Progress, promise mark leadership conference

Unfolding advocacy initiatives, member services detailed
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AVMA President Tom Meyer welcomed over 500 attendees to the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference Jan. 13 in Chicago during the plenary session and gave a special nod to Dr. Janet Donlin, who last September became the new AVMA CEO.

“As we embark on 2017 and the opportunities and challenges, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to navigate us into that future,” he said.

The future was sketched out by AVMA staff members and representatives from partnering organizations, who gave attendees a look at projects in the works as well as updates on recently launched initiatives. Befitting that forward focus, 40 veterinary students immersed themselves in the conference as emerging leaders (see story).

Dr. Meyer
AVMA President Tom Meyer welcomes attendees to the Veterinary Leadership Conference. (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

Besides the plenary session, the leadership portion of the VLC comprised a general session, interactive workshops, networking events, and district caucuses. The conference was also the venue for the House of Delegates regular winter session.

Cyberbullying was the subject of one recently launched project. Dr. Meyer noted that the HOD, at its regular annual session last August in San Antonio, requested that the AVMA intensify its efforts to combat cyberbullying. “In response, the Board launched a cyberbullying hotline just last month,” he noted.

Between the hotline’s debut Dec. 5, 2016, and the plenary session, seven AVMA members called it, said Dr. Kimberly May, then AVMA department director of communications. The service includes 30 free minutes of consultation and a discount on any additional services. The hotline and DVM Reputation Guard, an online reputation monitoring and management service, are part of the AVMA Member Advantage Program.

Dr. Marci Kirk, AVMA assistant director for recent graduate initiatives, described an important well-being initiative, QPR training, that was launched Jan. 19. “Question, persuade, refer” training teaches people without a professional mental health background to recognize signs that someone may be at risk for suicide.

The AVMA, AVMA Life, and AVMA PLIT are offering this “gatekeeper” training at no cost to AVMA and Student AVMA members on a first-come, first-served basis. More about the training is here.

Programs: insurance to education

AVMA Life CEO Libby Wallace noted the Trust is celebrating its 60th anniversary. This past year, she said, the Trust gained 3,380 new individual lines of business, with a total now of 68,000 policies serving about 27,000 members. There are almost a thousand new policyholders.

The Trust paid $23.3 million in disability and life insurance claims in 2016. “Interestingly enough, that paid claims (total) is down from the previous year, but the actual number of ... claims (submitted has) increased,” she said. AVMA Life has about $242 million in reserves to support its programs.

She said, “We have a lot of exciting things happening, starting in February,” such as a new look for the AVMA Life website, making it more member friendly and incorporating a self-service portal. New Trust representative Dr. Katrina Geitner is launching a communication campaign, bringing AVMA Life to social media. Wallace said, “It’s an opportunity for us to have a dialogue, sometimes about insurance, sometimes about other things. We’re also going to have more in-depth information about our products. How many of you knew we have a maternity benefit? It’s kind of unheard of in the industry.”

AVMA PLIT senior Trust representative Dr. Linda Ellis reported that in 2016, the PLIT professional liability policies numbered 63,985, and there were 12,600 business insurance policies. The PLIT Action Center went live this past September. It’s a 24/7 resource for potential and actual malpractice claims and license complaints.

Drs. Cantner and Maccabe
The AVMA’s Dr. Caroline Cantner and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Dr. Andrew Maccabe speak on the associations’ joint Fix the Debt Initiative.

As part of its student outreach, the PLIT introduced a student professional liability education video titled “Cover Your Assets” to show them how to protect their reputations and careers with the right coverage.

Dr. Ellis noted that AVMA PLIT makes practice visits nationwide with its broker, Hub International. “This helps build relationships with the practices to retain their business as well as grow the PLIT business insurance program,” she said afterward.

“In 2017, PLIT is looking at the changing veterinary marketplace, and we’re going to collaborate with AVMA on how to make the PLIT veterinarians’ first choice” for coverage, she said.

Debborah Harp, executive director of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, said, “We have a new scholarship for veterans ... in honor of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.” The AVMA/AVMF Scholarship for Veterans helps military veterans pursuing a veterinary degree. “We’ve heard stories from a number of members about (veterans) who are starting their second or third career,” Harp said. This scholarship will help support those efforts.

In 2016, seven national Our Oath in Action projects were led by 345 volunteers. Harp said later, “Events ranged from spay-neuter clinics to animal adopt-athons. Students were the backbone of these community events.

“In the research arena, we had the Young Investigator Awards; donations supported people who studied everything from stem cell research to cardiomyopathy research. You can read about their research on our website.”

