Unity key to veterinarians' strength, Kornegay says

AVMA president-elect candidate plans for diverse profession
Published on May 16, 2009
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Dr. Larry M. Kornegay is poised to become the 2009 AVMA president-elect. The companion animal practitioner from Houston has been preparing himself for the eventuality of serving as AVMA president since his election to the Executive Board in 2003.

Dr. Kornegay, the sole announced candidate for the position on the ballot that will be voted on by the AVMA House of Delegates in Seattle this July, has made professional unity a hallmark of his campaign. Unity, he believes, is the profession's strength as well as its key to remaining relevant in a fast-changing society.

JAVMA News recently spoke to Dr. Kornegay about his vision for the veterinary profession and what he hopes to achieve as AVMA president.

Why are you running for president-elect?

Dr. Larry M. Kornegay
Dr. Larry M. Kornegay
The common answer to this question is, "To give back to the profession." This is certainly a valid response, and veterinary medicine has been a blessing for our family in many regards. For almost 40 years, the AVMA and organized veterinary medicine have provided an opportunity for me to keep abreast of the activities affecting veterinary medicine and to establish many friendships with colleagues, peers, and leaders in our profession. I continue to thrive on these relationships and the opportunities to be at the cutting edge of our profession and AVMA.

What skills do you bring to the job?

My wife, Chris, and I opened two veterinary clinics in Harris County (Texas) in the '70s and grew them into thriving practices. We still own and practice in the clinic a mile from our home in Houston. I have been president of the North Harris County Veterinary Emergency and Referral Clinic for 10 years. I've held five offices in the Harris County VMA, including president, and five offices in the Texas VMA, including president.

During my tenure on the AVMA Executive Board, I've prepared myself for this office by participating in the fiduciary responsibilities and diversified activities of AVMA. I served as vice chair of the board; chaired the Executive Vice President Search Committee, several other committees, and the Diversity Task Force; and have been a member of or liaison to 15 additional AVMA entities. I served one term as an AVMA PLIT trustee and as the AVMA Organizational Audit Task Force Group One chair.

When you announced your candidacy, you talked about the need for unity. Are you concerned the profession will splinter?

One of our primary strengths is the unity we have demonstrated by retaining a very high percentage of graduate veterinarians as AVMA members. There is always the possibility that we could splinter, as has happened in other professions, but we won't if we maintain our vigilance and relevance to our membership. Veterinary medicine is a small profession whose entire membership of approximately 90,000 can be seated in a large sports arena. Fortunately, the current AVMA roster has the lion's share of those veterinarians: Approximately 85 percent, or a little over 78,000 veterinarians, belong to our Association.

Because of the profession's size, it's essential that we all participate in our national organization. The AVMA is the avenue by which we can pursue our goals, and AVMA is essential for our personal well-being and the health of our profession. Our strength of unity is due directly to the efforts of the thousands of AVMA members and leaders who have preceded us over our rich 145-year history. We have a strong foundation, but it is one I feel is constantly being challenged on many fronts, and there is always the potential for divergence. We must remain united and not let various competing interests divide us, if we are to maintain our strength of unity.

You also said you'd make the AVMA legislative agenda a top priority. Is that still the case?

In my mind, nothing is more important than having a loud, clear, and consistent voice in the legislative and regulatory activities that determine everything we do, from where and how we practice, to our tax status, to defining the practice of veterinary medicine. If I am elected president-elect this July, the AVMA legislative agenda will continue to be at the top of my list of activities to pursue with vigor.

Is the AVMA doing enough to raise its visibility with the public, especially in the areas of animal welfare and food safety?

No, we should always strive to do more in the vital arenas of public visibility and awareness. I do feel that we have made great strides over the past several years in raising public visibility in animal welfare and food safety.

For instance, the AVMA created the Animal Welfare Division. Animal welfare will remain a challenge but also an opportunity for us to demonstrate our scientific knowledge and ability to deal with complex and emotional issues from a commonsense and scientific perspective. As a profession, we have been entrusted to care for billions of living creatures. It is essential that we care for them with dignity, understanding, and compassion.

Public attention to food safety has been heightened recently. Human and animal health concerns have led to recalls of many foods. To a degree, food safety is being compromised by a shortage of food animal practitioners and the lack of state and federal veterinarians to inspect and oversee our nation's food supply. AVMA played an active role in informing our members and the public of products affected by the pet food recall and has been promoting and lobbying for more veterinarians in these areas of critical shortage.

Will the AVMA be limited in its outreach and other initiatives by the sour economy?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. We are limited as to how much we can do and what initiatives we can pursue by the fiscal constraints of our budget. This past year and continuing into 2009, we have been affected by the economic reality of worldwide recession, and we have seen firsthand the importance of the reserve fund we have been nurturing for many years. The AVMA Executive Board recently sent the House of Delegates a balanced budget for 2010 of $28.6 million with a $90,000 surplus. This was achieved by reducing the budget by almost $750,000 when compared with the 2009 budget.

There's talk the House of Delegates will approve a membership dues increase next year for 2011. What are your thoughts on that?

It may not be the most popular or politically expedient thing to say, but I feel a dues increase in the neighborhood of 10 percent is prudent. We have had no increase in nearly five years, and our expenses have increased considerably. It is critical that we retain and add to our professional staff as needed; maintain our Schaumburg and Washington, D. C., buildings; and confront increases in property taxes, utilities, health insurance costs for professional staff, and other needs.

The AVMA is trying to strengthen its ties with veterinary students. Do you expect the renewed efforts to be fruitful?

Yes, we have an excellent record of promoting veterinary students, and increased emphasis in this important area will continue to be a priority for AVMA and me personally. With several other Executive Board members, I attended the Student AVMA Educational Symposium in March, and let me assure everyone that our profession's future is in excellent hands.

The schools and colleges of veterinary medicine accredited by the AVMA Council on Education are the global gold standard, and we plan to keep it that way through our joint efforts with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and others. We must do all we can to support our students and the education they seek. However, if we are to continue to attract the brightest students to our profession, we must also continue increasing our average income and address the financial burden facing our graduates as they begin their careers in veterinary medicine.

Other than what we talked about already, what are the challenges and opportunities you see the profession is facing?

One difficult challenge, which I also see as an opportunity, is something we have been confronted with for a number of years: the lack of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of our profession. We are looking less and less like the United States population we serve. You only have to compare United States census data with our profession's makeup to see striking differences. In the long term, this could affect our ability to relate to certain segments of the population. Generational and gender differences in our profession's membership have emerged over the past half century, but I personally find these less threatening to our profession's future well-being. In particular, diversity at the Executive Board level concerns me, and I have ideas to consider addressing this challenge.

I see much potential for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation to promote and enhance what the AVMA does and to channel some of our funds and activities through more advantageous paths.

These are just a few of the challenges and opportunities facing our profession. I am optimistic that we are up to the tasks at hand and will address them in a positive manner benefitting AVMA members.