The next step

Meyer anticipates his new role in AVMA leadership
Published on June 17, 2015
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Dr. Meyer
Dr. Tom Meyer

When the AVMA House of Delegates convenes in Boston this July, one of its many agenda items will be choosing the 2015-2016 AVMA president-elect. The sole candidate for the office is Dr. Tom Meyer, a former member of both the AVMA Board of Directors and the HOD who co-owns a mixed animal practice in Vancouver, Washington, with his wife, Dr. Jean Meyer. He spoke to JAVMA News about his motivation for running for the AVMA presidency, what he hopes to achieve in that office, and why he thinks the profession’s best days lie ahead.

Why did you run for AVMA president-elect?

My decision to run for AVMA president is a culmination of many influential factors and those individuals who mentored and encouraged me throughout my career to be involved in organized veterinary medicine. I was able to participate in my local and state veterinary medical associations early in my career, and it was through this participation I recognized the need and importance of involvement in our associations in order to have an influence in promoting and protecting veterinary medicine as an honored profession.

I feel I have a good understanding and working knowledge of the issues facing our profession. Being a private mixed animal practitioner, I am involved in equine, food animal, and small animal practice on a daily basis, so I have personal experience on the issues facing these sectors. As a practice owner and partner with my wife, we live the issues facing practice owners and the struggles of maintaining family and work-life balance.

It is with these experiences and my many years of involvement in organized veterinary medicine that I feel I can contribute to our Association in a significant and meaningful way for our members. It is my desire that I would be able to contribute along with all the other AVMA volunteers who serve to make the AVMA the best association possible while promoting and advancing the profession in a positive way to our society.

What will your job as president-elect be?

Besides those duties as outlined for the AVMA president-elect, such as being a member of the BOD and the Board of Governors and presiding over the HOD, I feel my primary duty will be to support Dr. Joe Kinnarney in his tenure as the AVMA president in every way possible. Also, I will work to advance and support the AVMA Strategic Plan while listening and communicating with all AVMA members about their concerns and the needs of the profession and the AVMA. This is their association, and I feel a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the profession and the Association at the highest level as their AVMA president-elect.

Is there something in particular you hope to accomplish as president?

It would be my hope that every veterinarian would be able to fully enjoy and be rewarded professionally, personally, and financially for their investment in their DVM/VMD education. That every veterinarian would be involved in some aspect of organized veterinary medicine and be made aware of their value as AVMA members. That through their involvement, they would have the opportunity to contribute their experiences and expand themselves so that they might know veterinary medicine as a passionate career and not just a job.

You’ve served in AVMA leadership since you became a member of the House of Delegates in 1995. Why was it important for you to be involved in AVMA governance?

Being involved in AVMA governance has allowed me to contribute and give something in return to our profession, which has given so much to me. Participation in AVMA has allowed me to be mentored by many of my colleagues and has allowed me to grow personally and professionally in ways that would not have happened without this relationship with so many esteemed veterinarians. It has given me the opportunity to develop skills in servant leadership, and as John Maxwell states, “Leadership is learned daily, not in a day.” The need for veterinarians to be trained in leadership and management has always been present, but the need is more significant now.

Veterinarians of all experience levels should be honing their skills in leadership, management, and interpersonal relations and getting involved in as many leadership positions as possible. The ability to think thoroughly and globally is an art and a skill that can be acquired at local, state, and national levels. It is my desire that I might also be able to encourage others by example to develop their leadership skills, and by this development we can all contribute significantly to the betterment of our profession.

During your six-year service on the AVMA Board, including a year as chair, what were some of the key issues it faced?

Some of the key issues we faced have been the following: The focus on the role of the AVMA in the accreditation of both domestic and foreign veterinary colleges by the Council on Education and the restructuring of the COE by the AVMA to meet the changing requirements of the U.S. Department of Education. Educating our members why the AVMA needs to be the accrediting body for veterinary colleges.

Undertaking a complete evaluation of AVMA’s future and its governance by a comprehensive task force to produce the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission Report. This report can and should help guide us in a strategic, focused, and visionary way.

The formation of the Veterinary Economics Division and the utilization of the Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee to promote the business well-being of the profession. By conducting a reliable study on the U.S. veterinary workforce so that high-quality data can be used to predict and model the demand for veterinarians and veterinary services in the future.

I know we face challenges, but veterinarians have always been able to figure a way to overcome and make the world a better place.

