Leininger to manage education consortium

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The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced July 12 its choice to lead the consortium that will chart the future course of veterinary medical education.

AVMA past president Dr. Mary Beth Leininger was appointed project manager for the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium. AAVMC President James G. Fox said the association is proud to have someone so capable and experienced in this role.

Dr. Leininger
Dr. Mary Beth Leininger

"She has always had a special skill at bringing together veterinarians—whether from practice, industry, or academia—and other stakeholders in veterinary medicine together to make our profession even greater," Dr. Fox said.

The consortium was inspired by the Foresight Report, a long-range planning study for academic veterinary medicine coordinated by the AAVMC. It serves to meet the top priority of the AAVMC's new strategic plan, shaping the future of veterinary medical education. The first step in that process is to develop a plan to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of veterinary medical education to meet societal needs. The NAVMEC is designed to address that objective.

Dr. Leininger commented on her appointment while at the AVMA Annual Convention in Seattle. She said that the challenge for veterinary medical education will be—as demonstrated in the convention Opening Session presentation by the team from Pike Place Fish Market—not to project from past experience but to be open to "creating the future from the future ... enunciating what it is we aspire to and identifying what will take us there."

With characteristic enthusiasm, she said, "By saying 'yes'—even to things that you can't quite see—you unlock all kinds of opportunity. If we can provide opportunities to say 'yes,' I believe we can build a strong foundation for the future."

"The consortium will assemble an amazing cross-section of our profession—academia, VMAs, practitioners, industry—and nonveterinary organizations," she said, to promote breadth in expressing and listening to diverse ideas.

The work of the consortium will require all these brain resources, Dr. Leininger said, and careful planning so that the various interests can be engaged and mobilized while remaining cost-effective. Fortunately, the AAVMC has received pledges of more than $440,000 to fund the initiative, with more than 140 organizations participating. To date, there are 84 co-sponsors financially supporting the consortium and 53 additional partners who want to be part of the discussions. AAVMC Executive Director Marguerite Pappaioanou emphasizes that the AAVMC approach does not equate to pay-to-play.

Dr. Leininger, a 1967 Purdue University graduate, believes that issues relating to the veterinary curriculum will need to be the first focus of the consortium: determining societal needs that future veterinarians will be filling, identifying the skills and competencies that will be needed by those future graduates, and exploring educational models that will produce those graduates. However, because they are so intertwined with the educational process, licensure and institutional accreditation will also be addressed.

While successful veterinarians often learn from trial and error, students need exposures to many "underrepresented areas" of professional training (business and communication skills) and encouragement to look beyond clinical practice to career areas such as public health, epidemiology, and even federal, state, and local agencies such as Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The challenge is how to fit them into an already packed curriculum.

Dr. Leininger envisions the first step as "planning to plan" and anticipates developing a framework with AAVMC executives later this summer. The several national meetings that are anticipated over the next 12 to 18 months will likely wrap around other national events, and a professional facilitator will be engaged.

A former Michigan VMA president, Dr. Leininger co-owned a companion animal practice in Michigan before joining Hill's and moving to Kansas. Earlier this year, she retired from her position as director of professional affairs at Hill's. For many years, she has been deeply interested in veterinary students and academic institutions.

Of her new initiative she said, "The chance to have a voice in what the future of our profession will look like is very exciting for me."