Students plugged in at symposium

SAVMA gathering mixes learning, entertainment
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Engaging speakers and interactive wet labs challenged veterinary students mentally, while hiking, dodge ball, and other activities tested them physically during the 45th annual Student AVMA Educational Symposium, March 20-22 at Colorado State University.

And in the midst of all the activity, the SAVMA House of Delegates and Executive Board met, making decisions and electing new officers.

Having their say

The SAVMA HOD’s Task Force on International Membership was charged with looking at ways that foreign students can have a voice and contribute to the work undertaken by SAVMA. Currently, to form a student chapter of the AVMA and have a delegate in the SAVMA HOD, a veterinary college must be accredited by the AVMA Council on Education and have 60 percent of students willing to be chapter members. For a chapter to have voting rights in SAVMA, 80 percent of the veterinary college’s students must be members. Foreign veterinary colleges have had difficulties reaching these thresholds when only 20 to 30 percent of their students are from the U.S.

Ricci Karkula, SAVMA president, said, “We explored options in a lot of ways on how to better include international members, but aside from creating an entire international organization, it’s hard to stray from what we already have in place.”

The Student AVMA House of Delegates changed the veterinary economics ad hoc officer position into a permanent position by amending the SAVMA Bylaws to add the officer as a voting member of the SAVMA Executive Board, among other actions. (Courtesy of Matthew Sellers)

So, the SAVMA HOD chose to maintain its requirements, but Karkula added that the SAVMA HOD will better advocate for, and communicate with, international students, who can still join SAVMA as associate members. This cohort may also reach out to the International Veterinary Exchange Committee or the international exchange officer.

Another entity, the Task Force on SAVMA Membership Benefits, was directed to evaluate what SAVMA currently provides for its members and whether anything needs to change. The task force received more than 1,300 responses to an online survey about membership benefits, and, so as to give consideration to all, the entity asked for an extension to the next SAVMA HOD meeting this July in Denver to give its final report.

In addition, the SAVMA HOD discussed the ALL for Students program—by which the AVMA, AVMA PLIT, and SAVMA are providing support for student chapters of the AVMA—and shared ideas as to how to use this year’s $7,000 in funding per chapter.

SAVMA logoIn other student government happenings, a town hall session on March 20 brought AVMA Executive Board members together with students to answer questions. Attendees raised the issue of accreditation of foreign colleges by the AVMA COE, asking whether the AVMA would be taking up the issue again in the near future.

“That’s always a concern for students, especially those who attend foreign schools,” Karkula said.

Others asked about board members’ careers, student debt, and whether to pursue an internship or go into general practice after veterinary college.

A handful of speakers addressed the SAVMA HOD, including Drs. Stacy Pritt and Karen Bradley from the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, and Dr. Andrew Maccabe, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Speakers and scholarships

During the educational portion of the symposium, other speakers encouraged students to pursue alternative careers in veterinary medicine. Dr. Whitney Miller talked about her experience as an assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. And Dr. Tim Kuhnmuench of Advanced Animal Care of Colorado discussed private versus corporate practice.

Faculty from CSU were on hand as part of the educational lectures. Temple Grandin, PhD, a professor of animal science, gave a talk on animal behavior; Dr. Patrick McCue, director of the Colorado State Equine Reproduction Laboratory, spoke about equine uterine infections; and Dr. Mark D. Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discussed the use of positive reinforcement training in zoological medicine.

The learning didn’t stop at lunchtime. On March 22, students had a chance to participate in a SAVMA public health workshop where they could network, brainstorm, and share best practices in one-health events and planning. Each student chapter of the AVMA is eligible for up to $700 in start-up funding each year for one-health events from the AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust.

Dr. Cezar
Dr. Rachel Cezar, Horse Protection Program coordinator with the Animal Care program of the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, talked about her work with the Horse Protection Act and how veterinarians can be involved in public health and other practice-alternative career options. (Courtesy of Matthew Sellers)

A representative from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation was at the symposium, too, to announce the recipients of its annual scholarships.

