Leadership development program in transition

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The AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience is in the midst of a transfer of direction and operation from its home base at Washington State University, but that's not the only change that could be in store for the program.

The AVMA Executive Board at its Jan. 6 meeting in Chicago approved going forward with a proposal to ask each college of veterinary medicine, through the dean's office, what the impact of the AVMA VLE program has been, to decide whether to continue funding the program directly or to instead, for example, send funds directly to the colleges to support local programs for leadership development of veterinary students.

The AVMA VLE is typically held the first week of June at Ross Point Camp and Conference Center, in Post Falls, Idaho. Its history dates back a decade to when Dr. Richard M. DeBowes, chair of the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and Kathleen Ruby, PhD, a psychologist, developed the university's Cougar Orientation and Leadership Experience in 2002. The 31/2–day, on-site training program is focused on servant leadership as a model for collegiality and medical professionalism.

VLE team-building exercise
Attendees of the 2011 Veterinary Leadership Experience take part in a team-building exercise. (Courtesy of the VLE Foundation)

The AVMA VLE was modeled after the Cougar experience and rolled out in 2004 on a national level for students, faculty, and a few veterinarians from industry and private practice. A year later, the AVMA added sponsorship dollars, and in 2006, the Association elected to continue sponsorship on the condition that the program be called the AVMA VLE.

According to Dr. DeBowes, the program draws about 200 participants a year at a cost of approximately $1,100 per person. Funding has come from a number of sources besides the AVMA, such as the animal health care industry.

During its April 2011 meeting, the AVMA Executive Board approved spending up to $75,000 in 2012 on the AVMA VLE, but with the cost split with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (see JAVMA, June 1, 2011). The board also approved spending $45,000 annually on the AVMA VLE starting in 2013, with the money intended to defray the costs for one faculty member from each veterinary school represented in the Student AVMA to attend.

That funding could be in jeopardy, because starting this year, Drs. Ruby and DeBowes, along with their employer, Washington State, plan to transfer direction and operation of the AVMA VLE and to license the use of the VLE curriculum to Dr. Elizabeth "Betsy" Charles so that she can lead and expand the event.

Dr. Charles, supervising veterinarian at Equest Diagnostic Imaging Center in San Marcos, Calif., is director of the new VLE Foundation, which is now fully responsible for all aspects of the program. The AVMA VLE 2012 will be the first time the program is run by the VLE Foundation.

The foundation's board of directors will be announced soon. Dr. Charles said the nonprofit is in the process of getting all the paperwork signed and commitments solidified.

At the January Executive Board meeting, AVMA President-elect Douglas G. Aspros said the AVMA/Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges joint committee came to the board with the recommendation to examine the impact of the VLE because the AVMA has been funding the program and there was enough concern from the deans to look at what each college is doing and whether the AVMA funding may be better used otherwise.

"This is to guide how we move forward," Dr. Aspros said.

WSU has already surveyed AVMA VLE attendees about their impressions of the experience, Dr. DeBowes said.

"They are effusive in their high marks for the lasting impact of the program, its applicability in their daily lives, and for their continued connection to the program through the weekly leadership lessons. It will be interesting to get the deans' perspectives on the program and its impact at their campuses," he said, adding that only one dean and a few associate deans have attended the AVMA VLE program.


Dr. DeBowes leads mini-VLE
Photo by R. Scott Nolen

Strategies for on-the-job success

For two days during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Dr. Rick DeBowes led a compressed version of the popular Veterinary Leadership Experience. Sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition, the mini-VLE was an opportunity for veterinarians to learn novel approaches for finding on-the-job satisfaction. Such skills are especially needed given the demands on today's veterinarians, Dr. DeBowes said. Veterinarians are pulled in many directions and are expected to possess skills ranging from healing and grief counseling to serving as a human resource director and small-business executive. All these demands are "people stuff," Dr. DeBowes noted, and are what practitioners struggle with every day, more than with "the vagaries of parvovirus." Dr. DeBowes spent the VLE session walking participants through strategies for managing these and similar issues.