AAHA president helping accredited hospitals champion themselves

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The new president of the American Animal Hospital Association still tears up when she tells the story about her inspiration to become a veterinarian.

Dr. Soares
Dr. Nancy Soares (Courtesy of Macungie Animal Hospital)

When Dr. Nancy Soares was about 8, she would go weekly with her dad to a family friend’s farm where her dad and his friends built airplanes. She played with a black Labrador Retriever named Harvey.

“One day I was visiting, and that day, the owner of the farm said that today was going to be Harvey’s last day,” she said. “And the veterinarian there was kind enough to let me be with him.”

She continued, “To understand that pain and suffering could be relieved and we could help him made such an impact on my life that I knew that’s why I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

Dr. Soares became AAHA president during the association’s annual conference, March 31 through April 3 in Austin, Texas. Other officers are Drs. Mark McConnell, Eugene, Oregon, president-elect; Darren Taul, Lancaster, Kentucky, vice president; Tracey Jensen, Wellington, Colorado, immediate past president; and Hilary Mellor, Ottawa, Ontario, secretary-treasurer.

Dr. McConnell
Dr. Mark McConnell
Dr. Taul
Dr. Darren Taul
Dr. Jensen
Dr. Tracey Jensen (Photos courtesy of AAHA/Kimberly Lamb)

During her one-year term as AAHA president, Dr. Soares hopes to continue building momentum for the association’s Champions for Excellent Care program to help AAHA-accredited practices promote themselves.

Her path to becoming a veterinarian turned out to be indirect. Her dad died when she was 17, so she went home after finishing her undergraduate degree to be with her mom. She had a 10-year career in the pharmaceutical industry. After she married, though, her husband encouraged her to pursue her childhood dream.

In 2002, Dr. Soares earned her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked as an associate veterinarian before establishing Macungie Animal Hospital in 2007 in Macungie, Pennsylvania. Her practice became AAHA-accredited in 2008 and won the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year Award in 2013.

Starting in veterinary school, she has been involved with AAHA. She said, “I understood then that if you’re going to do something, just do it to the absolute best of your ability, and utilize all the resources and tools that are out there.”

Dr. Soares said the Champions for Excellent Care program took off under the leadership of the previous two AAHA presidents, Drs. Kate Crumley and Tracey Jensen. One part of the program is having AAHA-accredited hospitals come together for dinner to talk about accreditation and tools to promote accreditation.

Dr. Soares asked, “Why don’t we brag about our accreditation? It’s a milestone in our veterinary hospitals that not many people can say that they’ve achieved.” Ever since the founding of AAHA in 1933, she added, the association’s biggest challenge has been awareness of accreditation by pet owners.

Another goal for Dr. Soares is to reawaken the spirit of volunteerism in AAHA. Association leaders meet people through the Champions for Excellent Care program who don’t know about all the volunteer opportunities with AAHA.

Dr. Soares said AAHA also is embracing the fact that animal hospitals are intergenerational. In 2014, the association redirected the AAHA Career Development Program to focus less on veterinary students and more on recent graduates.

AAHA has introduced the one-day Indispensable Associate program to drive practice success through associate advancement. The free program, currently open to 2014-2016 graduates, helps new associates master key business and communication skills.

“I’m very excited for the new graduates because I truly think that it’s an exciting industry to be in—I’m very passionate about this industry—and I think the future is very bright,” Dr. Soares said.

“And by embracing the generational differences, we’re really paying it forward for an industry that has been so good to so many of us.”