With the first half of a two-year term as AVMA vice president behind her, Dr. Stacy Pritt talked to JAVMA News about her time as the Association's liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters.
Which veterinary colleges have you visited so far?
There are currently 37 veterinary schools visited by the vice president within two academic years. This includes seven schools outside the United States—one in Canada, three in the Caribbean, and three in the United Kingdom—along with three 2+2 programs in Alaska, Utah, and Nebraska. Between official school visits and various conferences, I have visited 15 schools as of late May.
What's your message when you speak to students?
I have a combined message about career management, wellness, and the advocacy organized veterinary medicine provides for the profession. With regard to career management, I focus on how to evaluate career options and how to manage unexpected twists and turns in one's career.
Are there any recurrent comments you're hearing during your visits to the veterinary colleges?
Several topics have been discussed during multiple visits.
First, veterinary schools are continuing to explore the use of nonanimal models to teach basic clinical skills. Many of these models are incredibly creative and more lifelike than ever. Students who come into veterinary school without significant hands-on experience take advantage of these models to build confidence prior to entering the clinical portion of their education.
Second, several schools are increasing their commitment to mental well-being. This spans the gamut from establishing access to mental health services that were previously unavailable to sponsoring events aimed at educating students, faculty, residents, and staff about wellness. Of particular concern with students is the necessity to destigmatize seeking professional mental health assistance.
Third, the veterinary profession has done an excellent job promoting the concept of one health. Students are now actively engaged in the conversation and want to pursue career paths in this area. Unfortunately, one health hasn't yet become a discipline with defined jobs, although I realize that there are a few veterinarians who work full time as coordinators or promoters of one-health activities.
For our profession to truly expand career opportunities, potential jobs within the one-health sphere should be better identified, broadly defined, and more accessible, since they may span several different disciplines. Additionally, the veterinary profession needs to do a much better job of educating our human medical counterparts on what one health is.
There's talk of revamping the office, such as making the vice presidency a three-year position. What are your thoughts on this?
The AVMA Bylaws identify the AVMA vice president as the official liaison to the Student AVMA and the student chapters, while the SAVMA Bylaws identify the vice president as an adviser to SAVMA. Given the increases in the number of veterinary schools, in two-year programs associated with four-year programs, in veterinary schools establishing SAVMA chapters, and in veterinary students as well as the increased staff resources dedicated to student activities, it's important that we keep the vice presidency relevant to today's students and SAVMA. Because of this, I think it's great that the AVMA Board of Directors is investing time and effort into evaluating all possibilities for the position. I am sure that the task force will determine the best path forward for this important seat on the AVMA Board.
How do you and the AVMA's student services team coordinate?
Drs. Caroline Cantner, Derrick Hall, and Anna Reddish, who serve as assistant directors for student initiatives, do a tremendous job supporting SAVMA at the national and school levels. They also become experts in topics of interest for the students, such as student loan debt and wellness. Of the 15 visits I mentioned previously, 11 of those were conducted in conjunction with an assistant director. Therefore, a lot of coordination is involved. Mostly this is by email, text, or phone, but we also meet together a couple times a year to plan out school visits and other activities. We also share ideas, goals, and networks as we travel together.
How do you balance the challenges of your office with your career?
I am fortunate to work in an administrative position that allows me the flexibility to travel and ability to work remotely. My place of employment, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, supports my involvement in the AVMA. I am also fortunate to have staff who are comfortable with an office director who has a very busy schedule, especially during the fall of the academic year. If I get behind a bit at work, I will usually come in on the weekends to catch up.
Anything else you want to discuss?
While it's tangential to being vice president, I strongly believe that our profession needs to focus more on leadership development for new professionals. Veterinary students are exposed to, and take advantage of, a myriad of leadership positions and training programs while in school. Once students graduate, and depending on where they end up working, opportunities for furthering their leadership training can be minimal to nonexistent.
Until very recently, the need to develop the newly graduated professional into a leader was not deemed important. I firmly believe that all veterinarians are leaders. We are leaders in our work environments, communities, and professional organizations. Leadership training includes building self-awareness—also known as emotional intelligence—setting goals and strategies, working toward those goals and strategies, and motivating others. Focusing on developing these skill sets benefits us all as individuals as well as the profession.