Momentum continues for AVMA activities

Recommendations forthcoming on drug compounding, educational debt, and more
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Summits on educational debt and wellness, recommendations from a task force on drug compounding, and economic reports on topics such as pet insurance and zoonotic diseases are just a few things AVMA members can expect this year.

Leaders from the Association and related organizations outlined these updates along with other plans for 2016 and highlights from 2015 during the plenary session of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 7-10 in Chicago.

Partnerships and meetings

The AVMA Veterinary Economics Division worked this past year with the Indiana VMA, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, and American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine to collect workforce data for their respective segments of the profession. The IVMA report was expected to be released in February. AABP’s and ACLAM’s reports were anticipated for March and May, respectively.

Dr. Joe Kinnarney, AVMA president, pointed to these collaborations as an example of how the AVMA is reshaping the ways it meets the needs of members now and in the future.

“These partnerships allow us to learn more about the profession so we can enhance the value of the veterinary degree,” he told members of the AVMA House of Delegates and other VLC attendees. Summits, he said, are another great way to share thoughts and strategies as well as help the Association address shortcomings.

“It’s important for each of us to lead and work together as a team. This is a new day at the AVMA. We’re focused on what members want. You are the lifeblood of our organization, and we are working to make you proud to call it your own,” AVMA President Joe Kinnarney said Jan. 9 during the plenary session of the 2016 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago. (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

The Veterinary Wellness Roundtable has been scheduled for March 14-15 in Schaumburg, Illinois. Previous summits will be used as a springboard for developing action-oriented outcomes with possible ways forward for the profession. “We will explore examples of wellness programs, highlight what is working, identify what is missing and why, create initial plans to support and promote wellness, and communicate the results with the membership,” said Dr. Lynne White-Shim, an assistant director of the AVMA Division of Animal and Public Health. A few dozen individuals from allied organizations have been invited along with wellness experts such as Elizabeth Strand, PhD, an associate clinical professor and founding director of the Veterinary Social Work program at the University of Tennessee; Randall J. Nett, MD, primary author of the first mental health survey of U.S. veterinarians; Jerome Williams, DVM, director of the Alabama Veterinary Professional Wellness Program; and Carrie La Jeunesse, DVM, a certified compassion fatigue educator.

A month later, the Economics of Education Summit will bring together about 200 participants to tackle the issue of student debt and the many factors that affect the overall economic picture of young veterinary professionals. The summit, which is being organized by the AVMA, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, will be held April 20-22 at Michigan State.

“We wanted to do something about this issue,” Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, told attendees. “A working group talked (in November 2015) about recommendations and strategies to employ across the profession, and this broader group will talk about those, with the hope to have a profession-wide plan to implement. Things are already happening (to improve the situation), but not universally across the profession.” The four areas of focus are tuition reduction, value of the graduate, debt reduction, and practice economics. The goal will be to reduce the mean debt-to-income ratio of veterinary graduates from 2.1:1 to 1.4:1 in the coming years.

AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven gave an update on the AVMA Strategy Management Process. He said the Association’s new tag line—“Our Passion. Our Profession.”—does a good job of indicating how the AVMA wants to make a difference in the lives of animals and people.

Economic research

Michael Dicks, PhD, AVMA director of veterinary economics, gave attendees a preview of what was to come from the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division this year.

First, the division will produce four reports: one summarizing the 2015 AVMA Veterinary Economic Summit, one on the market for veterinary education, one on the market for veterinary services, and one on the market for veterinarians.

Building on work from the past year, the division’s economists will continue to look into pet insurance and the economics of zoonotic disease.

Dr. Dicks said they will also continue work on refining the veterinary workforce model, first released in 2013, in addition to digging more into practice finance to develop wider business metrics for the profession. Consumer demand analysis for veterinary services, personal finance education for veterinary students, and the economic impact of veterinarians and veterinary services on the general economy will also be on the division’s plate, as will looking at the economic and financial impacts of veterinary-related legislative policy, for example, what impact the Fairness to Pet Owners Act would have on the profession if it were to become law.

