Stinson is the AVMA’s veterinary student advocate

Halfway through her term, the vice president looks forward to another year
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Dr. Rebecca Stinson spent much of the past year on the road. As AVMA vice president, she is the Association’s liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters, a two-year position that requires she travel far and wide to talk with future veterinarians. Dr. Stinson listens, counsels, and reassures. She also reports to the AVMA leadership what students are telling her, including their concerns with debt load, the veterinary school accreditation process, and personal wellness. Dr. Stinson recently shared what she’s learned with JAVMA News.

Dr. Stinson
Dr. Rebecca Stinson

How was your first year as AVMA vice president?

I thoroughly enjoyed my first year as vice president. It has been an honor to have the opportunity to represent AVMA as I visit with students, faculty, administrators, and veterinarians around the country.

Any highlights you want to share?

I have had so many highlights it is hard to pick just one. I really enjoyed the Veterinary Leadership Experience that I recently attended in Idaho. The unique opportunity to meet with students and faculty from every U.S. veterinary school and many schools abroad gave me even further insight into the things that bind us together. They all shared one goal: becoming a better leader for this exceptional profession. Despite their differences, everyone worked together as a team. I find that this is one of the greatest challenges to the profession today. It is easy to get focused on an individual path and lose sight of all of the common ground we share. We share an amazing profession where we have colleagues who save endangered species, strengthen the bond between people and animals, and advance human health through research and a safe food supply. What other profession can say all that?

Which veterinary schools did you visit?

I have visited UC-Davis, Western University, Washington State, Oregon State, Montana State, Utah State, Louisiana State, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Auburn, Tuskegee, University of Georgia, Lincoln Memorial, Midwestern University, St. Matthew’s, Colorado State, University of Glasgow, Atlantic Veterinary College, Tufts University, and North Carolina State. That’s a bunch!

What are students talking about?

The students are talking about some of the same themes as the profession. There is a great deal of discussion around wellness, economics, and accreditation. I’ve seen a deepening concern among the students for personal wellness and healthy lifestyles. Increasingly, veterinary colleges are working to improve student access to health services, and some students are asking what AVMA can do to improve the transition from the college setting to “the real world.” There is a broad recognition of many of the challenges facing our profession in terms of compassion fatigue, life balance, stress, and burnout. Students are looking for opportunities to help avoid some of these pitfalls.

Economics is a common discussion topic. I’ve noted that a large number of students are developing their understanding of finance while in school. That being said, it is still common to hear of a student who is unaware of his or her total debt load and what that means in terms of payments after graduation. Often, students are unaware or uncertain of the job marketplace. Some think the only path to success is through specialization. I believe veterinarians have a chance to work with and mentor students with regard to business, life balance, and the many other pieces of living the dream that is veterinary medicine in addition to clinical skills.

There is a common perception among students that their future colleagues see them not as a welcome addition to the profession but as competition.

Dr. Rebecca Stinson, AVMA vice president

I have also heard a great deal concerning accreditation of veterinary colleges. Students have asked me what they can do to help their college become accredited or maintain accreditation. I had a wonderful young lady say she loses sleep worrying if her school (Lincoln Memorial) will reach full accreditation. I question whether this is how we want our colleagues starting out in the profession. There is a common perception among students that their future colleagues see them not as a welcome addition to the profession but as competition.

I hope our profession can work together to send the message that these students are joining the profession at a very exciting time. They have the opportunity to help veterinary medicine move into its next phase, whatever that may be. We need leaders and visionaries who can help us see through the fog to the next horizon. These people will come from the current veterinary student population. Think back to how 150 years ago we were a profession of mostly horse doctors. The profession will continue to evolve over the next 150 years as well.

What are they saying about the AVMA?

Students mention AVMA a great deal. This is likely skewed because I visit as the AVMA vice president. Students look forward to the opportunity to become involved in leadership opportunities at the national level. I get a lot of questions about how to get involved. I also hear a great deal about student experiences with some of our great member services, including the PLIT and Political Action Committee, and the great experience students have participating in the legislative visit to Washington, D.C. I believe we can continue to expand opportunities for students, recent graduates, and our general membership to have a more active role in our organization.

What’s in store for you this next year?

I will visit many more of the colleges around the country. A new program in Alaska will matriculate 10 students who will do two years in Fairbanks before joining their classmates at Colorado State. I will be continuing to seek input from students, faculty, and veterinarians about how AVMA can work to better fulfill the needs of our members around the country and around the world. I will continue working to encourage and welcome students into our wonderful profession.

Any parting thoughts?

Thank you to all of the students and veterinarians who have taken the time to visit with me over the past year everywhere that I have gone. Remember, we are all important pieces of the veterinary ecosystem.

Related JAVMA content:

Kinnarney, Stinson carry the day in the HOD (Sept. 1, 2014)

Candidates stump for AVMA leadership positions (March 1, 2014)