Town hall meetings offer dialogue about profession

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The AVMA Live town hall meetings July 17 in the exhibit hall at the AVMA Annual Convention attracted participants and passers-by for a dialogue about the AVMA and the profession.

This is the third year that the AVMA has held such an event, but it was in the exhibit hall for the first time this year—at the AVMA Pavilion, with one meeting in the morning and one meeting in the afternoon.

Dr. Bernadine D. Cruz, a California veterinarian and previous chair of the former AVMA Council on Communications, collected some questions for AVMA Live ahead of time and moderated the meetings. The panelists representing the AVMA were Dr. John R. Brooks, then chair of the Executive Board; Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, then president; and Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer.

Professional issues

At the morning meeting, Dr. Debra F. Horwitz of St. Louis started the conversation by asking how the AVMA can impact the high costs of veterinary education.

Rebecca Rose, CVT
Rebecca Rose, a certified veterinary technician, asks a question during an AVMA Live town hall meeting at the AVMA Annual Convention. (Photo by Katie Burns)

Dr. Brooks said the AVMA is trying to help address the issue as a partner with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the deans of the veterinary colleges.

"There is no one answer, and there is no easy answer, and it will in fact require us to look at the total educational process," he said. "We also have to look at enhancing the demand side of veterinary services, because, in essence, a high debt load by the student can be offset by a higher demand for veterinary services, which improves their worth in the workplace."

Dr. DeHaven said the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium has identified approaches to make the educational process more efficient. Relevant to student debt, the AVMA has helped establish loan repayment programs for veterinarians who work in underserved areas.

The discussion turned to AVMA efforts in member communications, governmental relations, and disaster response. Then Dr. Cruz raised a question about the extent to which the AVMA should focus on global issues, a topic of debate during the AVMA House of Delegates regular annual session just before the convention.

"I personally feel that it's critical that we remain engaged internationally," Dr. Kornegay said. "The more I travel, the more I realize that our issues are very similar—whether they are related to animal welfare, veterinary education, or the economic viability of our profession."

Rebecca Rose, a certified veterinary technician from Lakewood, Colo., asked about the growing pains that the veterinary community might experience with the increase in the number of veterinary technicians.

Dr. Brooks said the Executive Board is looking closely at the economics of the veterinary profession, including the impact of veterinary technicians.

"Part of our job is to convince the veterinarian, the practice owner, of the value—the economic value as well as the delivery of optimum care—that the technicians bring," Dr. DeHaven said. "As a profession, historically, we want to do it ourselves. We've been reluctant to delegate as much responsibility or functions to the technicians as they're fully capable of doing."

He said better use of veterinary technicians will be fundamental to a new initiative to promote preventive care for pets and increase demand for veterinary services. A press conference the next day announced the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare (see JAVMA, Sept. 1, 2011).

Input and outreach

Dr. Cruz asked the panelists how AVMA members can offer input on various issues.

Dr. Brooks said members can submit comments on the AVMA@Work blog or contact representatives in the House of Delegates or on the Executive Board. Dr. DeHaven noted that the AVMA has recently solicited comments on revisions to its euthanasia guidelines, model veterinary practice act, and strategic plan.

Dr. Cruz later asked the panelists about how the AVMA is reaching out to members of the public.

Dr. DeHaven said one example is public service announcements from the AVMA. The initiative to promote preventive care will include outreach to the public as well as veterinarians.

During AVMA Live in the afternoon, the discussion touched on many of the same subjects as the morning meeting. Some of the additional topics included environmental and welfare concerns in animal agriculture and the variety of career opportunities in veterinary medicine.