Dr. Tom Meyer, 2015-2016 AVMA president-elect candidate

This past year, the undertaking of and commitment to a yearlong strategy management process that resulted in the most recent AVMA Strategic Plan. This was done to grow and improve member value in the AVMA. This “Setting a New Course” for AVMA is, I believe, one of the most meaningful things accomplished by the BOD and will set the stage for an engaged and viable AVMA for years to come.

On a related note, did your view of the AVMA Board evolve during your time of service?

I believe that the BOD is evolving and is committed to undertaking the steps necessary to meet the changing demands of the profession and the membership. The BOD is shedding the image of a slow-moving, very conservative, reluctant-to-change entity to a more engaged board that wants to be progressive and forward-thinking, with the needs of the profession and the membership foremost. The BOD is recognizing it needs to be out in front on the critical issues facing the profession and can no longer play it safe, or it will be a day late and a dollar short, with the potential to lose AVMA’s ability to be a respected influencer on strategic issues.

How do you respond to criticism that AVMA leadership, the BOD in particular, is looking out for the AVMA interests of the Association rather than those of members?

One is elected by our members to represent them on the AVMA BOD, and they entrust this leadership to deliberate to make the best decisions possible at that given time on the issues affecting our profession. During my tenure both in the HOD and on the BOD, I have repeatedly witnessed and have been involved in very deliberative discussions that have centered on what is best for the profession. The BOD has fiduciary responsibilities to maintain a healthy association, which at times may be construed by those not involved in the discussion that the decision made was not in the best interest of its members or the profession.

I would say that in my many years of involvement with the AVMA volunteers serving in these entities, I have witnessed very few personal agendas, and to a person, most are there to serve in a positive and meaningful way and trust that the decisions made by group deliberation will lead to the best outcome for all concerned. They recognize that a healthy membership is essential to a viable association, and a healthy membership is achieved by making the best possible decisions for our constituents and the profession. Past AVMA president Dr. Doug Aspros, in his president’s address, may have said it best: “AVMA needs to remain broadly focused on the needs of all of our constituencies, yet ready to lead even when leadership is painful. ... Disagreement will happen again—we’re not a monolithic profession—and it’s critical that we mitigate the impact on our Association so we can remain the united voice for veterinary medicine.”

AVMA President Ted Cohn has spoken recently about the lack of trust among AVMA leaders and within the profession itself. Do you share his view that this is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing the profession?

Maintaining trust in all we do is an ever-present challenge and responsibility in our personal, professional, and leadership lives. Trust once lost or questioned is very difficult to regain, and it is a two-way street to regain that trust that involves open communication, truthfulness, and no hidden agendas by all involved. The structure of our AVMA governance with a BOD and an HOD both having different delegated power and authority to determine AVMA policy has led at times to these differences being parlayed by some as a lack of trust between the two entities. It is unfortunate if this perception becomes reality to our members, and it is a challenge we must all take seriously for the good of the profession. We all should strive to do what is in the best interest of the AVMA in our decision-making and realize our vision for the AVMA.

Our new vision statement reads, “The American Veterinary Medical Association’s vision is to be the trusted leader in protecting, promoting and advancing a strong, unified profession that meets the needs of society.”

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

Lately, so much of the talk about veterinary medicine has been negative. The gap between veterinarians’ student debt and starting salaries comes to mind. Remind us why it is good to be a veterinarian.

As a veterinarian, one has the opportunity on a daily basis to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients, society, and the world. Whether it is by overseeing the production of a safe and abundant food supply, the promoting of the human-animal bond with all species, the contributions and advancements made in scientific research, or the discovery of the ever-narrowing relationship between human and animal health—veterinary medicine is in the fabric of all aspects of people’s lives. I can think of no other profession where one’s educational degree can offer these opportunities. I know we face challenges, but veterinarians have always been able to figure a way to overcome and make the world a better place.

I am optimistic that there is a very bright and promising future ahead in veterinary medicine for those who are willing and able to accept the challenges, regardless of what they may be. Besides, while hanging out with other veterinarians, one gets to be associated with some of the best and brightest people in the world. I always feel renewed when in the fellowship of my colleagues, and that may well be worth the price of admission to the profession.

Is there anything else you want to discuss?

During my campaign this past year, I have referred to the AVMA as the linchpin that helps hold the complexity of the veterinary profession together. Our profession is complex, as we are involved in many aspects of our social structure. With that diversity and complexity is the necessity to have an organizational structure and direction that maintain value and relevancy for our members and the profession. My focus is on navigating the future and why it is important to do so with purpose and certainty so the AVMA will continue to be that linchpin.