarians who are AVMA members can go to and click on New User.

Undersecretary champions animal ID

Undersecretary Bruce Knight (right) confers with AVMA immediate past president, Dr. Roger K. Mahr.Bruce Knight, undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs for the Department of Agriculture, came to promote partnership among government, industry, and the veterinary profession for disease prevention. "You're key leaders in the industry," he told practitioners. His message centered on the National Animal Identification System. He encouraged veterinarians to embrace the voluntary program and work with clients on premises registration, the first phase of the program, which he said is going well.

Knight said the challenge is to dramatically cut the animal trace-back time. The USDA will use a "bookend approach," tracing by birthplace and point of harvest. He said, "Let me reinforce with you how important this is. For the last four tuberculosis cases, the average trace-back was 120 days. We want to get that to 48 hours."

Strong reasons for doing this are protecting animal health, maintaining markets, and reopening markets lost to the United States from bovine spongiform encephalopathy—in Japan, Korea, and throughout the Pacific Basin.

The undersecretary fielded a long round of questions, many of them related to producer-client concerns over confidentiality of their premises information, were they to register. He outlined the measures that are in place to safeguard the NAIS database. To register premises, go to, select National Animal ID System, and click on the appropriate state on the map for instructions.

One-health message

AVMA immediate past president, Dr. Roger K. Mahr, spoke at an AABP general session about how the convergence of animal, human, and ecosystem health dictates that the concept of "One world—one-health—one medicine" must be embraced. His presidential recommendation led to establishment of an AVMA One Health Initiative Task Force, meeting for the first time at the end of November. Dr. Mahr said veterinarians must assume a major leadership role, collaborating with their colleagues in human medicine, public health, and the environmental sciences to ultimately improve the lives of patients, clients, colleagues, and society overall.

Board actions

The AABP board of directors discussed a draft revision to the AVMA Policy on Castration and Dehorning, provided by the AVMA for comment. The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee had drafted the revision after looking carefully at current science. The AABP board reviewed suggested changes to the draft from the AABP Animal Welfare Committee but ultimately recommended that the AVMA retain the current policy. Discussions are continuing between the AVMA and AABP to arrive at a mutually acceptable version to recommend to the AVMA Executive Board.

The board supported the concept of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative, a producer-led initiative to increase awareness of animal welfare among dairy producers and protect consumer confidence.

The board approved submitting a request to the United States Animal Health Association to set up a laboratory proficiency test and checkpoint system for standardizing test results for bovine viral diarrhea virus.

Driven by concerns over reports of increased consumption of raw milk, the AABP Milk Quality and Udder Health Committee is developing a fact sheet on milk safety for the AABP Web site.

DeHaven: AVMA, AABP well-aligned

Six weeks into his position as AVMA executive vice president, Dr. Ron DeHaven traveled to Vancouver to join AABP members and share his vision for the profession. "Strategically, AVMA and AABP are well-aligned," he told the AABP board of directors. "We enjoy a good partnership, and I want to build on that partnership."

Touching on his background in regulatory and food supply veterinary medicine, the former administrator of the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service told the board, "What I was doing in APHIS was very consistent with some of the issues AABP and AVMA are working on."

Dr. DeHaven recapped the five AVMA critical issues identified by the Executive Board and said the strategic plan is consistent with several crossroads where he sees the profession—at the convergence of animal health and public health, and food supply veterinary medicine.

Moving to animal welfare, one of the critical issues, Dr. DeHaven told the AABP board, "My personal belief is that the societal focus in animal welfare is going to be on production animals. When we deal with an animal welfare issue, our position needs to be science-based, but it also must be practical and economically viable for industry, otherwise, it isn't going to happen."

He acknowledged good collaboration between the AVMA and AABP animal welfare committees, and that the AABP also provides expertise through its representation on a substantial number of AVMA councils and committees.

