AVMA had an active 2014, more in store for 2015

Leadership conference highlights Association activities
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Updated Feb. 19, 2015

Work that the AVMA began in 2014 on advocacy, branding and marketing, and shaping the future direction of the Association looks to continue in 2015. Staff and volunteer leaders gave updates on progress made so far during the AVMA House of Delegates plenary session at the 2015 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, which was held Jan. 8-11 in Chicago.

All politics is local

Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, updated members about the Association’s advocacy work during the two years of the 113th Congress, which ended in January. Passage of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act was one of the AVMA’s signature achievements in the last session, Dr. Lutschaunig said.

Enacted in August 2014, the law amended the Controlled Substances Act to permit veterinarians to transport controlled substances across state lines and administer them to patients outside locations where they are registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We couldn’t have done it without the help of not only AVMA members but the general public as well,” he said. “We had over 25,000 people who wrote to their members of Congress about the need to pass this bill.”

We spend a lot of time talking about governance and reorganization. It’s tough to do that without knowing what the body (the House) believes its roles and responsibilities are. We have to evaluate our processes to identify those that are common to all of us so we can build a better organization based on those findings.

Dr. Michael Topper, chair, House Advisory Committee

Additionally, two key AVMA-backed initiatives received “excellent appropriations” in the last session. Congress allotted $5 million for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program and $1.25 million for the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, according to Dr. Lutschaunig (see story).

Despite more than 300 supporters in the House of Representatives and nearly 60 in the Senate, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act did not become law. The legislation would ban the practice of soring walking horses to induce them to lift their legs higher and faster in the show ring.

“It’s very unfortunate with that level of support that it came down to a few members of Congress who were able to block that bill from becoming law,” Dr. Lutschaunig observed, saying he expects the bill will be reintroduced in the current Congress.

The GRD will continue to advocate for passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require states to collect sales tax on online purchases made anywhere in the country, as well as the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. That bill would eliminate the 39 percent tax the Department of Agriculture pays on VMLRP awards, allowing more veterinarians to participate in the program.

Dr. Lutschaunig said the bill for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this session will be an opportunity to pass a measure providing relief on student loan interest rates.

Reach out and touch someone

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, said that while the AVMA spent about $4 million in 2014 to support the Partners for Healthy Pets campaign, the Association could not continue spending so much, even with help from corporate partners. The campaign, backed by about 120 organizations that included veterinary medical associations and veterinary colleges, is an effort to increase preventive care among dogs and cats. About 6,000 veterinary practices have enrolled in the campaign.

The 2014 efforts included print and broadcast advertisements, the latter appearing about 2,200 times without charge as public service announcements from December 2013 through November 2014, Dr. DeHaven said. In 2015, the campaign will focus efforts on messages through social media.

The Partners program also is conducting a pilot program through which clients of 250 practices will receive personalized messages if they have not brought in pets within the past 14 months, said Dr. DeHaven, who also chairs the PHP. And the campaign is partnering with leaders in veterinary technician and practice manager associations to help involve whole practice teams in the campaign.

A progress report on the rebranding of the AVMA insurance trusts was also presented. The AVMA PLIT unveiled its new image and member resources as part of an overarching strategic process to recast the AVMA as a more relevant organization for its more than 86,500 members).

The AVMA, along with the PLIT and the AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust, began in 2014 working with the company 88 Brand Partners on creating a new identity for each entity that resonates with AVMA members.

“It’s critically important that you understand that a brand is much more than a logo,” Dr. DeHaven explained at the session. “It’s about communicating our story to our members in an effective way that they understand, and that’s relevant to them. It’s about developing strong, targeted messages that will better position the AVMA in the eyes of our members. It’s about a visual identity that’s modern and reflects a vibrant and relevant organization.

“And finally, it’s about developing communications channels to best deliver our messages to the right members at the right time in the right way.”

Additional information about PLIT resources is available at a new microsite as well as the main site. The AVMA will introduce its new brand at the AVMA Annual Convention in July in Boston. And the AVMA GHLIT will introduce its new brand later this year.

