Looking ahead

Fobian anticipates serving as 2013-2014 AVMA president
Published on May 30, 2012
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Over the past six years, Dr. Clark K. Fobian has balanced the responsibilities of owning and operating a small animal practice in Sedalia, Mo., with those expected of leaders within the AVMA and American Veterinary Medical Foundation. 

In the years since Dr. Fobian won the election for the District VII representative to the AVMA Executive Board, the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine alum has also been chosen to chair the AVMF board of directors. And now, with his service on both boards ending, Dr. Fobian anticipates working on behalf of his profession in a new capacity, as the 2013-2014 AVMA president. 

 Dr. Clark K. Fobian, District VII representative to the AVMA Executive Board, at a recent meeting
 (Photo by R. Scott Nolen​)
As the sole candidate for the office of president-elect, Dr. Fobian is expected to be elected by the AVMA House of Delegates this August during its regular annual meeting in San Diego.

JAVMA News recently interviewed Dr. Fobian regarding his vision for the AVMA, the forthcoming U.S. veterinary workforce study, and the debate over the Executive Board’s endorsement of controversial legislation addressing the welfare of egg-laying hens.
Why are you running for AVMA president-elect?
When I first started practice, I was elated by the profound positive impact I could have on a client’s life through the medical care I provided for their animals. That sense of elation has remained with me all these years. My first time as a participant in organized veterinary medicine afforded me the same level of deep gratification, only this time I was helping tend to the professional and societal needs of veterinarians. As a result, I had a hand in enhancing their ability to care for the clients and animals in their practice. I found this chance to positively impact the delivery of veterinary medicine on so broad a scale even more fulfilling than what I experience at my own practice. Therefore, being afforded the opportunity to enhance veterinary medicine at the national level is one of the highest callings I could ever hope to participate in. 
What would you want to accomplish as AVMA president?

Dr. Clark K. Fobian
My goals are lofty yet simple. More than anything, I want to help current and future veterinarians have a fulfilling and rewarding career. This is not an easy feat, because the veterinary profession today is facing a number of significant workforce and societal challenges simultaneously. 

Specifically, I hope to drive the AVMA toward implementing plans based on the findings of the veterinary workforce study that the Executive Board just recently approved. We have to define economic realities influencing our profession if we are to help drive its development. There is a profusion of diverse and conflicting studies, reports, and predictions concerning the supply of veterinarians versus the demand for veterinary services. We need to make sense of these perspectives and then devise an appropriate response.

I want to work with academia, government, and business to identify ways of bringing student debt in line with current veterinary earning power. As AVMA president, I would educate the public and legislators about ensuring competent medical care and accountability through licensing boards and practice acts that define the scope of veterinary practice and ultimately protect the public from deceptive, inappropriate, and unregulated veterinary activities.

I would also hope to assist animal shelters, rescue facilities, and humane societies to continue in their good work but without having a direct competitive advantage over private veterinary practices also serving the pet-owning population. And finally, I would make certain that the AVMA maintains its strong voice in the U.S. Congress with regard to regulatory activities affecting small businesses and veterinary medicine.

What do you see as the AVMA president’s role?
The president’s role is threefold. As a member of the Executive Board, the president should initiate and propose activities to forward the AVMA’s strategic vision and agenda. The AVMA president is the spokesperson for the veterinary profession. As such, the president should reflect and communicate the current thoughts, perspectives, and activities of the AVMA to the membership and other stakeholders. The president is also a facilitator who encourages constructive relationships and networking among the many entities with which the AVMA interacts.

Many of the AVMA’s agricultural allies were upset with the Executive Board’s recent support for H.R. 3798, which would establish national standards for treatment of egg-laying hens. In your opinion, did the board do the right thing?
Anyone in medicine knows that the hard choices are not between good options and bad options; oftentimes, you have to choose from among a number of bad options. We are often tasked in life, medicine, and this Association to determine the least offensive of the choices we face. From my perspective, that is the case for H.R. 3798. Every board member knew the gravity and complexity of this issue. There was, in my opinion, no totally good or right answer. I do believe the Executive Board chose the right course of action, one intended to have the least negative repercussions. The Executive Board was not trying to dodge a bullet by voting to support the bill, but rather, to express support for what we, the AVMA, believe will result in optimal care for the animals at issue. Now, whether optimal care should be regulated by the federal government is a question our colleagues in production agriculture are asking us, and they have every right to do so. Some of them feel like we have hung them out to dry, but all I can say is we have not. I am most interested in seeing where this bill goes and am determined to see that this does not make us vulnerable to further inroads of federally regulated production animal care regulations.

As AVMA president, how will you assure the diverse array of veterinary stakeholders that the Association cares about their interests?
The aforementioned issues bring this question into focus. For example, has the AVMA alienated the production agriculture veterinary population—a very important sector of our diversified membership? In the heat of this legislative foray, some of these members, I am sure, feel disenfranchised. I, however, urge them to look at the totality of AVMA’s initiatives and advocacy, and it is obvious that AVMA advocates for a great number of issues and is supportive of a diverse array of veterinary interests.

As for fostering a profession that reflects the diversity within society, I will certainly play a role as AVMA president in setting a positive cultural environment for both professional diversity and societal diversity. There are two reasons for increasing diversity within our profession. First, it is the right thing to do. And second, it’s good for veterinarians’ businesses and personal development. 

Are you satisfied with the current AVMA govern¬ance structure, especially with the way the House of Delegates is being used?
Governance always has to evolve; it always has and it always will. What is at issue here are the dramatic technological advances in communication that have taken place over a historically short period of time and how these innovations are impacting our means of connecting, interacting, meeting, working, and so on. These enhancements, along with the quality-of-life expectations among new and future generations, are changing how all organizations operate, and our governance has to adapt to meet these changes as well.

However, here is the challenge: We are, by all standards, a highly successful and effectual professional organization, garnering an impressive membership rate of 83 percent of veterinarians in this county. As we implement changes, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were. In other words, let us be careful not to change those things that have made us a successful professional association.              
The AVMA is involved in a lot of big-picture initiatives, but how does the Association help the individual member?
Of course, the AVMA is a national organization, so dealing on a big-picture basis is most appropriate. But the question is: How does this impact a mixed animal practition¬er in little Lebanon, Kentucky, or an associate in a multidoctor practice in burgeoning Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? Every initiative needs to be addressed and entered into with the same basic questions: Is this good for animals and the people who care for them? How is this good for our dues-paying members and the veterinary profession? I believe answering the first question correctly will invariably lead to the proper perspective for addressing the second. For our profession to prosper, it always has to be a win-win-win situation: a win for the animals, a win for the animal owner, and a win for the veterinary profession.

This brings us back to the question about governance and the House of Delegates. If elected, I will be one of a minority of Association officers who never served in the HOD. In my years of service on the Executive Board, this has at times been a disadvantage. On the other hand, however, I’ve harbored no preconceived notions about this body and have had the advantage of an uncluttered view of the HOD’s intended role and function. I say intended because the HOD at this time seems slow and cumbersome. The House serves as the voice of our membership, and I feel this is a vital role. Changes to its structure and function are needed to improve the responsiveness of this body, and I eagerly anticipate the findings of the Task Force on AVMA Governance and Member Participation.