Further, in 2016, the division is starting an annual census of students, veterinarians, practice owners, consumers, and veterinary employers. A survey was to be sent out in February.

In 2017, the AVMA will conduct its pet ownership and demographics survey, as it does every five years. The American Pet Products Association produces its own pet demographics survey, but Dr. Dicks said the AVMA will reach out to the APPA about the possibility of having the two organizations combine their efforts. In addition, consideration will be given to developing smaller-scale versions of the survey that could be conducted in intervening years to gather more-consistent data.

Dr. Dicks added that the division has grown from two staff members in 2013 to five in 2016, working with 30 cooperating analysts. “We’ll continue to expand that number. We also hope to develop veterinary economics programs in land-grant universities to institutionalize that,” he said.

He proposed creating a council of economic advisers in addition to the AVMA Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee to manage the collection and interpretation of data throughout the profession to guide future economic research and communicate findings to the profession and industry.

The VESC will set research priorities for 2016-2017 in March.

The AVMA, in partnership with Zoetis, provides scholarships to recent graduates and individuals from groups underrepresented in veterinary leadership to attend the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference each January in Chicago. But this year was the first time that the AVMA provided scholarships to veterinary students to attend the VLC. The three students were Terza Brostoff (California-Davis ’17), Kimberly Haight (Georgia ’19), and Layna Irwin (Colorado State ’18).

Treasurer’s report

Dr. Barbara A. Schmidt, AVMA treasurer, went over budget figures. Projections from last October showed that the AVMA had $34.6 million in revenue and $32.2 million in expenses in 2015, leaving a nearly $2.5 million surplus by Dec. 31, 2015—the end of the fiscal year. In 2016, the Association anticipates $35.6 million in revenue and $35.5 million in expenses, resulting in $107,500 in expected net revenue.

Just about 70 percent of the AVMA’s revenue comes from member dues. “We would like to see a more proportional ratio of revenue sources so we don’t have to rely on member dues so much,” Dr. Schmidt said.

The AVMA’s reserve fund has reached more than $35 million. The fund balance has seen a 63 percent increase since 2008, she said. Some of that money will help the AVMA implement its Strategic Operating Plan, which is in the implementation stage. The three-year plan, according to Dr. Schmidt, defines AVMA strategic priorities, guides AVMA staff and volunteer leadership in focusing and prioritizing, aids in tracking progress and monitoring strategic spending, and helps AVMA proactively respond to member needs.

Catherine Peskuski was hired this past summer as the Association’s first business strategy manager to lead, track, measure, and report on the AVMA Strategy Management Process.

“Building on our organization’s capabilities for effective implementation, we will have a sustainable process that’s repeatable in the future,” Dr. Schmidt said.

Heard on the Hill

Advocacy will continue to be a major thrust of the AVMA, as outlined in the AVMA Strategic Plan. In 2015, the AVMA helped persuade Congress to continue funding the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. That means 49 more veterinarians in 26 states will receive up to $4.5 million toward repayment of student loans in return for service in shortage areas.

The AVMA continues its advocacy efforts in 2016 with a focus on the Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 3174/S 1200). The bill would require veterinarians to provide pet owners with a copy of their pet’s prescription before offering to fill or dispense the medication, whether or not the copy was requested. AVMA President Kinnarney called it “misguided.”

“We as a profession have already assumed responsibility to provide prescriptions upon request. We don’t need to spend more time on paperwork. This is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem,” he said.

The AVMA is also busy on the regulatory front, which is equally important, said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. The AVMA Animal Welfare and Animal and Public Health divisions have responded to more than 20 regulatory proposals this past year. In addition, the AVMA Task Force on Veterinary Compounding Legislation should have its report completed in time for the April 7-9 AVMA Board of Directors meeting. Its goal has been to develop recommendations that ultimately will result in clearer guidelines and regulations for veterinarians as they look to provide safe medications and the best patient care.

