Dr. René A. Carlson, 1954-2019

AVMA president, 2011-12
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Dr. Carlson
Dr. René A. Carlson

Dr. René A. Carlson, a small animal veterinarian from Wisconsin and passionate advocate for veterinary medicine who served as president of both the AVMA and the World Veterinary Association, died March 26. She was 64.

Dr. Carlson assumed the AVMA presidency in 2011, during World Veterinary Year. In a speech to the AVMA House of Delegates that July, she encouraged veterinarians to remain "silent heroes" no longer and to proudly tell the world how they protect animals, the public, and the environment. Dr. Carlson also challenged veterinary leaders to commit to transforming the AVMA into an inclusive, forward-thinking organization prepared to meet societal needs. She said: "It can be done. And I am telling you, it must be done."

Four years later, as WVA president, Dr. Carlson appeared before an advisory panel of the World Health Organization to speak against a proposal that would have limited veterinary access to ketamine worldwide. The initiative ultimately failed.

"Dr. Carlson's accomplishments are reflective of her lifelong dedication and commitment to the veterinary profession," said Dr. Janet Donlin, AVMA CEO. "We will all miss René so much as she had such a profound impact on all of us and our profession for so long."

AVMA President John de Jong said, "René was an exceptional leader and voice for our profession. She had been incredibly strong these past few years as she battled her illness and fought with the optimism and dignity that we will always remember her for. Personally, I will always remember her positive energy, her humility, and her love of her husband, the AVMA, and the profession."

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Dr. Carlson graduated in 1978 from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing an internship in Massachusetts, she returned to her Midwestern roots, settling in Chetek, a city in northwestern Wisconsin. She worked for several years in small and mixed animal practices until 1996, when she opened Animal Hospital of Chetek, an American Animal Hospital Association–accredited practice.

Dr. Carlson participated in organized veterinary medicine for more than three decades, starting in 1986, as a member of the Wisconsin VMA's Veterinary Technicians Advisory Committee. By 1994, she was WVMA president.

It was the same with the AVMA. Dr. Carlson began in the AVMA House of Delegates in 1995, first as the WVMA alternate delegate, then delegate from 1999-2003. She was elected AVMA vice president, serving from 2004-06 as the AVMA Board of Directors' representative to the Student AVMA. Then Dr. Carlson became a member of the AVMA Council on Education until 2010, when the HOD elected her AVMA president-elect.

Dr. Ted Cohn chaired the AVMA Board of Directors during Dr. Carlson's tenure as president, and he recalls her as a joy to work with. "Her humility, warmth, and sense of humor often cut the tension and made my job easier," he said. "René's clear vision for the veterinary medical profession helped to ensure that the AVMA put the needs of our members first."

Dr. Carlson understood the importance of global connections to strengthen the veterinary profession. She was elected in 2013 to a three-year term as director for international affairs for the AVMA and won a second term in 2016. Two years earlier, Dr. Carlson was elected president of the World Veterinary Association, a federation comprising roughly 100 veterinary organizations representing over half a million veterinarians on six continents.

"It's amazing. I'm this person from a town of 2,000 people in Wisconsin, and I'm president of an international organization representing fellow veterinarians around the world," Dr. Carlson said in a 2017 interview with JAVMA News.

During the 2018 AVMA Convention, Dr. Carlson was honored with a lifetime honorary membership in the WVA, and the AVMA awarded her the Global Veterinary Service Award for promoting veterinary medicine worldwide.

Dr. Carlson is survived by her husband, Dr. Mark Carlson, who was also her veterinary school classmate, as well as her mother and sister. Memorials may be made to Chetek Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 625, Chetek, WI 54728; the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, 1931 N. Meacham Road Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173; or the René A. Carlson Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, 1365 Gortner Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108.

More May 15, 2019 JAVMA obituaries

Related JAVMA content:

Carlson awarded WVA lifetime membership (Sept. 15, 2018)

AVMA's champion for global veterinary medicine (Sept. 1, 2017)

Carlson's vision is a call to action (Sept. 1, 2011)