Measuring expectations, needs

AVMA finds support, criticism in survey
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Infographic: Would you recommend membership?

About two-thirds of AVMA members in a recent survey indicated that they were satisfied overall with the Association, comparing favorably with the 10 percent who were dissatisfied and the 22 percent who gave neutral answers.

In addition, when presented with a list of statements reflecting the AVMA’s goals, a majority of respondents expressed agreement with each statement. On the other hand, nearly a quarter expressed dislike of some aspect of the AVMA’s views or decision-making process, and many members responded that they don’t think they have an effect on the organization’s decisions.

The AVMA Member Needs Assessment Survey, which is conducted every five years, received responses from about 2,600 veterinarians and 300 fourth-year veterinary students. The AVMA completed its analysis of the results in November 2011 and provided a summary of those findings this summer.

Dr. René A. Carlson, whose term as AVMA president ended Aug. 7, said that the AVMA has made tremendous changes within the past five years, but she thinks many members are not yet sensing those changes.

Infographic: Percentage of surveyed, practice types

“I really believe AVMA is a different organization than it has been in the past,” Dr. Carlson said. “It has become a more progressive, active, more engaged association with its membership.”

Dr. Ted Cohn, AVMA Executive Board chair, said the survey results, unsurprisingly for him, reflect that younger veterinarians are more carefully examining the value of AVMA membership than did those of previous generations.

They really want to know, ‘What am I getting for my $300 worth of dues? How does this affect me on a daily basis? What is AVMA doing that is really important to me as a veterinarian?’

Dr. Ted Cohn, AVMA Executive Board chair

“I also think that the things that we’re seeing there, such as a decrease overall in satisfaction, probably are related to the downturn not only of the economy but also in practice profitability and revenues,” Dr. Cohn said.

Dr. Cohn noted that fewer employers are paying for their associates’ AVMA membership dues, and younger members in particular are looking carefully at the value.

“They really want to know, ‘What am I getting for my $300 worth of dues? How does this affect me on a daily basis? What is AVMA doing that is really important to me as a veterinarian?’” he said.

Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, AVMA president, said the survey results giving members’ perspectives would indicate that the AVMA has identified the right priorities, and the Association needs to develop effective strategies and tactics to advance its goals. He also said the AVMA must periodically prune its list of programs to ensure efforts align with the strategic plan.

“We can’t take on new responsibilities indefinitely if we don’t retire some old ones,” he said.

Infographic: Respondents argree AVMA should:

Matching goals, needs

The AVMA will use the results to help determine the direction of programs and make sure members know about them and how to find them.

Dr. Kevin Dajka, director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, said the survey results show what members want from their Association and need for their careers as well as how well they know AVMA services. For example, the Veterinary Career Center provides job postings and is the type of service highly valued among members, but few know about it, he said.

The AVMA affinity program that offers discounts from National Car Rental is little-known and little-valued by members, while AVMA-affiliated insurance programs are well-known and highly valued.

The survey included 23 statements and questions based on AVMA goals, and data provided by the Communications Division indicate 20 of those received support from at least 80 percent of respondents.

About 98 percent agreed the AVMA should take policy positions, and 97 percent agreed the AVMA should advocate to the public, legislators, regulators, and news media to ensure support for the veterinary profession and influence public policy. They expressed similar support for AVMA efforts to give members information on issues and trends affecting veterinary medicine; secure a vital future for all facets of the veterinary profession; advance a national agenda focused on the health, welfare, and importance of animals; and advance research and discovery to advance veterinary knowledge.

About 78 percent of respondents said the AVMA should advocate for improved salaries for veterinarians, and 72 percent said the AVMA should help veterinarians minimize and manage educational debt.

A summary document from the Communications Division states that respondents rated the AVMA’s achievement of its goals “moderately well.” They most wanted improvements in the areas of advocacy, animal welfare, education standards, and unification of the profession.

Adjusting services

In July 2011, the AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, and other veterinary and industry organizations announced they were forming the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, which is intended to explain to consumers the benefits of preventive care and reverse the decline in frequency of veterinary visits for cats and dogs. Dr. Carlson said Member Needs Assessment Survey respondents desperately want more public outreach and marketing of veterinary medicine, and she thinks this program could help.

