For President Cohn, trust is paramount

Sees lack of trust as threat at all levels of veterinary profession
Published on April 29, 2015
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Interview by R. Scott Nolen

More than halfway through his term as AVMA president, Dr. Ted Cohn spoke to JAVMA News about his time at the organization’s helm.

AVMA President Ted Cohn

Please share some of your experiences and what you have learned in the months since assuming the AVMA presidency.

The experiences have been great. I’ve traveled to several countries and attended numerous state and allied group meetings, where I’ve always been warmly received. It’s been a unique and wonderful experience and is something I’d enthusiastically recommend to anyone. What I’ve learned is not new but reinforces what I already knew: Veterinarians, wherever they are in the world, are great people and, by and large, really care about their profession. They want to make things better for succeeding generations. I have also discovered, however, that amongst the most serious threats to our profession and our AVMA members are veterinarians’ resistance to change, lack of openness, pessimism, and mistrust of each other.

What prompted your speech to the AVMA House of Delegates in January about the need to repair the lack of trust between delegates and the Board of Directors?

It came from many years of observing this profession. What I actually said was the lack of trust is one of the most significant problems, if not the most significant problem, facing our Association, not just the HOD and Board. It comes down to a lack of trust between individuals, lack of collegiality at the practice level, and I have a real concern about the apparent decrease in trust of the veterinary profession by the public.

What brought all of this home for me was a couple of years ago I read Stephen M.R. Covey’s book “The Speed of Trust.” I had a chance to meet and talk with Covey recently, and he really cemented in my mind that a lack of trust is the basis for so many of today’s societal problems, and I think, unfortunately, it follows through to our profession.

How were your comments received?

I received a fair amount of feedback; about 90 percent was positive, in that they agreed with my perspective and felt I was onto something relevant. While everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, I think those few individuals who were upset with my remarks felt that it was inappropriate for me to “air our dirty laundry.” That attitude directly relates back to my observations and concerns relating to some of our profession’s lack of openness and resistance to change.

Do you envision the debate over the AVMA Council on Education’s accreditation of veterinary colleges will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction?

One way or another, it will be resolved. If I had a crystal ball, I would say I think we’re going to work things out.

Probably not quickly and probably not everyone’s going to be happy, but the likelihood is that by having gone through this whole process, the accreditation process will be improved.

Over the last month or so, I had the opportunity to speak with representatives of the human dental, osteopathy, and pharmacy colleges about their accreditation experiences. What I learned is that nobody does accreditation perfectly and that no one is fully satisfied with the way the accreditation process works within their own profession. I will say that after that discussion, I think the COE has been doing a pretty darn good job. Can we do it better? Probably so. If we truly want to resolve this issue and make accreditation a better process, then we must be willing to listen to all sides, be willing to work together to make changes, and be willing to repeat this effort on a regular basis. We have to be more open and more transparent about the entire process.

The criticisms of the AVMA and COE have definitely been painful, because I really think everyone, in their heart, feels they’re doing what’s best for the profession and the Association. Ultimately, this is the right path—to open this up and become more transparent, to listen, and take to heart what our critics are saying. We should never be afraid of what people with whom we may disagree have to say. In fact, we should embrace them for what they can teach us. An adage I like says that you can learn a whole lot more from those people who disagree with you than you can from people who agree with you. This is just one more example of how diversity can enable us to make smarter decisions.

How will the AVMA Strategy Management Process benefit members and enhance Association operations?

The SMP is potentially one of the most exciting and significant things AVMA has ever undertaken. This process has the potential to remake AVMA. If we do this well, we will ultimately see increased value of AVMA to our members and, subsequently, an increase in overall member satisfaction.

However, I encourage our members to be patient; with a program as deep and multifaceted as the SMP, it is going to take some time to implement fully; it’s not going to happen overnight. With such a professionally diverse membership, we need to involve more people and to find more and better ways to continue listening to our members. Our job as board members will then be to implement those programs, services, and products our members tell us they most desire. As the collective voice of the entire veterinary profession, the AVMA already does a tremendous job in advocacy, the No. 1 service our members expect from AVMA. I am sure this process will help us do an even better job.

Over the many years I have been associated with AVMA, one of the main problems has always been how do we best communicate to our members exactly what we’re doing for them. As part of the SMP, we’re taking a wide-ranging look at all of our communications. I’m excited and confident we will revamp our efforts to better reach the people we need to reach at the right time with the right message.