Dr. Debbye L. Turner Bell has been startled by some people’s perceptions of veterinarians.
While she has met many who had positive perceptions of veterinarians’ kindness, intelligence, and caring spirit, she also recalls being asked why she didn’t want to be a “real doctor” and having to explain the effort required to become a veterinarian. She also described “maddening” complaints about service costs, even though equivalent procedures in human medicine are far more expensive.
She said veterinarians need to stop being modest, self-effacing, and invisible. Perceptions will dictate their future success.
“It is critical that we portray an image of responsibility, an image of capability, and an image of expertise,” she said. “The public balks at charges because they associate the cost with the perceived value of the animal instead of the value of you—your education, your experience, and your expertise.”
Dr. Turner Bell was crowned Miss America in 1990 and has worked as a broadcast journalist for CBS News and as a contributor on Animal Planet’s “Dogs 101” program. She was the first of three speakers in a series of AVMA Annual Convention sessions on leadership development.
Dr. Bell noted that, because she was a pageant winner, some people also had perceptions of her as a “dumb blonde” dedicated to world peace.
The leadership sessions were organized by the inaugural class of the AVMA Future Leaders Program, which gives participants one year of mentoring on leadership and problem solving connected with organized veterinary medicine. Participants are veterinarians who have graduated within the past 15 years.
Dr. Turner Bell indicated that veterinarians should become part of their communities’ news through efforts such as contacting reporters to serve as sources of information and participating in community events.
She urged those in attendance to portray an image of responsibility, capability, and expertise, which will encourage the public to consider the cost of veterinary care as it relates to veterinarians’ education and experience rather than the pet’s perceived monetary value.
Leadership among colleagues
Dr. Andrew Roark, another speaker in the series, said he sees folly in the traditional image of a leader who pushes and motivates others through top-down leadership, and trying to fit that image burns out many veterinarians. He thinks practice owners who want leadership among associates actually want enthusiastic collaborators and partners.
Dr. Roark is a companion animal veterinarian, columnist for DVM Newsmagazine, and consultant.
Dr. René A. Carlson, then-AVMA president, advised attendees to grow into their leadership roles with experience and confidence, reminding them they will need to deal with emergencies while planning for the future.
“You’ll never be prepared to be a good leader,” Dr. Carlson said. “You’ve got to keep preparing.”
Those who want to become leaders need to learn to trust others and themselves, Dr. Carlson said. Involvement in veterinary organizations’ governance helps influence others toward a common goal, inspire others, and provide a role model.
Next class announced
The AVMA also announced during the convention that the following veterinarians would be members of the second class in the Future Leaders program: Dr. Jenifer A. Chatfield, a zoo animal veterinarian from Florida; Dr. Jennafer Glaesemann, a mixed animal practitioner from Nebraska; Dr. Karen B. Grogan, an academician and consultant from Georgia; Dr. William A. Hill, a laboratory animal practitioner and academician from Tennessee; Dr. Blair J. Hollowell, a companion animal practitioner from Virginia; Dr. Jason W. Johnson, a professor and academician from New Jersey; Dr. Virginia R. Kiefer, a companion animal practitioner from North Carolina; Dr. Douglas D. Kratt, a companion animal practitioner from Wisconsin; Dr. Rebecca Stinson-Dixon, an equine practitioner from North Carolina; and Dr. Kelvin G. Urday, a mixed animal practitioner from Missouri.
Dr. Glaesemann said after the announcement that veterinarians have obligations to be leaders and animal advocates because of the respect they have in communities and their ability to influence public opinion on topics such as animal health and welfare, food safety, animal agriculture, and the human-animal bond.