Students add dimension to leadership conference

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The veterinary students who attended the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference Jan. 13-14 in Chicago were not your average millennials; they represented future leaders in veterinary medicine. New this year, the AVMA offered one student from each veterinary school represented in the Student AVMA House of Delegates reimbursement for airfare or mileage and hotel accommodations to attend. Most schools were represented, and one school had two additional students present.

From the outset, the event organizers made the presence of the 40 student representatives known to attendees, helping to make them feel welcome. During networking events, students felt the veterinarians’ eagerness to converse with them about their careers as well as offer support and guidance. The fact that attendees came from so many different organizations and areas of veterinary medicine meant that students were exposed to a variety of new ideas and possible career paths.

SAVMA VLC attendees
Forty student representatives attended the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference: Bottom row—Jacquelyn Wymard (Lincoln Memorial), Sara Coleman Oden (Georgia), Christi Leong (Colorado State), Rachel Leist (Ohio State), Michelle Kordupel (North Carolina State), Samantha Palmer (Cornell), Leslie Brunker (Cornell), Elizabeth Jones (Tennessee), and Michelle Riehm (Mississippi State). Middle row—Atalie Delgado (St. George’s), Rowena de Joya (California-Davis), Hali Jungers (Western University), Matt Holland (Illinois), Dr. Stacy Pritt (AVMA vice president), Jeff Olivarez (Oklahoma State), Jesse Jenny (Oklahoma State), Shelby Strother (Louisiana State), Abbey Smith (Iowa State), and Laura Bunke (Wisconsin). Top row—Clarissa Root (Texas A&M), Nicole Collins (Midwestern), Kayla Niel (Michigan State), Alex Osborne (Purdue), Alexandra Allen (Kansas State), Seth Williams (Missouri), Elise Sanchez (Minnesota), Mitchell Carr (Prince Edward), Amy Barry (London), Alina Teslenko (Illinois), Abby Needleman (Tufts), Kelsey Smith (Kansas State), Laura Bradley (Ross), Taylor Foster (Washington State), Dianicia Kirton (Tuskegee), Dr. Janet Donlin (AVMA CEO), and Katelyn Sheppard (Florida). Not pictured are Brett Montague (Kansas State), Ben McGehee (Oklahoma State), Julia Remaks (Auburn), Eliana Greissworth (Michigan State), Jana Gerding (Virginia-Maryland), and Melanie Peel (Oregon State). (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Students were selected by an anonymous application process administered by the SAVMA executive board. SAVMA delegates and chapter presidents were excluded to allow attendance of other students interested in the AVMA and leadership development, such as Atalie Delgado (St. George’s ’20), who said, “I was disappointed when I wasn’t chosen as my school’s SAVMA delegate, but attending the VLC has renewed my excitement about being a SAVMA member.”

The introduction to the House of Delegates during its regular winter session and to local VMA chapters during district caucus meetings provided students with a better perspective on how the AVMA functions and makes decisions. The general session, specifically the awards ceremony, solidified the impact that veterinarians in various fields of veterinary medicine are having on the profession.

Many came with the hope of making genuine connections with other veterinary students. Christi Leong (Colorado State ’18) said, “Attending the VLC was an amazing experience because it allowed me to meet other students, realize how many similarities we share, and see, in other ways … how different our school’s approach is, with regards to curriculum.”

Students were delighted by the variety of workshops. Rachel Leist (Ohio State ’20) said, “The workshops were a fantastic experience because the speakers were engaging and the topics enlightening.” Some students talked of hosting some of the speakers at their own veterinary colleges.

Open dialogue during the workshops brought up generational differences, specifically between baby boomers and millennials, and the communication challenges those differences create, but also led to meaningful discussion. Alex Osborne (Purdue ’19) reported, “After a workshop session, I went up to a veterinarian who had asked about the baby boomer–millennial relationship, and we had a discussion about the situation that left both of us with such mutual respect for the other.”

During a student dinner, student representatives suggested a workshop at next year’s conference for targeted discussions among small groups of veterinarians and students about combating generational issues. They also expressed interest in a student workshop on a topic affecting them.

Students have already begun to recommend the leadership conference to their classmates and started planning how they themselves can return to a future conference.

Samantha Palmer is a second-year student at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. In January, she completed an externship with the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division.