Dr. José Arce will be the first Puerto Rican veterinarian elected AVMA president
Interview by R. Scott Nolen
June 10, 2020
Updated June 12, 2020
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dr. José Arce is one of the first natives of the U.S. commonwealth to serve on the AVMA Board of Directors. He will achieve another first this summer when the AVMA House of Delegates elects him as the 2020-21 president-elect and next in line for the AVMA presidency. He is the sole candidate for the office of president-elect and will succeed Dr. Douglas Kratt as AVMA president in 2021.
A 1997 graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Arce is president and co-owner of Miramar Animal Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His wife, Dr. Anik Puig, is also a veterinarian.
Dr. Arce was a member of the HOD from 2000 until joining the AVMA Board in 2014. He recently talked to JAVMA News about what he hopes to accomplish as AVMA president. The following answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Q. Why are you running for AVMA president?
A. I have been an active participant in organized veterinary medicine for the past 26 years, holding numerous leadership positions in the Student AVMA throughout my years in veterinary school and later at the state level in the Puerto Rico VMA and nationally both in the AVMA House and on the AVMA Board.
In my capacity as District IV director on the Board, I have served or continue to serve as liaison to a long list of councils, committees, advisory panels, and AVMA trusts; as chair of the Committee on International Veterinary Affairs; and on the American Veterinary Medical Foundation board of directors.
These experiences, together with my diverse background, have given me a unique perspective and in-depth knowledge of the AVMA and the issues facing the veterinary profession. Additionally, they have taught me to be an inclusive, forward-thinking, and strategic leader.
I will do my best to lead by example, and hopefully my presidency will send a message of inclusiveness and inspire other minorities to become involved in organized veterinary medicine.
Dr. José Arce, candidate for 2020-21 AVMA president-elect
Veterinary medicine has provided me many opportunities to meet veterinarians from all corners of the world, with whom I have had profound conversations regarding our profession. These experiences and interactions have prepared me to become an effective AVMA president and to carry the torch of my predecessors in protecting, promoting, and advancing veterinary medicine.
A strong veterinary profession needs a strong AVMA, and as president, I will be committed to working in conjunction with our leadership, our volunteers, and the AVMA staff to optimize the way we serve our members in order to make a difference in the lives of present and future veterinarians.
Q. What do you want AVMA members to know about you?
A. Growing up, my father was involved in organized medicine and served in the Puerto Rico Medical Association and in the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association, so it was natural for me to become involved in organized veterinary medicine. During my first year as District IV director on the AVMA Board, we worked on the new AVMA branding and the tag line: “Our Passion. Our Profession.”
It might sound corny, but that’s exactly how I feel about veterinary medicine. I am truly passionate about our profession, and I cherish every opportunity to educate, promote, and advocate for our profession, whether it is in a kindergarten classroom or with members of the U.S. Congress.
Q. What significance does being the first Puerto Rican veterinarian to serve as AVMA president have for you?
A. I am extremely proud of my Puerto Rican and Spanish roots; they are an intricate part of who I am and my perspective towards all things in life. Becoming a Hispanic and minority president of AVMA will be an honor, but it also comes with some responsibility. I will do my best to lead by example, and hopefully my presidency will send a message of inclusiveness and inspire other minorities to become involved in organized veterinary medicine. The AVMA must continue to strive for greater diversity and inclusiveness as it gives strength to our voice as advocates for veterinary medicine. It is also imperative that we promote veterinary medicine as a suitable career choice for underrepresented groups, both in ethnicity and type of practice.
Q. What skills and qualifications do you bring to the office?
A. The president of AVMA must be an effective communicator, not just a promoter of our Association. When I first served on the AVMA House of Delegates almost two decades ago, I would frequently give my thoughts and opinions at our meetings about the issues at hand. With time, I have become an active listener—deferring judgement, providing feedback as needed, and responding appropriately and respectfully.
The AVMA president must be a respected voice for the profession and be able to represent AVMA and the veterinary profession, not just to our members but also to government, industry, international veterinary associations, and the public. I truly believe that I have earned that respect of others through my hard work and commitment to the AVMA for the past 26 years.
Personally, I see myself as creative, empathetic, adaptable, positive, and optimistic. I also have a great sense of humor, which helps me connect with others.
Q. How big a part of your presidency do you expect COVID-19 will be?
A. As a member of the Board, I participated in the difficult decision to cancel AVMA Convention 2020. It was a sad decision for us because we knew we would not be able to experience and celebrate the events of convention together with our colleagues. We also knew that canceling convention was the right decision and the only way to protect the health, safety, and well-being of all our convention participants.
