A practitioner, through and through

AVMA President Fobian reflects on his time in office
Published on April 30, 2014
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His tenure as AVMA president nearly complete, Dr. Clark K. Fobian spoke with JAVMA News about how serving as the Association’s top officer has shaped his view of the AVMA and the veterinary profession. Dr. Fobian also explains why he now embraces efforts to reform the AVMA’s governance structure after he initially saw little need for change.

What’s the value in the AVMA president attending meetings in the U.S. and overseas related to veterinary medicine—for the president and the other attendees?

Dr. Clark K. Fobian
Photo by R. Scott Nolen

Much of what I know about veterinary medicine and leadership relates to my experiences in practice. I was a practitioner in a small community for over 20 years before becoming involved with the AVMA. I look at many issues from that perspective. The basic principles of owning and operating a successful practice may often apply to many of the complexities facing our profession. One of the most important insights I have acquired is this: Nothing has greater impact than the personal touch. It is always about relationships.

Over the last several months of service as AVMA president, and even further back through my year as president-elect, I have attended a wide array of meetings, both here and abroad, that are part of this wonderful mosaic that comprises veterinary medicine. These interactions have ranged from swine veterinarians in Texas to public health veterinarians in China and a multitude of other organizations representing the diversity of interests within the veterinary profession. I believe that the AVMA cannot build new relationships or foster existing ones with these veterinary groups without having personal, one-on-one interaction. These relationships are essential because they enhance the ability of two different organizations to understand and appreciate each other, facilitating a productive working relationship.

Has your role as AVMA president provided new insights about the Association and the veterinary profession?

The vast diversity of career fields veterinarians are working in continues to surprise and impress me. I have met veterinarians working in the military and for state and federal regulatory agencies, in academia and private industry—I could go on and on. We are a small profession, but our work impacts the majority of the population. While our occupational diversity is one of our greatest strengths, we must remember that all of us are part of one profession. It is essential that AVMA remain in a position to look after the overarching interests of all veterinarians. To do this, the AVMA president and the Association’s other volunteer leaders need to remain connected to entities that contribute to making veterinary medicine a significant profession. Equally important is remaining connected to our membership. Like I said, relationships are everything. I have no doubt that veterinarians greatly benefit from membership and personal involvement in organized veterinary medicine. As AVMA president, this is the message I share everywhere the office takes me.

What is your assessment of the current initiative to reform AVMA’s governance system?

I’m from the Midwest where you won’t find a group of people more cautious about change. We embrace change when we can anticipate a beneficial outcome. Initially, I was slow to embark upon a campaign for or advocating AVMA governance change. But reflection upon my membership with the Association over the last 30 years has led me to the conclusion that change is needed.

Members want two things, no matter the organization: a vote and a voice. The House of Delegates is considered to be the representational governance body of the AVMA. Right now, our bylaws only provide for AVMA members to vote on their representative to the Executive Board. It seems most appropriate to me that delegates should also be elected by members within their state or allied association. Reasonable term limits which allow ample opportunity for involvement also make sense as a means of opening up leadership positions to current and aspiring volunteers.

Veterinarians are an intelligent group of people. The fact that over 80 percent of them see value in AVMA membership is highly significant. The challenge is enhancing, maintaining, and communicating the value of AVMA membership to an ever-changing profession. Younger veterinarians, predominately female, are entering the profession and are used to interacting through different processes and channels than older, established members. Members have to feel they can share in the responsibility of maintaining a dynamic organization that is responsive to their needs. This requires informed and engaged members willing to volunteer and make a difference.

On the basis of discussions during the January House of Delegates session, it seems delegates are more comfortable with reforming at least some parts of AVMA governance. Is that your sense also?

It is my feeling that those of us in leadership positions did not do a good job of initiating dialogue about governance considerations. In hindsight, it appears that a lot of activity was accomplished peripherally to any direct input from the House of Delegates, so that when the initial presentation was made to the House, many members felt as if they had been bypassed and were being fed a bill of goods. Since that initial misstep and maybe because of it, the HOD has indeed become very involved with ongoing and extensive dialogue on how to better govern the AVMA. Therefore, at this time, it is my sense that many delegates are comfortable with initiating some limited, straightforward governance reformations. From my perspective, not all aspects of our current governance structure need to be addressed simultaneously. Specific, incremental changes can be very effective with no negative impact on pre-existing functions within other areas. I am very comfortable making small but impacting reforms—one piece at a time, measuring the results, and, only then, considering other ideas.