Dr. Darren Taul, 2018-19 president of the American Animal Hospital Association, is a sort of everyman of veterinary practice. Like most other practitioners, he is having trouble hiring right now. Like many practitioners over recent decades, he started out in mixed animal medicine but now focuses on small animal medicine.
He assumed the office of president during the association's new conference, AAHA Connexity, Sept. 12-16 in Denver. Joining him as AAHA officers are Drs. Guylaine Charette, Pembroke, Ontario, president-elect; Pamela Nichols, West Bountiful, Utah, vice president; Mark McConnell, Eugene, Oregon, immediate past president; and Dermot Jevens, Greenville, South Carolina, secretary-treasurer.
Dr. Taul grew up on a family farm in Kentucky. He said, "I just thought it was amazing to have our veterinarian come out to our farm and treat sick animals or deliver a calf—or be able to take our pets in—and it was like, wow, he was able to help us on every angle."
Dr. Taul attended Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he met his wife, Dr. Stacey Burdick-Taul. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995, and he earned his in 1996.
They moved to Lancaster, Kentucky, where he purchased Animal Hospital of Lancaster in 1999. The same year, she became a partner at Animal Hospital of Nicholasville in Nicholasville, Kentucky. He practiced mixed animal medicine for about a decade before switching to small animals and occasionally horses.
For about two decades, Dr. Taul was a solo doctor. A year ago, he purchased a second hospital, Animal Hospital of Danville in Danville, Kentucky. Also last year, he hired a full-time associate and a part-time associate.
Even early on, Dr. Taul wanted to have an AAHA-accredited hospital, but he didn't go through the accreditation process until 2012. Shortly thereafter, he joined a North American Business Association group with AAHA, which later transitioned into one of the AAHA-Accredited Veterinary Management Groups through Veterinary Study Groups Inc. He also attended an AAHA Adventure Series pack trip and now facilitates this annual continuing education event. All this involvement led to him eventually becoming president of the association.
With Connexity, Dr. Taul said, "We are trying to help our members find solutions to real-world, everyday problems and allow them to network and connect with others so that they have resources that extend beyond just a conference."
Dr. Taul said attendees at Connexity were talking about difficulties hiring, educational debt, and a lack of interest in practice ownership alongside ongoing corporate consolidation. In his case, his rural location compounds the hiring difficulties.
Among other new programs, AAHA introduced the Indispensable Associate Initiative in 2016 to drive practice success through associate advancement. Dr. Taul said the program has proven to be popular. The free program, currently open to 2014-18 graduates, helps new associates master key business and communication skills.
"AAHA's culture initiative began three years ago and is still ongoing," Dr. Taul said. "AAHA's newest endeavor, reimagining accreditation, is just beginning."
As AAHA president, Dr. Taul will focus on the association's three strategic objectives: to create a transformative AAHA member experience by growing essential relationships and reimagining accreditation, to increase awareness of the AAHA brand and the brand's influence on pet owners' decision to choose accredited practices, and to promote a positive organizational culture in accredited practices.
For Dr. Taul and his practice team, becoming accredited was a statement: "This is how we're going to practice medicine. We're going to do our best day in and day out, every day."