Now, AVMA Convention 2020, the HOD summer session, and the election of officers will be held virtually instead of in person in San Diego.
We know of several state and international veterinary meetings that have been canceled or postponed until 2021. We do not yet know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, whether there will be a second wave in the fall and a third next spring, when a vaccine will be available, and how long travel restrictions, quarantines, and social distancing rules will continue to be in effect. All these factors will play a role in deciding if we will be able to begin holding small, in-person meetings in the early fall and hopefully larger gatherings such as the AVMA Economic Summit later in the year.
So, yes, COVID-19 will have an effect on my year as president-elect, as several of the meetings that officers would have attended have been or will probably be canceled or held virtually.
As leaders of this Association, we have an opportunity to become our most innovative, adaptive, and resilient selves in facing all the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic throws at us and making decisions that will be in the best interests of our members.
I take my hat off to the AVMA staff for working tirelessly in order to provide factual, up-to-the-minute information and resources to assist veterinarians in providing services during the present pandemic and supporting their well-being during this time of uncertainty and distress.
Q. What can AVMA members expect from your presidency?
A. AVMA members should look forward to a president who is passionate and deeply committed to our profession, and who assumes a leadership role in facing the problems that affect veterinary medicine.
They should expect a president addressing news media frequently and communicating to the public the importance and value of veterinary medicine in enhancing people’s lives, and how the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship between animals and people.
They should also expect a president who focuses on effectively communicating the benefits and values of the AVMA to our members, as well as improve the internal communication between AVMA leadership and staff, and our volunteers on councils and committees.
AVMA members should anticipate a president who is a team player and who will work in collaboration with the Board and House to build consensus and promote a culture of unity; who is not afraid to speak his mind, but who, at the same time, is an active listener, and is willing to change his mind.
Q. What do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges facing the veterinary profession?
A. Veterinary medicine continues to face daunting economic challenges and societal demands. High educational debt, income concerns such as low starting salaries, scope-of-practice issues, an unfavorable work-life balance, and uncertainty about retirement all contribute to wellness issues within our profession.
At the global level—and because the interconnections among animals, people, and the environment have become more significant and impactful than ever—we are facing new challenges. The present pandemic is a perfect example of that.
At the same time, we need to address and take advantage of new and developing technologies that are affecting the practice of veterinary medicine such as telehealth, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, biosensors, and the proper use of mobile medical devices. These innovative technologies are developing and evolving rapidly. We must quickly adapt to these changes to remain relevant, while maintaining the integrity of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship and understanding how all of these things impact the standard of care.
As they say, with challenge comes opportunity. The present pandemic is a perfect example of that. The AVMA, state VMAs, and veterinarians nationally and worldwide have been at the forefront, helping educate the public about SARS-CoV-2. Several veterinary schools are conducting studies on SARS-CoV-2, some are developing vaccines against the novel coronavirus, and some are assisting state governments in testing humans for the COVID-19 virus. All this work shows how veterinary medicine can bring unique value to biomedical research and public health. This pandemic has also demonstrated the need for the implementation of one-health practices and measures to improve the response to and reduce the emergence of pandemic viruses.
Q. What role does the AVMA have in the profession’s challenges and opportunities?
A. The AVMA should prominently communicate the values of our profession and educate the public about all aspects of veterinary medicine, and our leaders and volunteers at all levels should constantly promote and advocate for our profession through the traditional news media outlets and social media.
We must work together to foster an environment that promotes the mental health, emotional well-being, and personal happiness of our members, both at work and at home.
The AVMA must also be a global leader in one health and contribute to the development of policies and guidelines in all aspects of veterinary medicine. We must cultivate relationships and work in unison with other global veterinary associations and intergovernmental entities to support public health, animal health, and welfare around the world.
Q. When you look back on your presidency, how do you hope you’ll be remembered?
A. I would like to be remembered as a strong leader who represented our members and advocated for our profession well and inspired others to do the same; and who left behind an AVMA that is better prepared to meet the needs of society while protecting, promoting, and advancing a unified veterinary profession.
Q. Is there anything else you want to discuss?
A. I am a strong advocate of the concept of the AVMA family, and if elected president, as the primary spokesperson of the AVMA, I will take this message of the AVMA family everywhere I go. Whether it is the House of Delegates and all the state VMAs and allied groups that are part of it, the Board, AVMF, AVMA Political Action Committee, SAVMA, and now Veterinary Medical Association Executives and National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, we need to strategically work in unison to be a more effective organization.
Correction: This article incorrectly identified the Puerto Rico VMA board in Dr. José Arce’s response to, “What skills and qualifications do you bring to the office?” Dr. Arce was talking about his nearly 20 years of service in the AVMA House of Delegates.