Carlson's vision is a call to action

Innovation must come to veterinary economics and education, AVMA governance
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Dr. René A. Carlson envisions a time when veterinarians are fairly compensated for their services and are respected protectors of public health.

A time when veterinary education is affordable, diverse, and progressive, and the AVMA is the model of member-driven professional organizations.

A time when everyone understands just how much veterinarians help animals, people, and the environment.

Such a future is possible, Dr. Carlson says, if AVMA leaders and members have the courage, commitment, and determination to make it happen.

Dr. René A. Carlson
Photo by R. Scott Nolen

As the Association's incoming president, the small animal practitioner from Chetek, Wis., was speaking about her vision for veterinary medicine and the AVMA during the House of Delegates regular annual session July 15 in St. Louis.

Dr. Carlson succeeded Dr. Larry M. Kornegay of Houston as AVMA president at the close of the Association's Annual Convention July 19. She is only the third woman to hold the office since the AVMA's founding nearly 150 years ago.

Prior to her election, the 1978 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine represented Wisconsin in the HOD for eight years and served two years as AVMA vice president. Additionally, Dr. Carlson represented private clinical practice on the AVMA Council on Education.

Just as the founding of the first veterinary school 250 years ago in Lyon, France, and the creation of the AVMA were watershed moments in the history of veterinary medicine, Dr. Carlson believes the profession is again at a pivotal time. During her HOD address, she said transformative change can be realized by immediately addressing three areas identified in the AVMA Strategic Plan: economics, education, and governance.

"2011 is the beginning of a new era for economic viability, educational renewal, and Association functionality," Dr. Carlson explained.

For this vision to become reality, we must truly believe in the urgency for change and its achievability. We must commit the time, persistence, money, and resources to develop plans for change that we can monitor and measure.

Dr. René A. Carlson, AVMA president

High educational debt, inadequate pay, and decreased veterinary visits are destabilizing the profession's economic viability. Dr. Carlson noted that the AVMA Executive Board was convening an economic working session this summer as the first step in addressing these problems.

Veterinarians need to do their part, Dr. Carlson added, and she encouraged them to engage and educate the public as consumers of veterinary services. "We have been silent and quietly revered heroes for too long," she stated. "It is time veterinarians make their case for animal health and welfare, preventive medicine, food safety, one health, and tell the whole world about it."

Dr. Carlson called on the AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to continue their efforts to improve the delivery of veterinary education. The North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium report, expected to be published soon, can be a guide to transform veterinary education, she said.

"We need to infuse both imagination and innovation to streamline education, much as private enterprise uses imagination and innovation to be the best in the world," she observed.

Dr. Carlson called for the Association to adopt a more open and engaged leadership structure. The AVMA she envisions is one that is "more interactive and program-based for the benefit of members and the public; one that will engage and empower its members to be the authorities and leaders on issues of veterinary medicine; one that is fully engaged globally."

All the pieces are in place for transformation to occur, according to Dr. Carlson: a willing leadership, a professional staff, and a membership open to change. "For this vision to become reality, we must truly believe in the urgency for change and its achievability," she said. "We must commit the time, persistence, money, and resources to develop plans for change that we can monitor and measure.

"All we need to do is mobilize and direct that energy toward these common goals," she continued. "It can be done. And I am telling you, it must be done."