For Cohn, relevance of AVMA and profession is front-and-center

Incoming president shares his concerns and hopes
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Dr. Ted CohnIncoming AVMA President Ted Cohn is worried.

Worried about the rising costs of veterinary education. Worried by low veterinary salaries and depressed demand for veterinary services. Worried the AVMA isn’t adequately meeting member needs. Worried about the lack of diversity within the AVMA leadership and profession. Worried whether veterinary services could be better promoted to the public. Worried too little is being done to support the one-health concept.

The companion animal practitioner from Lone Tree, Colorado, shared his litany of concerns at the Candidates’ Introductory Breakfast held July 25 in conjunction with the AVMA House of Delegates regular annual session in Denver. The 2014-2015 AVMA president referenced the Bob Dylan song “Things Have Changed” in which Dylan sings “I’m a worried man, got a worried mind.”

“On the cusp of assuming the presidency of this organization, that phrase pretty well sums up my own frame of mind,” Dr. Cohn admitted. “Let me tell you, I am worried. I am worried about any number of issues affecting our profession.”

Although the AVMA is working to address some of these issues, including by creating the Veterinary Economics Division and spearheading the Partners for Healthy Pets campaign, Dr. Cohn said forces outside the Association heavily impact the future of veterinary medicine.

“Our professional destinies are primarily determined, as they have always been, by the wishes and desires of the global society, which we serve,” he told delegates. “At best, (the AVMA) can only hope to exert a strong positive influence for what we believe is in the best interest of our members.”

Experimentation and “evolutionary changes” in veterinary education are necessary for the profession to meet society’s ever-changing demands, Dr. Cohn said. He called on veterinary organizations and colleges to have the “vision, courage, honesty, and determination” to recognize what is currently occurring within the veterinary profession.

“While we may not have comprehensive control over the shape of our future,” Dr. Cohn said, “we do have a shared responsibility to try to alter what we can, to aid our members and our profession.”

Dr. Cohn reminded delegates how the AVMA undertook an initiative several months ago to enhance the Association’s value to its members. Guided by member input, this Strategy Management Process is meant to better identify areas in which the AVMA can dedicate its resources and energies to bring members the services, products, and outcomes they want.

“If we really listen to our members and do this well—and it will definitely take courage, judgment, integrity, and dedication on the part of all of us in leadership—we will ultimately remodel the AVMA into an association of which we can all feel a proud ownership,” he said, calling the initiative one of the most important projects he’s seen in nearly two decades of AVMA involvement.

Diversity and inclusion are essential to the sustainability and continued success of the AVMA and the veterinary profession, Dr. Cohn, a Tuskegee University graduate, said. Diversity is not about quotas or lowering standards, he explained, but about providing opportunities.

“For AVMA, that means actively supporting programs such as the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative,” he said. “And it also means educating members of underrepresented groups about the many positive aspects of a veterinary medical career.

“Through achieving a profession-wide demographic more similar to that of society, we increase our trust and widen our appeal to many consumers who today either underutilize or just do not avail themselves of veterinary services. We must embrace diversity and inclusiveness not only because it is good for business but because it is right.”

I am positive that divided, there is little we will accomplish. United, there is little we cannot do.

Dr. Ted Cohn, AVMA president

Dr. Cohn noted that the Partners for Healthy Pets campaign is supported by a large and growing coalition advocating for pets to receive preventive health care through regular veterinary visits. Just as the dental profession switched from a “drill and fill” model to one of preventing oral disease through regular checkups, Dr. Cohn said veterinarians must focus on preventing disease in their animal patients.

He called on those in private practice and clinical education to join the Partnership, use the tools provided, and enthusiastically promote the concept of annual checkups for patients.

Dr. Cohn doesn’t believe promoting the veterinary profession should be limited to the delivery of pet care, however. While it is certainly beyond the scope of the Partnership, I firmly believe we need to broaden the scope of our marketing efforts to encompass the breadth of our profession, beyond just companion animals,” he said.

“We especially need to embrace production agriculture. I would love to see AVMA lead a campaign emphasizing an appreciation of the veterinarian’s role in the production of an abundant, wholesome, and above all, safe supply of animal protein,” Dr. Cohn explained.

One way veterinarians can demonstrate their relevance is by emphasizing the health link among animals, humans, and the environment, and the ways veterinarians promote the well-being of each, according to Dr. Cohn.

“By increasing our support of one health and working more closely with groups such as the One Health Initiative team and the One Health Commission, we can potentially provide new career paths for veterinarians,” he told AVMA delegates.

Dr. Cohn concluded his remarks by encouraging veterinarians to recognize change is upon them and to evolve. “While I don’t expect you to always agree with the AVMA, nor with me personally,” he said, “I do expect as professionals we can and will address our differences with civility and respect, and work together to assist this great profession.

“AVMA works for us all but will only be there for us if we are there for AVMA. I am positive that divided, there is little we will accomplish. United, there is little we cannot do.”