Building membership by showing benefits

AABP president sees chance to show organization’s benefits
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Dr. Mark J. Thomas wants to build on his predecessors’ work in recruiting and retaining members of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

That will involve showing fellow veterinarians in cattle practice what advocacy and other work the AABP performs on their behalf, beyond hosting an annual meeting.

Dr. Thomas, a dairy veterinarian in Lowville, New York, is the 2016-2017 AABP president, the association’s volunteer leader. He is a managing partner in Dairy Health and Management Services and Countryside Veterinary Clinic, specializing in dairy cattle production medicine and consulting services.

He took office during the AABP’s annual conference, hosted this September in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also was chairman of the program committee for the 2016 meeting, which included a mix of presentations on scientific subjects and aspects of practice such as personal well-being, suicide prevention, and human resource management.

Aiding members

In an interview since the meeting, Dr. Thomas said he wants to continue his predecessors’ work on developing the AABP’s ethics task force and to improve member recruitment and retention.

On the former subject, he noted that ethical views can shift with societal change. In 2015, AABP board members voted to create the Ethics in Cattle Practice Task Force to advise the board of directors and help AABP members navigate societal changes and continue to practice in an ethical manner.

That includes reviewing the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics, deciding whether additional guidance specific to bovine practice is needed, as well as working with the AABP board to develop any necessary bovine-specific guidelines.

As president, Dr. Mark J. Thomas plans to advance the American Association of Bovine Practitioners’ work on developing an ethics task force and improving member recruitment and retention. The veterinarian from Lowville, New York, specializes in dairy cattle production medicine, research, and consulting services. (Photo by Joyce Sullivan)

To aid in member recruitment and retention, he wants to see wider recognition of the services the AABP provides beyond continuing education at the annual conference.

“I really want to highlight to our membership what else AABP does do for our members,” he said.

Until he became a board member, Dr. Thomas said even he did not know about the daily activities by the AABP executive vice president and board.

On the day he spoke with JAVMA, for example, he said the AABP was preparing a letter requesting that the Food and Drug Administration extend the comment period on possible limitations on the duration of antimicrobial treatment in livestock.

“We really need to keep our membership updated on all the other aspects of what AABP is doing to preserve our profession,” he said.

He said AABP leaders can do better at telling members about work behind the scenes, such as meetings with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the AVMA, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians; lobbying regulators; meeting with members of Congress; and advocating in general on issues such as antimicrobial administration and federal student loan repayments. Improvements could range from expanding relationships with news media seen by veterinarians to posting photos on Facebook of himself and other AABP leaders on Capitol Hill.

The AABP also is considering adding a nonvoting student representative to the AABP board of directors, which would give insight into the profession’s future and increase age diversity among leaders. He noted that he was considered young for a board member when he joined around age 35, and he wants to see recent graduates become board members.

He also would like to see student AABP delegates remain in leadership after graduation, whether on committees or the board.

High student debt, the need for loan repayment programs, and the need to debunk a myth of a veterinarian shortage remain issues for the AABP, he said. Increasing requirements for veterinarian oversight of antimicrobial use also will require changes for veterinarians, particularly those in dairy practice.

Antimicrobials that are in drug classes considered important for human medicine and administered in feed or water will require veterinary feed directives or prescriptions for use by the end of this year. FDA officials have announced that the pharmaceutical companies that own approvals for all such drugs have agreed to eliminate over-the-counter access as well as use of those drugs for production purposes such as growth promotion.

Leading in cattle medicine

Dr. Thomas grew up on a cow-calf farm in southeastern New York, where his family had horses and a mix of other livestock. He was about 8 years old when he began dreaming of going to veterinary school.

He attended Cornell University, becoming president of Cornell’s Block and Bridle Club as an undergraduate and becoming involved in the university’s AABP student chapter while attending the College of Veterinary Medicine. He graduated in 1997.

Today, his work focuses more on research and consulting than clinical practice, but he said the problem-solving skills he developed in veterinary college continue to serve him.

Dr. Thomas was a member of the AABP Membership Committee from 2004-2008 and then until 2014 was a district director, a position he held until he became vice president. AABP officers serve four consecutive one-year terms as vice president, president-elect, president, and immediate past president.

Dr. Thomas said he has become president during an exciting time, as leadership transitions in 2017 from Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, who has been executive vice president since March 2005, to Dr. K. Fred Gingrich II, who resigned as president July 1 to prepare for that job.

He praised Dr. Riddell for his insight and foresight and Dr. Gingrich for his ideas on opportunities for positive changes. He expressed hope his own experience as an AABP board member will help during those changes.

Dr. Thomas said veterinarians should remember to use science in their decisions, a lesson learned in their training but often lost in moments of emotional responses. AABP members can help people realize the veterinary profession is working for the well-being of livestock, livestock owners, and the public, he said, noting all AABP members have some role in food and public safety.

He also suggested that veterinarians watch for signs of stress among their clients, who are dealing with a tough dairy economy and a fluctuating farm and livestock economy.