Yet, she expressed frustration that many veterinarians she had spoken with were unfamiliar with the program.

Dr. Carlson also was puzzled that the AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network was rated as having high value and poor performance. She thinks that may be attributable to poor awareness of the AVMA’s successes and suggests that awareness could be increased through greater member involvement.

The AVMA also has improved its relationship with educators and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, Dr. Carlson said, and has taken what she sees as laudable positions on horse soring and housing for egg-laying hens.

The survey results also predate a late-2011 staff report that detailed the AVMA’s international work and expenses, including those connected with World Veterinary Year activities in 2011, AVMA Council on Education site visits, international animal welfare policy development, trade standards development, and expansion of the influence of AVMA and the veterinary profession.

About 10 percent of respondents said there was a lack of support by AVMA for their area of veterinary medicine, which Dr. Aspros said was unavoidable. He said the AVMA tries to address concerns of the whole veterinary profession, and, at times, some segments will feel underserved.

Evaluating benefits

Most survey respondents gave “excellent” or “very good” ratings to the AVMA PLIT, JAVMA, economic research, client education, and newsletters and alerts.

Dr. Carlson and Dr. Cohn expected the Aug. 1 launch of a revamped website at would improve the AVMA’s communication with and among members. Dr. Cohn said the AVMA needs to continue improving communications.

The summary report indicates nearly a quarter of respondents expressed dislike for some aspect of AVMA culture, and Dr. Carlson said some specified that they think the Association takes too long to make decisions, has old-fashioned views, or has leaders who are out of touch.

I really believe AVMA is a different organization than it has been in the past. It has become a more progressive, active, more engaged association with its membership.

Dr. René A. Carlson, AVMA immediate past president

“To me, this seems to be a stereotype of AVMA or perception of AVMA that is lingering from years past,” she said.

Only half of survey respondents think the Association’s governance structure gives them a voice, which Dr. Carlson said is an unacceptable number. But she expects the governance structure will change in the coming years after a task force concludes its study of the Association’s governance, and she noted that other changes already have increased members’ involvement.

For example, she said the AVMA asks members increasingly often for input on strategy and for comments on proposed animal welfare policies.

The AVMA needs to continue mining the data from the survey and to conduct follow-up studies, Dr. Cohn said, as well as meet the challenges of giving members the services they want and improving communications with them. Some of the survey results, for example, indicated that members want more information on industry trends, innovations in veterinary medicine, and regulatory changes.

Choosing membership

Dr. Carlson said survey responses indicate membership among young, cash-strapped veterinarians cannot be taken for granted, and the AVMA needs to show its value. The AVMA must also decide whether to please everybody less well or set priorities for whom to serve really well, she said.

“We’re still kind of in the old mode of trying to please everybody, and we have such a diverse membership, from the older veterinarians in one kind of practice model and the new veterinarians being young women, urban, with different needs than the older, more male counterparts,” Dr. Carlson said.

Infographic: Percentages of surveyed, member satisfaction and segments
Source: AVMA Communications Division

The survey summary indicates 85 percent of respondents rated their dues value to be “fair” or better.

Dr. Dajka said he was surprised and excited that 89 percent of respondents see membership as important because it supports their profession. He said the AVMA is a premier association because of a sense of pride in the veterinary profession, and 86 percent of those surveyed indicated they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their careers.

“There are some very good things that we hear about the Association from our members,” he said. But he said the AVMA must also appreciate the changing needs of the profession.

Dr. Aspros wasn’t surprised so many respondents indicated support of the profession was a strong motivation for belonging to the AVMA. For him and most others who practice veterinary medicine in small organizations, membership is part of their connection with the larger profession.

Dr. Cohn said the AVMA’s leadership has a new, more energetic, and more engaged attitude, and he encouraged members to watch for changes within the AVMA because of current projects such as economic initiatives and the governance task force. He expects that AVMA leaders will ask more questions from members, and he hopes member responses will lead to better-informed decisions that will meet their needs and desires.