Carlson wants to inspire as AVMA president-elect

Would bring years of leadership experience to job
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

Dr. René A. Carlson has been involved in AVMA leadership for several years, having represented Wisconsin in the House of Delegates for eight years and serving two terms as AVMA vice president. She currently represents private clinical practice on the AVMA Council on Education.

So it's no surprise the small animal practice owner from Chetek, Wis., and former Wisconsin VMA president is now seeking the Association's highest office. If elected—she is currently running unopposed—Dr. Carlson would be only the third woman in the AVMA's 147-year history to be president.

Dr. René A. Carlson

If I can inspire more women and more underrepresented minorities to become actively involved at these levels, it will be rewarding for them personally in their veterinary medical careers and benefit AVMA and our profession as well.


JAVMA News recently spoke with Dr. Carlson about her vision for the AVMA and the challenges and opportunities facing the veterinary profession.

Why are you running for president-elect?

I chose to run for AVMA president-elect because I have broad and extensive volunteer experience with AVMA that would contribute to leadership at a time when we have several challenges facing veterinary medicine. In addition, we have a general membership of almost 50 percent women and a veterinary medical student population of nearly 80 percent women, with relatively few women in high leadership positions. If I can inspire more women and more underrepresented minorities to become actively involved at these levels, it will be rewarding for them personally in their veterinary medical careers and benefit AVMA and our profession as well.

What skills do you bring to the job?

I am a positive person with what has been called an infectious enthusiasm for AVMA and our profession. I am a person who thinks about the future, who likes planning for the years ahead so we can continue to position this profession favorably for service to animals and society rather than let the dice fall where they may. I am a team player, willing to advocate for the overall cause unless it is in direct conflict with my personal beliefs. My previous experiences as Wisconsin VMA president, AVMA delegate, American Veterinary Medical Foundation board member, AVMA vice president, and AVMA Executive Board member; on a variety of task forces; and currently as a member of the Council on Education give me a lengthy résumé to bring to this position.

What would you hope to accomplish during your term?

I don't have a specific agenda that will become my legacy in one to two years' time, but rather, I look forward to having input at Executive Board strategic planning sessions. Our current critical issues are economic viability, veterinary education, veterinary workforce, animal welfare, and veterinary services. They are being reviewed with input from our membership. I am particularly interested in helping shape the future of veterinary medical education so that it meets the needs of a local and global society at a cost that rewards our profession and does not burden it. I intend to support efforts to keep the AVMA-COE-accredited college degree the envy of the world. I look forward to the recommendations from the (North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium) with hopes for a collaborative effort to effect educational change for our future.

For a long time, veterinary medicine was a male-dominated profession. Today, more women than men are veterinarians, and data suggest the profession will continue attracting more women than men. What are your thoughts on this?

There are more women in the workplace in general than 30 years ago, so this has contributed to the influx of women into veterinary medicine. However, I believe a more equal balance between men and women would be healthier for our profession, our service to society, and the AVMA. It is well-documented that women still earn less compensation than men do for equal work. I believe we must improve the financial profile of our members to sustain a healthy, diverse, and balanced applicant pool and workforce. That means cutting educational costs, improving loan forgiveness programs and remuneration, re-evaluating the models by which we educate, and continuing to increase compensation with increased services, compliance, and fee structures to match the value of our services.

Earlier this year, the House of Delegates approved a membership dues increase for 2011. The Executive Board is considering asking delegates to approve an annual dues increase of up to $5. Would you support this latest measure?

The dues of an organization should be determined based on the operating costs of the organization, the cost of delivery of programs beneficial to the members for their success, and future plans and programs in alignment with the strategic goals of the organization. I would support an annual incremental increase of dues for the same reason I implement increases in fees regularly to match rising costs in my practice—although, if a regular dues increase were discussed, I would suggest a clause stating that if reserves reach a certain level of the operating budget, say 150 percent, then the annual dues increase would be reviewed and, possibly, waived for the coming year.

