‘No higher honor’

Stacy Pritt anticipates serving as AVMA vice president
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The AVMA House of Delegates will elect a new Association vice president as part of its regular annual session this August in San Antonio.

Dr. Stacy PrittDr. Stacy Pritt of Rowlett, Texas, is the sole candidate for the office—a two-year position as the Association’s liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters and a voting member of the AVMA Board of Directors. Delegates are expected to elect Dr. Pritt by unanimous consent.

Dr. Pritt is director of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee in the Research Administration Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. In addition, she is the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners delegate to the HOD, president of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, and a member of the AVMA Political Action Committee Board.

Here, Dr. Pritt explains her reasons for running for the vice presidency and what she hopes to accomplish with veterinary students.

Why do you want to be AVMA vice president?

Today’s veterinary students are the future of our profession. I can think of no higher honor than to serve in an elected position that represents the profession to those individuals.

What skills and experiences do you bring to the office?

I have had a unique set of experiences in my career, which provides me with a wonderful background from which to speak to students as they just start their own careers. After working in private practice for 3 1/2 years, I have held several positions at medical schools and research institutions. This has given me considerable practical experience in giving presentations, establishing strategies and policies, and collaborating with veterinarians and nonveterinarians alike. With graduate degrees in business and management and diplomate status in the American College of Animal Welfare, I have a deep understanding of the issues facing our profession. I have also maintained a significant level of involvement with the AVMA, the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners, state veterinary medical associations, and several other professional associations for over a decade.

During my career, I have worked with veterinary students in a variety of capacities. From collaborating with students on committees and projects to being a mentor, giving career-based presentations, and delivering guest lectures, I have tremendously enjoyed all of my interactions with them.

Are there any particular areas you’d focus on as the AVMA’s liaison to veterinary students?

The veterinary profession is full of opportunities. There are many opportunities for career choice, places to live, and participation in organized veterinary medicine. As the AVMA liaison to students, I will focus on those opportunities, what factors should play into career decisions, and how the AVMA is the association ready to assist and partner with them through all stages of their career.

As I discussed during my speech at the Candidates’ Introductory Breakfast at the 2015 AVMA Annual Convention in Boston, the specific areas where I will be connecting with students are advocacy, educational quality, career opportunities, leadership development, economic issues, animal welfare, student loan debt, and wellness. These are all areas where the AVMA provides support for its members and students, and they directly feed into the choices of what work to pursue, where to live, and how to participate in organized veterinary medicine.

What would you do as AVMA vice president to increase the Association’s value to veterinary students and new graduates?

Recently, the AVMA’s mission statement changed to emphasize its value to its members. The mission of the AVMA is (in part) to “lead the profession by advocating for its members.” That sentiment needs to be the cornerstone of all communication with veterinary students and early-career veterinarians. The AVMA is here to help, support, and partner with its members and veterinary students.

Rather than presenting veterinary students with a portfolio of AVMA services and products, we need to approach students with the mechanisms employed by the AVMA that strengthen each member’s career as well as the profession as a whole. I will emphasize the relevance of the AVMA to students during their times in school and then postgraduate career. All of the previously mentioned areas for connection are vitally important to every student, and they need to know what the AVMA is doing in each.

What are your thoughts on the continuing expansion of veterinary schools?

Veterinary medical education is changing. Since many of the changes are very recent, it is hard to gauge the impact right now. As a veterinarian who is profoundly interested in the health of our profession and the development of veterinary students into wonderful veterinarians, I see where the expansion can lead to increased career opportunities for veterinarians as well as practice readiness for new graduates. Time will tell how the expansion and adjustments made to the existing educational models will affect veterinary medicine as a whole, but the AVMA must be prepared to adjust and remain relevant.

What, if anything, can the AVMA do to alleviate the debt-to-income ratio for recent veterinary graduates?

The AVMA has made tremendous strides in quantitatively evaluating the economic state of affairs for the profession, practice owners, new graduates, and veterinary students. However, that evaluation only spans a short period of time, and longer-term data are needed in order to continue to project the influence student loan debt will have on veterinary medicine in the United States. And gathering data is only one component of the AVMA’s undertakings on this topic. AVMA staff and leaders have dedicated themselves to educating the profession and veterinary students about how to make better financial decisions. The AVMA also staunchly supports government programs that provide student loan debt assistance or relief. Most recently, the AVMA was a major contributor to a summit on educational debt. As a participant in that summit, I again saw AVMA staff and leaders contributing ideas and actions to strategies that could help decrease the debt-to-income ratio. I would like to see more creativity from all interested parties when tackling this issue, such as encouraging the exploration of lucrative career paths and working with veterinary college faculty to improve processes in order to decrease costs.

The mission of the AVMA is (in part) to ‘lead the profession by advocating for its members.’ That sentiment needs to be the cornerstone of all communication with veterinary students and early-career veterinarians.

Dr. Stacy Pritt, 2016-2017 AVMA vice presidential candidate

Considering that approximately 80 percent of all U.S. veterinary college graduates are female, more information about the gender wage gap for women in veterinary medicine must also be created and distributed. Veterinary medicine is not the only occupation to have a gap, but we are a small and intense group of professionals that should be able to dedicate resources to closing and eliminating the gap.

What does a more diverse veterinary profession mean to you, and what should the AVMA’s involvement be in that?

Veterinary medicine has been called the “whitest profession.” That should concern anyone worried about the ability of veterinarians to relate to clients and our society. I have a very broad definition of diversity, and I believe that all professions grow and thrive on diversity, whether it is ethnic, geographic, socioeconomic, sexual orientation/identity, educational, or something else. Without diversity, we lose ideas and perspectives that help us overcome challenges and achieve growth. The AVMA needs to be a key player in encouraging and welcoming all individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life into veterinary medicine. Active engagement with nongovernmental organizations interested in increasing diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, collaboration with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ diversity efforts, and increased staff support to provide education and address member concerns as well as student needs are some of the many ways that the AVMA can be involved in creating a more diverse profession.

What advice would you offer the next AVMA CEO in terms of how the Association can demonstrate its value to veterinary students and new graduates?

As I mentioned earlier, relevancy is key, and it is imperative that the next AVMA CEO focus on the relevancy of the AVMA to veterinary students and veterinarians. This means relevancy in the AVMA’s strategic plan and activities, products and services, policies and educational materials, governance structure and leadership development activities, and communication channels.

Are there any other issues you want to discuss?

Yes, there are two other items I would like to discuss.

April 19, 2016, marked the first national Biomedical Research Awareness Day. Twenty veterinary schools and hundreds of veterinary students participated in celebrations and lectures, all dedicated to the importance of animal and human health research. Activities such as these serve a vital role in highlighting the importance of animals in society and the role of veterinary medicine. Through programs like BRAD, veterinary schools generate career path ideas for students and support for lifesaving research for animals and humans.

Over the past two years, much has been said about the wellness and mental health status of veterinarians and veterinary students. While the AVMA and other groups are working on providing assistance and solutions to help tackle the concerns, we have a long way to go. I encourage all veterinarians and veterinary students to learn about the research in this area, gather a deeper understanding of wellness and mental health, and talk about these concerns with colleagues. Communication between colleagues and students and the sharing of experiences to provide guidance and encouragement are essential elements for improving the well-being of all members of our profession.