New leadership for AVMF

For the fourth year in a row, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation has received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of charities, said Dr. John R. Brooks, chair of the AVMF board of directors, during the plenary session.

The AVMF is evaluated in the Animal Rights, Welfare, and Services category along with 290 other charities, which include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and Morris Animal Foundation.

Dr. Brooks
Dr. John R. Brooks, chair of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation board of directors, talks about the launch of the Veterinary Care Charitable Fund website. The fund is set up to help AVMA members assist clients in need. (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

Dr. Brooks also announced that the AVMF has an interim executive director, Dr. Cheryl Eia. She joined the AVMF staff in mid-December 2014 while continuing in her role as an assistant director in the AVMA Scientific Activities Division. She takes over for Michael Cathey, who left his post in late November. The search for a permanent director is underway, Dr. Brooks said.

In the meantime, the AVMF is accepting applications until mid-March for some of its veterinary student scholarship programs and will announce winners of other scholarships at the 2015 Student AVMA Educational Symposium, March 19-21 at the University of Minnesota.

The AVMF has also launched its Veterinary Care Charitable Fund website. The fund, announced this past summer, is set up to help AVMA members assist clients in need. Specifically, with the fund, the AVMF aims to serve as an umbrella charitable organization to accept donations and make payments directly to veterinarians for care they provide to pets of their clients who do not have the means or ability to afford certain treatments. The AVMF will not charge an annual fee for the service but does ask that practices allow a small portion of donated funds to go to other animal care initiatives rather than their practice.

Leadership strategies

Dr. Barbara A. Schmidt, AVMA treasurer, showed the delegates projections from the end of November 2014 that indicate the AVMA brought in about $2 million more than it spent in fiscal year 2014 ending Dec. 31, with about $35 million in income and $33 million in expenses. The Association had budgeted for a $1 million deficit that was all but wiped out by lower-than-budgeted expenses, and the AVMA received about $2 million in investment gains that were not included in the budget.

The $34 million 2015 budget, approved by the Board of Directors in January, projects about $100,000 higher revenue than expenses for the year. Investments again are not considered in this budget. The AVMA also had about $34 million in reserves as of October 2014, according to information given to Board members. A greater portion of reserves look to be allocated to new strategic initiatives as the Association implements its new strategic plan.

Dr. Thomas F. Meyer, 2013-2014 chair of the AVMA Board of Directors, spoke about his current campaign for the AVMA presidency. A mixed animal practitioner and practice owner in Vancouver, Washington, Dr. Meyer declared his candidacy for 2015-2016 AVMA president-elect this past summer. Currently the lone candidate for the office, Dr. Meyer believes the AVMA must chart a course that continues to provide value and relevance to Association members and the profession.

AVMA President Ted Cohn called on leaders to improve Association-wide communications. He suggested simplifying and enhancing the AVMA website to facilitate easier communication between AVMA leaders and members (see story).

Pressing questions

During the open discussion portion of the HOD regular winter session on Jan. 10, delegates spent time discussing potential reforms to House governance and the concerns surrounding the AVMA Council on Education’s role accrediting veterinary colleges.

Delegates were told they’d receive an online survey in February from an HOD subcommittee on governance regarding the roles and duties of delegates and the House.

“We spend a lot of time talking about governance and reorganization,” said Dr. Michael Topper, chair of the House Advisory Committee. “It’s tough to do that without knowing what the body believes its roles and responsibilities are. We have to evaluate our processes to identify those that are common to all of us so we can build a better organization based on those findings.”

Dr. Sullivan
Dr. Richard Sullivan, California delegate, asks AVMA leaders how they plan on demonstrating to members that the veterinary education accreditation process is above reproach, following allegations the AVMA Board of Directors influences Council on Education decisions. "How are we going to convince members this is a transparent process? ... I want to hear how the AVMA is going to do that," Dr. Sullivan said.

A second subcommittee reported finding little support among delegates for instituting term limits on House members. The consensus was the issue should be decided by the state and allied organization members of the HOD. Dr. Topper said the HAC would not offer any resolutions or bylaws amendments concerning term limits at the HOD regular annual session this summer.