The Zoetis/AVMF Student Scholarship Program awarded 452 scholarships this year to second- and third-year veterinary students. In addition, 20 veterinary students received the new Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship, in partnership with the AVMF. Half of the 20 scholarships were awarded to students focusing on companion animal or equine medicine, while the other half were awarded to students working toward a career in food animal medicine.

To see the full list of recipients for either scholarship program, visit

Turning up, tuning in

Of course, the symposium wouldn’t be complete without competitions. Participants went head-to-head in dodge ball, rock climbing, bovine palpation, tug of war, veterinary and animal trivia, a radiology bee, an equine and bovine tooth aging contest, and volleyball.

This year’s gathering introduced the SAVMA Symposium Competition Grand Prize. Points were awarded for placing in all the competitions. The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine received the most points, earning its students the first trophy and prize package.

In addition to all these activities, students could also choose from a handful of day trips and tours, including to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, just northeast of Denver. This nonprofit, licensed zoological facility is home to over 350 large exotic animals and endangered species that were abandoned, abused, or illegally kept.

Students could choose from a handful of day trips and tours, including the Terry Bison Ranch near Cheyenne, Wyo. In all, the symposium saw 1,422 attendees; of those, roughly 1,265 were veterinary students. (Courtesy of The Vet Gazette)

Another day trip allowed students a chance to spend a morning getting hands-on community practice experience at the PetAid Animal Hospital. Established in 1990, the hospital provides veterinary care for pets of vulnerable populations. SAVMA students provided physical examinations and administered vaccinations under the supervision of veterinarians from local Banfield hospitals.

Building an inclusive profession

On the last day of the symposium, a diversity forum was held, aimed at building and supporting a culturally rich and diverse veterinary profession. The Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association, the official student organization of the Lesbian and Gay VMA, and Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity were among the groups that met.

Pauline Park delivered the forum’s keynote speech, “Transgender Inclusion: Transforming the Academy, Transforming Society.” She is chair and co-founder of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, an organization formed to address the needs of the transgender community.

Dr. Beth Sabin, associate director of international and diversity initiatives for the AVMA, gave an overview of the AVMA’s related initiatives.

Also, a panel discussion took place with veterinarians from other countries talking about how their cultural and ethnic diversity influences the way they practice veterinary medicine in the U.S.

Incoming and outgoing officers

Outgoing 2013-2014 SAVMA officers are Elise Ackley, Louisiana State University, president; Caitlin Pohlit, The Ohio State University, secretary; Al Claiborne, University of Tennessee, treasurer; Chase Crawford, Texas A&M University, information technology officer; Steen Smith, Oregon State University, international exchange officer; Scott Dudis, Cornell University, global and public health officer; Kyle Donnelly, University of Florida, editor of The Vet Gazette; and Nate Voss, veterinary economics ad hoc officer.

Incoming 2014-2015 SAVMA officers are Ricci Karkula, Texas A&M University, president; Hannah Leventhal, Kansas State University, secretary; Christopher B. Thomson, University of Minnesota, treasurer; Samuel A. Smith, University of Tennessee, international exchange officer; Matthew S. Sellers, Oklahoma State University, information technology officer; Amanda L. DiMascio, University of Georgia, editor of The Vet Gazette; Ashley Rhea Brendenberg, St. George’s University, global and public health officer; Rebecca Eddy, Cornell University, veterinary economics officer; Jessica L. Carie, Colorado State University, president-elect; Mikaela D.O. Vetters, Kansas State University, international exchange officer–elect; Maria G. Romano, Virginia Tech, global and public health officer–elect; and Elizabeth C. Johnson, University of Tennessee, veterinary economics officer–elect.

Planning is already under way for next year as veterinary students at the University of Minnesota gear up for the 2015 SAVMA Symposium, March 19-21.

For more information about the 2014 Student AVMA Educational Symposium, visit or

Related JAVMA content:

SAVMA strengthening international relationships (Sept. 15, 2013)

SAVMA supports competencies study (May 15, 2013)