The AVMA is in the process of evaluating its veterinary student programs. As a former vice president, do you feel the Association's student outreach efforts benefit students and the AVMA?

Yes. The AVMA gives tremendous support to the student population through the Student AVMA, student participation on councils and committees, the AVMA convention, and legislative advocacy programs. Support of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience has inspired hundreds of veterinary students and faculty representatives in planning a more collegial orientation and environment at their individual veterinary colleges. However, AVMA currently has appointed a Task Force on AVMA Programs for Students and Recent Graduates to reassess ways to more fully engage our veterinary students and recent graduates so they become and stay AVMA members, participate as leaders for our profession, and help them develop their veterinary careers.

You attended the first meeting of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium this past February. What do you think about that initiative?

I support the concept of NAVMEC. Veterinary medical colleges and students have major challenges with the high cost of maintaining clinical resources (animals) for teaching veterinary medical students, keeping highly qualified faculty in academic positions, and the ever-increasing tuition to support those costs with decreasing state appropriations to the colleges. It is time we look at some sharing of resources among colleges and look at new models for instruction that might be more cost-effective. We need to reassess veterinary medical education so that we remain cutting edge, relevant to a global society, and economically sound in the training of veterinarians for decades to come.

There is controversy over whether the AVMA Council on Education should be accrediting foreign veterinary colleges. How do you see this issue?

I understand the concerns some members have expressed with the AVMA Council on Education consulting with and evaluating foreign school veterinary medical programs for accreditation. Let me say it is always a challenge to balance the needs and concerns of our members with the importance of continuing our involvement and influence in global veterinary medicine. The purpose of evaluating foreign schools is to encourage and support high standards of veterinary medical education and practice. The AVMA Council on Education is considered the gold standard in the world for veterinary medical school accreditation, and with that mantle comes a responsibility to help other programs achieve great heights. As the world becomes smaller, with rapid and extensive travel and the potential for more infectious and zoonotic disease outbreaks, it is to our benefit to raise the bar of veterinary medicine everywhere. However, the COE may reconsider its role of consultation to foreign veterinary schools regarding AVMA accreditation, as it can be difficult to manage the roles of consultation and accreditation simultaneously. The AVMA COE's primary responsibility is accreditation.

Animal welfare, political advocacy, and food safety are areas in which the AVMA has stepped up its efforts in recent years. Are there other areas in which you'd like to see the Association increase its focus?

I see the rising cost of a veterinary medical education in comparison to the compensation as a major threat to our profession's future. We need to continue to look at a comprehensive strategy to help bring these numbers in better balance.

The AVMA needs to take a stronger lead in consistent messages to our state VMAs on issues to help the grassroots membership become more visible and vocal on all veterinary-related topics. We need more veterinarians to be confident and active with local advocacy, public speaking, and media relations. Unless a person is directly involved in leadership, many DVMs don't get those training opportunities.

We must continue our efforts to strengthen our profession's ethnic diversity.

Finally, as we become more specialized in advanced care, there seems to be a developing difference of opinion between the level of care given by generalists and by specialists. We need to remember we are all veterinarians, all proud of our profession and our work, all dedicated to helping animals and the people who care for them, and all part of this veterinary medical family. Generalists play a vital role in caring for the whole animal in cooperation with specialists.

What challenges and opportunities is the veterinary profession facing?

The challenges continue to be a higher than desired educational debt-to-compensation ratio, legislative bills that affect veterinary medicine and practice, inadequate funds to support new research and discovery, the unbalanced gender demographics, lack of ethnic diversity, and not having enough veterinarians choose careers in food production areas. We continue to work on strategies to improve those situations.

Our opportunities continue to be high credibility with and respect from the public. We have more tools available to us from veterinary partners to provide high-quality patient care and management. The human-animal bond continues to strengthen. We have both the medical knowledge and the emotional dedication to reduce animal suffering and improve animal and human health. We just have to get that message out there sooner rather than later. It is up to all of us to become more visible and vocal as the animal health experts.