Student leaders want their voices heard

SAVMA creates task forces to address issues
Published on August 31, 2011
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The 64 members of the Student AVMA House of Delegates didn't just talk about the economic issues they and their peers face, they took action to become a part of the conversations affecting their future profession.

The SAVMA HOD convened July 17-18 for its biannual meeting during the 2011 AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis. Each college of veterinary medicine in the U.S. as well as those at the University of Prince Edward Island, St. Matthew's University, Ross University, and St. George's University sent delegates to represent their student colleagues, conduct business, examine what it means to be the next generation of veterinary medicine, and discuss where they want the profession to go. President Joseph M. Esch (OSU '12) presided over the meeting and guided the delegates through a large body of work.

Discussion about recent matters of concern to students dominated the agenda, specifically, the increase in student debt-to-income ratio, evaluation of veterinary shortages, and increases in the numbers of veterinary students.

In keeping with SAVMA's mission to represent all veterinary students and be their organized voice, the SAVMA House created three task forces to address these issues.

Melissa Andritz, senior SAVMA delegate from Cornell
Melissa Andritz, senior SAVMA delegate from Cornell University addresses her colleagues. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen

The first task force is charged with writing a letter to the editor of JAVMA responding to several previously published editorials and articles on such areas, voicing students' concerns and thoughts.

The Task Force on Economic Issues will take those issues further, working with the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to take a deeper look at economic issues of concern to veterinary students today and making sure the students' point of view is communicated.

The Task Force on Corporate Funding will seek to address the extent and appropriateness of corporate funding at veterinary schools and colleges.

Each of these task forces will be composed of SAVMA delegates and SAVMA Executive Board members who will work between SAVMA HOD meetings to write letters, gather information, and, ultimately, make recommendations to the SAVMA HOD.

A final action that received SAVMA HOD approval had to do with better educating SAVMA members about relevant topics. The Education and Professional Development Committee was authorized to create a presentation that delegates can use to better inform and veterinary students about challenges facing the profession and prepare them to address those challenges. The presentation will include, but may not be limited to, the following topics: recent studies and reports on current economic data and trends, actions being taken by SAVMA or by the AVMA to address current issues, and opportunities being made available by the AVMA to educate and develop future leaders of the profession.

In approving these actions, SAVMA delegates said they strive not only to be reacting to decisions and actions but also to making statements and recommendations on behalf of students outright.

Fiscal responsibility

That leadership spirit carried over to other actions throughout the meeting.

The Integrative Communications and Diversity Committee drafted an anti-discrimination statement. It reads: "SAVMA does not discriminate in any of its activities or membership on the basis of race, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, marital or parental status, disability, or other status protected under state or federal law."

The intent was to demonstrate the openness of the organization. It was adopted by the SAVMA House as an official policy statement of the Student AVMA and modeled after a similar position taken by the AVMA.

Funding was increased and reallocated to the future schools and general managers hosting the annual Student AVMA Symposium to ensure future financial stability for SAVMA's premier event. The SAVMA HOD approved a balanced budget presented by Treasurer Dan Tappemeyer (MO '13), ensuring that students' dues and funds continue the work of SAVMA, its committees, and its liaison representatives.

SAVMA committees continued their work of allocating funds to student scholarships, grant competitions, travel stipends, and recognition of superior programming and professors at veterinary schools.

A new publicity campaign geared toward presenting the benefits of SAVMA and AVMA membership to students, increased use of social networking sites to link students to SAVMA entities, and letters to deans' offices to accompany the recently passed duty hours proposal (see JAVMA, May 15, 2011) were all products of the SAVMA committee meetings.

SAVMA liaison representatives—those students who serve the purpose of representing SAVMA and the student voice on various AVMA committees, the AAVMC, and the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues—brought back news of progress within those organizations. Of particular note was the news that the AAVMC has become the first organization to grant a student liaison representative both a voice and a vote on its board of directors. Later in the meeting, the SAVMA liaison to the AAVMC, Josh Yonas, spoke in favor of a motion to endorse the final report of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium in the form of a letter to the association; the motion was approved by the delegates.

Visitors and new members

In response to the call to improve connections of recent graduates to organized veterinary medicine, representatives from the AVMA highlighted current initiatives such as the Future Leaders Program, the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission, and the work of the Task Force on AVMA Programs for Students and Recent Graduates. The delegates showed enthusiasm for news of such projects that will directly affect their generation of veterinarians.

Additional speakers included Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Dr. Jolle Kirpensteijn of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, SAVMA's Global and Public Health Officer Claire McPhee (NCU '12) on the upcoming One Health Vector Borne Disease initiative, Chad Clancy (ISU '13) on the Merck Rabies Symposium to be held Sept. 24 at Iowa State University, and Dr. Karen Felsted on behalf of Hill's Pet Nutrition and Bayer Animal Health's client preference study.

The SAVMA Executive Board welcomed newly elected members Chad Clancy, secretary-elect; Erich Roush (WIS '13), treasurer-elect; Taylor Simon (LSU '13), information technology officer-elect; and Melissa Andritz (COR '13), The Vet Gazette editor-elect.

The SAVMA House of Delegates will reconvene in March 2012 at the SAVMA Symposium at Purdue University, but the months until then will be filled with work that continues on the behalf of veterinary students across the country. As Dr. Kirpensteijn reminded the students during his presentation, "We lead the world (if we participate)."