Several delegates rose to express concerns—from a perceived lack of transparency in the veterinary education accreditation process by some critics to allegations the Board inappropriately influences the COE, which is required to act as an independent accrediting body. During a recognition renewal hearing before the National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity of the U.S. Department of Education this past December, COE members and AVMA staff were questioned about the more than 800 mostly negative form letters the recognition committee received regarding the council. At the hearing, 12 veterinarians spoke in favor of and seven against continued recognition of the council. (More detail about the hearing and controversy will appear in the March 15 edition of JAVMA News.)

Delegates also took a number of actions during their session. Recommendations before the HOD included a revised AVMA mission statement as well as policies on antimicrobial use and a revised policy on veterinary participation in spay-neuter clinics.

High risk, high reward

Dr. Lance S. Fox gave the keynote speech during the conference opening session. He previously spoke at the 2014 AVMA Annual Convention.

A 1995 veterinary graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Fox is the second veterinarian known to have scaled Mount Everest, which he did on May 15, 2009. The first practitioner was Dr. Ed Viesturs, a 1987 veterinary graduate of Washington State University. Dr. Viesturs is the only American to have climbed all 14 of the world’s mountain peaks that are more than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) high and has summited Mount Everest seven times.

Dr. Fox said his talk could be summed up by something a Wisconsin elementary student once said to him: “If you don’t have a dream, then you don’t have a goal.”

Dr. Fox’s dream came to him in 1997 while he and his wife, Katherine, were working in a nine-doctor practice in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and their son was born six weeks early. Dr. Fox spent many hours next to his son and found himself reading “Everest: Mountain Without Mercy” by Broughton Coburn. He decided then and there that he wanted to climb Everest. It took 12 years, and he didn’t start climbing until 2006.

Dr. Fox
Dr. Lance S. Fox gives the keynote speech during the opening session of the Veterinary Leadership Conference. Dr. Fox is the second veterinarian known to have scaled Mount Everest, which he did on May 15, 2009.

“When you have that spark moment, hold onto it. There is life beyond veterinary medicine. Hold on to your dreams. You can achieve anything. You don’t have to be a superhero to accomplish extraordinary things,” Dr. Fox said.

Dr. Fox has since been featured in season three of the Discovery Channel show “Everest: Beyond the Limit” as he was filmed ascending the 29,035-foot high mountain. He also wrote a book, “No Place But Up!” and started a nonprofit, Healthy Yak. He created it to promote the health and welfare of animals, primarily yaks and horses, within the Khumbu Valley of Nepal.

Also during the opening session, Dr. Bess Pierce was named the recipient of the 2015 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.

Throughout the conference, 87 future and emerging leaders had a chance to hone their leadership skills, learn about team building, network with colleagues, and discover how the AVMA works with and for members. Ten individuals who are emerging leaders or from groups underrepresented in veterinary leadership each received $1,000 scholarships to attend the conference, funded by the AVMA and Zoetis.

In all, 525 veterinary professionals, emerging leaders, association leaders, and others attended.

Three chosen for councils, committee

The AVMA House of Delegates elected two council members in January 2015, while the AVMA Board of Directors appointed one committee member.

Council on Veterinary Service
Representing private mixed practice—Dr. N. Isaac Bott, Elk Ridge, Utah
Judicial Council
At-large representative—Dr. Adam Langer, Atlanta
Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee
At-large representative—Dr. Cori Gross, Bellevue, Washington

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA PLIT transforms brand, expands outreach (Jan. 15, 2015)

Veterinarian on top of the world after achieving life goal (Aug. 15, 2009)

AVMF adds to its charitable programs (Oct. 1, 2014)

Congressional session in review (Feb. 15, 2015)

Is the message getting through? (Sept. 15, 2014)

Meyer looks to navigate the future in new role (Sept. 1, 2014)

AVMA governance reform team resigns (Sept. 15, 2014)

Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect date for when an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act was enacted.