AVMA VP Strother on the future of veterinary medicine

Sees need for greater AVMA engagement with third- and fourth-year students
Published on June 15, 2011
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"The third- and fourth-year students I have talked to have definitely indicated an interest in more face time with AVMA officers and leaders. I think this is a critical time to mentor and support these soon-to-be graduates. "

Dr. Strother
Dr. Jan K. Strother
AVMA vice president

JAVMA News checked in with Dr. Jan K. Strother as she approached the halfway point of her AVMA vice presidency. In her capacity as AVMA liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters, Dr. Strother is in regular contact with veterinary students—she's visited 16 veterinary schools and colleges so far this academic year. The small animal practice owner from Hartselle, Ala., shares what she's learned during her travels along with what students are saying as they prepare for a future in veterinary medicine.

How have the students and veterinary curriculum changed since you were a student?

Of course, technological advances have completely changed the academic approach to education since I was in school at Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine in the '80s. Students have access to incredible amounts of medical information through various sources, both academic and online references. Faculties are passionate and committed to student education in all facets. In this endeavor, faculty are able to create an online syllabus and downloadable daily teaching plans and have the ability to provide high-resolution images on flat-screen TVs that surround the teaching rooms for didactic classes such as anatomy, histopath, physiology, and so on.

Access to this vast amount of new information can be a double-edged sword, however. There is so much new information to learn that, at times, students may feel overwhelmed and overloaded. The good news is veterinary students today are amazingly technologically savvy, committed to learning, curious by nature, and determined to bring their best to their studies. They have learned how to study independently as well as interdependently, forming face-time study groups as well as social online study groups on Facebook and Twitter.

I would also add that today's veterinary medical curriculum is more sophisticated, more communicative, and places more emphasis on individual learning and outcome assessments for each class. Evaluations for and administration as they strive to provide more accessible teachers are nearly always in place, which can be a big help for teachers information and better educational tools.

Are students optimistic about their future as members of the veterinary profession or are they worried?

The students I've had the privilege to visit this year are very optimistic, committed to their career choices, and excited about what the future holds for them in their chosen career path. They are naturally concerned about their debt load coming out of school. Many female veterinarians are charting career paths in food animal production. A number of students are pursuing internships and residencies toward specialty practice. Other students are pursuing dual degrees. It is clear that veterinary graduates have put a lot of time and thought into choosing flexible career paths for the future.

What are they saying about the AVMA?

The students that I have visited through SCAVMA and SAVMA are extremely interested in the AVMA as well as the projects, communication vehicles, and opportunities that affect them as students and future leaders of our profession. Their participation in these organizations during their first two years in veterinary school is energetic and enthusiastic, almost across the board. There is a great deal of interest in and appreciation of the GHLIT, PLIT, club activities, visiting speakers, scholarship opportunities, and preceptorships, along with the externships offered through the AVMA Career Center.

I would like to see more engagement and direct mentoring with third- and fourth-year students, because their classes often have them in clinics or off-campus rotations. It is very difficult to have access to them during my brief visits as vice president. The third- and fourth-year students I have talked to have definitely indicated an interest in more face time with AVMA officers and leaders. I think this is a critical time to mentor and support these soon-to-be graduates. AVMA programs like the Future Leaders Program and Veterinary Leadership Experience as well as the Veterinary Leadership Conference help promote a fledgling relationship between the AVMA and third- and fourth-year students. I look forward to similar programs and projects coming forth in the next few years that will enhance our veterinary students' relationship with AVMA in an even more sustainable way.

Do you think the AVMA is doing enough for students or is there more the Association could be doing?

The AVMA is a dynamic association, as are the SAVMA and SCAVMA. As technology and information change and grow, there is always an opportunity to create better and more sustainable projects with our students. When you look at what AVMA makes available to our students, it is a pretty exciting list of opportunities available to all veterinary students. Membership in individual SCAVMAs and SAVMA is probably the smartest and best investment a veterinary student could ever make. The list of opportunities from group health and life insurance, discounted journal costs, free conventions, and monetary support of the SAVMA Symposium as well as personal perks that include rental car discounts, moving discounts, numerous grants, scholarships, and financial awards are just a few of the advantages of becoming a Student AVMA member. The Executive Board is 200 percent behind these students, and I have no doubt that greater support will follow each and every year.

Have your views of the vice presidency and AVMA Executive Board changed since your election?

The role of the vice president is a unique and fascinating leadership role. I have been honored and humbled by the academic leadership of the schools and colleges as well as by the student leadership in welcoming and encouraging AVMA participation and idea exchange. Concurrently, I have found that AVMA leaders from the House of Delegates, Executive Board, AVMF foundation, and officers have the greatest respect, commitment, and sense of appreciation for our colleges of veterinary medicine and their students, who will soon assume leadership roles in our profession.

I look forward to the coming year, continuing my travels and opportunities to connect with our veterinary institutions and students. I hope to share the AVMA's strategic goals to promote animal welfare, transform veterinary medical education, strengthen veterinary practice and financial well-being, enhance the veterinary medical workforce, advance science and discovery, and advocate for the oversight of veterinary medical procedures, as these goals will play a part in helping our academic institutions prepare our students for the practice world that awaits them upon graduation.