AVMA Political Action Committee chair Dr. Eva Evans said, “In 2016, we actually had more members donate than the previous year and raised more money, so it was a great year for the PAC. This past election cycle, we raised $300,000 that we were able to use in Washington, D.C., to further our causes.”

In 2017, the PAC is reaching out to veterinary students at every university by providing them with “the AVMA PAC party in a box.” Dr. Evans said it’s basically a prepackaged box they can take back to their school with pizza lunches and dinners, designed to help them spread the word about the PAC to other students.

Strategy aligned with budget

Catherine Peskuski, AVMA director of strategy, gave the basics of the Association’s strategy management process, saying it’s important that the Association have the financial support to successfully execute projects chosen through this process.

Focusing on fewer things that more members want is part of that process, said Dr. Douglas Kratt, vice chair of the House Advisory Committee. “Ultimately,” he said, “the process ensures AVMA delivers value for our members, both new and existing.”

AVMA Treasurer Barbara Schmidt said, “Our top strategic goals are to improve member retention and to improve member satisfaction” across all segments of the profession. “To accomplish these goals, we are aligning strategic activities and their desired outcomes with our budget.”

She recapped the four areas of focus chosen by the Board that best deliver member value: advocacy and public policy, accreditation and certification, economics, and membership value. “These areas will serve as the radial point, the very center, from which we’ll build our member-centric business plan,” she said.

“We have now developed a three-year strategic operating plan as our road map for the Board. Key performance indicators will help us understand how we are performing.”

Dr. de Jong
AVMA president-elect candidate Dr. John de Jong presents a campaign address at the leadership conference.

Projections are that for the 2016 fiscal year, the AVMA will realize more than $970,000 in net operating revenue, $2.8 million in strategic expenses from the AVMA reserves, and investment revenue of $1.5 million. The AVMA has recognized an investment gain exceeding $5.2 million since October 2013, when it adopted a more aggressive asset allocation policy and hired Bernstein Global Wealth Management as its investment adviser, Dr. Schmidt said. Since 2008, the Association has grown its reserves by nearly $15 million.

The 2017 operating budget is a balanced budget with revenue of $36.8 million and expenses of $36.7 million. Strategic operating expenses for 2017 programs are budgeted at $1.3 million from reserves.

Noting that 68 percent of annual revenue is from dues, Dr. Schmidt said the Veterinary Career Center is now one of the largest sources of nondues revenue, and she is hoping to see increases in nondues revenue from various other AVMA products and services also.

Economics and debt

Michael R. Dicks, PhD, director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division said, “For 91 months, (the U.S. has) had an expansionary period. Things have been better in the economy, and we see that that’s probably going to happen for the next eight to 12 months, although with a new Congress and a new president ... we might see more legislative changes, and that will (result in) both winners and losers.

“For 80 to 90 percent of Americans, things haven’t gotten better, and that reflects in your ability to extend services. And so, how these policy changes affect those 80 to 90 percent of Americans will be of great interest in the next four years,” he said.

For veterinarians looking for work, this is the first time since 2009 that the number of veterinarians seeking employment is less than the number of jobs, he said. That tight market has led to an increase in starting salaries for new graduates, which he projected will continue to grow as long as there isn’t a recession.

“Unfortunately, the debt that they’ll incur in school will continue to grow faster than that salary, which then leads to an increase in the debt-to-income ratio,” Dr. Dicks said. Fifty-six percent of new veterinarians have a DIR that exceeds 2:1, which will likely force them into an income-based repayment plan, he said.

In 2016, the AVMA released three economic reports, with five more due out in 2017. The economics staff is making the PDF version of each report free to members. Printed copies can be purchased by members and nonmembers through the online store.

“You heard Mike Dicks,” said Dr. Andrew Maccabe, CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, noting that the AVMA and AAVMC have been working together through the Fix the Debt initiative. “Broadly, it is to reduce debt and increase income,” he said.

Since the Fix the Debt summit last April, the AVMA and AAVMC have led a collaboration of over 100 volunteers from some 30 organizations, with strategic working groups focused on reducing veterinary student debt and increasing new graduate income.

Dr. Caroline Cantner, AVMA assistant director for student initiatives/Western region, touched on a few specific initiatives: financial literacy, advocacy for increased federal student aid, and practice ownership—“dispelling the myth practice ownership isn’t possible because of large debt.”

Related JAVMA content:

Volunteer projects impact seven communities (Jan. 15, 2017)

Board supports dialogue with pharmacies (Jan. 15, 2017)

Hotline to help veterinarians deal with cyberbullying (Jan. 1, 2017)

Free training offered in suicide prevention (Dec. 1, 2016)

New PLIT resources aim to help members, veterinary students (Nov. 1, 2016)