Candidates speak

The two candidates for 2016-2017 AVMA president-elect explained their visions for the AVMA’s future at the conference. Dr. Jan K. Strother, Alabama delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates, praised the AVMA for investing and supporting programs that contribute to its future, such as the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, Future Leaders Program, Early Career Development Committee, Student AVMA, and VLC.

Dr. Michael Topper, immediate past chair of the House Advisory Committee, said he supports the AVMA’s efforts on wellness, economics, and communications and knows more can be done. Specifically, he says more can be done in the areas of team building and leadership by better using the VLC and the Future Leaders Program, expanding the AVMA partnership with WVLDI, and improving seminars and workshops.

The single candidate for the AVMA vice presidency, Dr. Stacy Pritt, American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners delegate to the HOD, said when working with students, she would continue to promote all the opportunities the veterinary profession has to offer along with the role the AVMA and organizational veterinary medicine in general can play in career satisfaction.

AVMF update

And finally, leaders from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation reminded delegates and other attendees about the benefits of its Veterinary Care Charitable Fund. Through this program, the AVMF accepts donations and disburses payments directly to enrolled clinics for the charitable care they provide. Money in a clinic’s account can be used as needed without advance approval by the AVMF. Moreover, donations to the fund are tax-deductible. More information is available at

Debborah Harp, AVMF executive director, also touted the participation in this past year’s Our Oath in Action events, a veterinary outreach program with projects across the country. Seven events took place that involved 143 volunteers, had 3,800 attendees, and helped 409 animals. Starting this year and for the next two years, the Banfield Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is supporting the program.

Also last year, the Foundation reviewed 2,300 scholarship applications and awarded 85 scholarships totaling $320,000.

Like the AVMA, the AVMF looks to have a strong start to 2016. In the last quarter of 2015, the Foundation received a higher number of individual donations than it has received during any quarter in the past 10 years, Harp said.

New year means new brand, name for Trust

The AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust introduced its new name and brand—AVMA Life—during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 7-10 in Chicago.

AVMA Life CEO Libby Wallace told the AVMA House of Delegates and other attendees during the VLC plenary session that the name AVMA GHLIT didn’t represent what the Trust was anymore. The Trust’s new tag line is “Veterinarian Inspired Coverage” (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2016).

AVMA Life offers life and disability insurance as well as coverage in areas such as dental, vision, long-term care, professional overhead expense, and maternity. However, because of the Affordable Care Act, the Trust had to discontinue directly offering health insurance after 2013, developing a health insurance exchange instead.

“We are your trusted team of insurance experts and experienced veterinarians,” Wallace said. “We have to be attentive and answer questions from policyholders. We have to be flexible, as it’s a diverse profession, and we can’t have a one-size-fits-all mindset. We offer products tailored to the individual, which means we have to be responsive. Our suite of products and services has to be customized to those we serve on a regular basis.”

Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, chair of AVMA Life, added, “The products we’ll develop this year and next, we aim to provide you the best.”

The launch of the AVMA Life brand follows the launch of the new PLIT brand during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in January 2015 and the launch of the new AVMA brand during the AVMA Annual Convention in July 2015. All three organizations worked with 88 Brand Partners.

The website gives more information about the new name and brand. The Trust’s main website is now

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA Life offers ‘Veterinarian Inspired Coverage’ (Feb. 1, 2016)

Veterinary wellness roundtable happening next year (Nov. 1, 2015)

Summit to explore student debt–related issues, solutions (Nov. 1, 2015)

USDA awards $4.5M for food animal, public practice (Dec. 15, 2015)

Meyer elected, candidacies launched (Sept. 1, 2015)

Banfield launches foundation with grant to AVMF (Nov. 15, 2015)