VP candidate would stress AVMA commitment to students

Strother is passionate about veterinary students, understands their struggles
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Dr. Jan K. Strother wants to help shape the future of veterinary medicine, which is why she’s running—unchallenged—for AVMA vice president. In that capacity, she would spend two years as the AVMA liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters and as a voting member of the AVMA Executive Board.

The founder and hospital director of a Hartselle, Ala., companion and exotic animal practice believes that, given the diverse career paths available to veterinary students, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of the profession.

Dr. Jan K. Strother

The future for our students today is based not only on societal needs for veterinary medicine in clinical practice and academia but also on public health and environmental needs.


JAVMA News recently spoke with Dr. Strother about why she wants to be the AVMA vice president and about the Association's relationship with veterinary students.

Why are you running for vice president?

I am running as a candidate for AVMA vice president because this position encompasses communication and outreach opportunities to students and veterinary schools that I am passionate about.

I believe there has never been a more exciting time to become a part of the veterinary profession. The possibilities and opportunities for students to strategically plan their career paths are now very diverse. The future for our students today is based not only on societal needs for veterinary medicine in clinical practice and academia but also on public health and environmental needs.

AVMA currently has numerous successful student programs in place and has maintained a sound strategy to engage student member involvement with our Association, leading to a high conversion rate of graduating students to AVMA membership. The recently approved and appointed Task Force on AVMA Programs for Students and Recent Graduates is a continuing step in the AVMA commitment to develop a strategic plan and bridge for the Association's involvement with veterinary students.

AVMA has long recognized that membership of our students and recent graduates is the essential key in the development of the future leaders of our profession.

What skills do you bring to the job?

Most of my career has been devoted to clinical practice and volunteer leadership. My volunteer leadership includes community, state, and national VMA experiences. Serving as president of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association taught me organizational skills, patience, the ability to really listen to others' ideas and concerns, to problem solve, and, most important, to bring value and satisfaction to volunteer experiences.

I was honored to be elected to the (former) AVMA Council on Public Relations and served for six years. I have been privileged to serve in the AVMA House of Delegates as alternate delegate from Alabama since 2002. These experiences have provided me with a wealth of valuable reasons to continue my volunteer opportunities with AVMA. Combined with business skills gleaned from owning and running a multidoctor companion animal/avian/exotic practice, I truly hope that I can serve as a valuable resource to those students who will step into future AVMA leadership roles.

What would you hope to accomplish during your two-year term?

I hope I can continue to promote the relevancy and necessity of organized veterinary medicine to our veterinary student population. I look forward to the findings of the new Task Force on AVMA Programs for Students and Recent Graduates and to the implementation of that strategic plan.

I want to continue to promote the opportunities for student participation in AVMA activities, including many of the new social media conversations provided by AVMA. Social media is about interaction and information gathering, which are two areas that students are very interested in. Communicating information through AVMA blogs, Facebook activity, Flickr and Twitter networking, YouTube, AVMAtv, and NOAH encourages interaction and instant connection to the veterinary community. Social networking is an integral part of many student communications and will make AVMA more personal, more approachable, and more relevant to this audience. It will also provide ever-increasing value to our Association by promoting advocacy, grassroots support, insight generation, and informal market research.

The AVMA is in the process of evaluating its veterinary student programs through the task force you cited. Do you feel the Association's student outreach efforts benefit students and the AVMA?

The many students that I have spoken with do feel that AVMA student outreach is extremely important.

Current AVMA programs include student chapters at all U.S. veterinary schools, a national student organization—SAVMA, annual school visits by the AVMA vice president and staff, sponsorship of the annual student symposium, student externships, scholarships, and the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience. Student members currently have access to most AVMA member benefits as well as free advance registration to the AVMA Annual Convention. Students are represented in the AVMA House of Delegates and are invited to sit at the table at Executive Board meetings as nonvoting members. The AVMA student membership rate is currently 94.2 percent. The conversion rate of graduating students to AVMA membership for 2009 is 96.3 percent. Clearly, the AVMA leadership recognizes the value of student mentorship and involvement with our future members and leaders.

It's been said veterinary student debt load has reached a crisis level. Do you see it that way? What can be done?

It has been said that veterinary student debt is increasing about four times as fast as veterinary salaries are. Although the cost of education is only one part of the student debt crisis, it cannot and should not be ignored. This problem of debt versus salaries will eventually become unsustainable and will likely shrink the pool of college applicants.

Many stakeholders are looking at this complex situation, including the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium. This group of more than 100 representatives from many venues of veterinary medicine is hoping to reshape veterinary education into a more responsive and flexible system that will graduate veterinarians who will satisfy the dynamic, changing needs of society, including areas of the food supply, public health, and biomedical research. The ideas generated by NAVMEC and others will hopefully lead to implementation of a more efficient veterinary education process and broader opportunities for veterinary services.

Besides a massive debt load, what other challenges do recent grads face?

Veterinary students and graduates face a number of complex challenges. Developing strategic road maps for their evolving careers is often at the top of the list. Learning and developing business and communication skills are essential in every aspect of veterinary medicine. Budgeting time for careers as well as family life can be a daunting balancing act. The pressures of a full-time veterinary career, family responsibilities, church, and community obligations can create real stress for graduates and their families. The need for wellness training and learning how to deal with everyday stresses are also common challenges for many recent grads.

Why do veterinary students and recent grads need to be part of the AVMA?

Becoming a part of the AVMA is one of the most important and career-enhancing decisions that a student or recent graduate can make. Currently, our Association represents over 80,000 veterinarians working in private and corporate practice, government, industry, academia, research, and the uniformed services. AVMA is member-driven and structured to work for its membership. AVMA today serves as a collective voice for its membership and for the veterinary profession.

You're a Tuskegee graduate. Why did you attend this historic black college, and what did it teach you about diversity?

I am a 1986 graduate of Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine. It was an honor and privilege to be a part of the Tuskegee family. This college is rich in history, tradition, and a legacy of diversity. The small class size in school encouraged friendship, curiosity, and exchange of ideas. Having an opportunity to explore each other's differences also allowed students to discover how much we had in common. Encouraging real diversity in the veterinary profession is a moral and ethical responsibility. I believe that the AVMA is committed to this premise. Today's veterinary students and recent graduates will play a major role in making this happen.

Today, more women than men are veterinarians, and it would appear the profession will continue attracting more women than men. What do you think about this trend?

The role of an ever-increasing number of women in veterinary medicine is an evolving story. Male enrollment in U.S. veterinary schools made up approximately 22 percent of students for 2008-2009. National trends in many health professions also show female students in the majority. There are various economic, social, and cultural reasons why women have taken the lead in previously male-dominated professions. The conversations about this trend continue to produce various opinions and ideas about how the future of our profession may be influenced by this gender shift.

The House of Delegates recently approved a membership dues increase for 2011. The Executive Board is considering asking the HOD to approve an annual dues increase of up to $5. As an HOD member, how would you vote for this latest measure?

The House of Delegates recently approved a dues increase of $50 for regular AVMA members beginning in 2011. The AVMA last increased dues in 2004. Many of us within the veterinary population have increased our own professional service fees substantially since 2004. The last several years have been tough economically on many members and on the AVMA as well. This much-needed dues increase will ensure that our Association can continue to provide services, address professional issues, and remain financially sound. The proposal from the Executive Board for HOD approval of a $5 annual increase sounds like a reasonable request and great value for the money, considering the quality and quantity of services provided by the AVMA.