The Haptic Cow

An invention of potential benefit to students in large animal as well as small animal medicine drew a steady stream to the commercial exhibit that featured the Haptic Cow. This virtual model for rectal palpation was exhibited by Virtalis, which develops virtual reality and advanced-visualization simulators. Veterinary students and faculty were among those trying the simulator. Dr. Sarah Baillie of England developed it as a teaching tool to supplement existing training methods. It is based on haptic or force feedback technology. The Haptic Cow is meant as a preclinical resource for veterinary students and could possibly substitute for live cows for students headed to small animal practice careers. The recent closings of some U.S. abattoirs have made it difficult to procure bovine reproductive tracts for preclinical training.

A virtual examination: Jen Ramsey takes her turn at simulated rectal palpation as Dr. Richard Meiring of The Ohio State University and some of his students get acquainted with the Haptic Cow.

Canadian association debuts

Bovine practitioners from Canada are active members of the AABP, and 194 attended the 2007 conference. Canadian practitioners also coordinated the dairy, cow-calf, and feedlot sessions.

During the conference, Dr. Tye Perrett of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, announced that four regional associations have supported the formation of the Canadian Association of Bovine Veterinarians, giving Canadian bovine practitioners a national voice. The association already has 700 members. Dr. Perrett said, "It's an important historic time for us because as many of you are aware, we've had a number of national issues related to bovine practice, not the least of which is border closure. ..."

Dr. Julie de Moissac, vice president of the Canadian VMA, congratulated the new organization. "A longstanding, highly respected event like this AABP convention is the perfect occasion to launch this Canadian association," she said.

Scholarships and grants

Amstutz scholarships of $2,000 each were presented to 20 second-year veterinary students. Funding sources for this award include AABP member donations and an annual contribution from the Eli Lilly Foundation through Elanco Animal Health.

The student case presentations featured 11 projects by 12 students. First place in the clinical case category was Jonathan Mays, Auburn University, for "PHA: a new fetal monster and its impact on a beef herd." In the research case category, Kaelynn Moury, North Carolina State University, won for "Investigation of role of horn flies (Haemotobia irritans) in the transmission of Staphylococcus aureus mastitis to dairy heifers on a North Carolina grazing dairy."

The AABP recognized the top research presentations by graduate students. First place went to Dr. Jodi Wallace, University of Montreal, for "Comparison of 3M Petrifilm staph express count plates, and 3M Petrifilm rapid coliform count plates with standard bacteriology of bovine milk."

Hammer delivers message from AVMA

"AABP is a very, very active partner of AVMA," said AVMA President Gregory S. Hammer at the annual business meeting as he updated AABP members on AVMA activities.

Dr. Hammer's message focused on the importance of legislative involvement not only by organized veterinary medicine but individual veterinarians. "I'd like to encourage you to become a part of the Congressional Action Network. You can do that by going online and being a grassroots contact for a federal legislator in your area," he said.

In particular, Dr. Hammer appealed to veterinarians to urge their congressional representative to co-sponsor H.R. 1232, the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. "The future of veterinary medicine really depends on whether we have the infrastructure to educate the number of veterinarians to replace us who are getting older, "he said.

Veterinarians can go to and click on "Get involved" under the green Advocacy bar.

New officials

Dr. Michael Bolton, Greenville, Mich., ascended to the presidency (see profile on opposite page). Dr. Bolton succeeded Dr. Charlie Hatcher, College Grove, Tenn. Dr. Richard Wallace, Champaign, Ill., assumed the office of president-elect, and Dr. Roger Saltman, Cazenovia, N.Y., was installed as vice president.

Prior to the conference, AABP members elected Dr. Guy Boisclair, Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada, as District 12 director, and Dr. Egan Brockhoff, Olds, Alberta, Canada, as District 13 director.

Dr. Brian Reed, Manheim, Pa., will succeed Dr. Mark Wustenburg, Bay City, Ore., as treasurer on Jan. 1.