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July 01, 2020

Making a difference

Sandra Faeh ready to work with colleges, students
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When the AVMA House of Delegates assembles virtually this summer, its members will make Dr. Sandra Faeh the next AVMA vice president.

Dr.  Faeh
Dr. Sandra Faeh

Dr. Faeh is currently the Illinois delegate in the HOD and the sole candidate for vice president—a two-year office as the AVMA Board of Directors’ liaison to the Student AVMA and by extension to the veterinary college deans and faculty.

The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine alumna and small animal practitioner recently spoke to JAVMA News about what she hopes to accomplish as the vice president. The following answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q. Why are you running for AVMA vice president?

A. The importance of being involved in my profession has been ingrained in me since my first days at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, thanks to Dr. Erwin Small. To Illinoisans, Dr. Small was veterinary medicine. As a retired Marine, his voice carried. I can still hear him echoing in the halls and smell his unlit cigar. No one could say no to Dr. Small. He was the start of my career in organized veterinary medicine. Through his encouragement, I became the Student AVMA delegate for Illinois, which led to the national SAVMA presidency. To this day, being SAVMA president was the highlight of my career. It was at that point I decided I wanted to make an impact on future students. I wanted to convey to them the importance of being involved in this great profession and all the opportunities it gives you.  Surrounded by mentors—Drs. Rena Carlson, Allen Miyahara, and Joe Kinnarney—who also shared this passion, I continued to pursue this goal. These people mentored me and made me want to follow in their footsteps, to become a leader to students just like they were to me, to be able to make an impact in students’ lives and their careers.

The AVMA has an abundance of resources that are available to help students and faculty members with their economic and mental health concerns. ... It will be my job to ensure that this information is brought to the SAVMA chapters and to the veterinary colleges.

Dr. Sandra Faeh, candidate for 2020-22 AVMA vice president

I have been honored to work with students all over the country. They are incredibly intelligent and mature and have so much to offer. I hope that I can have a positive influence on their lives and careers like the great leaders before me did.

Q. What skills and qualifications do you bring to the office?

A. There are two important facets to the job of AVMA vice president. First and foremost is being the liaison to the veterinary colleges and students. During my career, I have interacted with and presented to many groups of students on a variety of topics all over the world. I have sat on committees and boards with students and faculty members. This has given me a deeper knowledge of their concerns and offered insight into how to help.

The second important obligation is having a seat on the AVMA Board of Directors. Since my time as SAVMA president, I have been involved with leadership on local, state, and national levels. I currently serve as the AVMA delegate for Illinois and recently completed my term as chair of the AVMA House Advisory Committee. As chair, I attended AVMA Board of Directors meetings. My involvement with the AVMA has given me an in-depth knowledge of its functions. This exposure will enable me to jump right in and serve effectively.

Things are always changing, and sometimes, things change too quickly. I would be foolish to say that I know what the next few years will bring, but I can say that my abilities to listen and adapt will be the most important tools to have. We all must adapt to the foreseeable future and address challenges as they develop. We must meet them head-on to make the best of these uncertain times.

Q. The role of vice president changed under your predecessor, Dr. Grace Bransford. Please talk about those changes and why they were necessary.

A. Ultimately, the goal of the AVMA vice president is to serve the students. The approach, however, has changed slightly. Previously, the main task of the vice president was to visit all of the veterinary colleges over her two-year term. With the addition of more and more colleges, this was becoming a difficult task.

The AVMA has three amazing staff members—the Student Initiative Team—who visit every veterinary college, every year. The vice president will continue to be the key liaison with the SAVMA House of Delegates and the SAVMA Executive Board. However, the vice president’s new main directive is to meet with the deans and the key influencers for students—those who teach veterinary students in the classroom and laboratory and on clinical rotations.

Many faculty members are not DVMs and may not have much exposure to the AVMA. It is the vice president’s job to discuss with them the importance of organized veterinary medicine and being an AVMA member, so they can pass this onto the students in everything they do. It is also essential for the vice president to listen to their needs and concerns. Feedback from all individuals at the veterinary colleges is invaluable to our organization. We have many of the same concerns as the veterinary colleges—educational debt, wellness, and mentorship. With increased collaboration, we will have the opportunity to explore what both sides are doing and help the students even more.

Q. What do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges facing veterinary education?

A. If you had asked me this a few months ago, my answer would have been drastically different! I believe the biggest challenges right now are because of COVID-19 and how to provide the best possible education to all students while still staying healthy. Providing virtual lecture content is relatively straightforward, but providing hands-on training while social distancing has become a challenge. This type of training is essential to develop the skills necessary to be a veterinarian. Students are worrying they won’t be able to perform up to their employer’s expectations.

Many are worrying if there will be jobs available upon graduation. How will they be able to pay off their debt? The decline in the economy will certainly affect our profession.

Attached to these concerns are mental health issues. This time of quarantine is cultivating isolationism, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings, high during a normal academic year, are unfortunately worse during these uncertain times.

Q. What role does the AVMA have in veterinary education’s challenges and opportunities?

A. The AVMA has an abundance of resources that are available to help students and faculty members with their economic and mental health concerns. The My Veterinary Life website is an example of one of AVMA’s amazing resources. It will be my job to ensure that this information is brought to the SAVMA chapters and to the veterinary colleges. It is the vice president’s job to listen to the concerns and needs of the students and faculty members and bring them to the AVMA Board of Directors.

Q. When you look back on your time as vice president, what do you hope you’ll have accomplished?

A. Being involved in the AVMA has given me mentors, colleagues, and friends. It has given me an expanded view of the profession and the opportunity to help chart its course. It has given me a voice. If I can instill that feeling into at least one student, then I will have accomplished my goal.

Q. Is there anything else you want to discuss?

A. These are truly unprecedented times, and it is hard to say what the future holds. The role of the vice president will continue to evolve, even more so now with restrictions on gatherings and traveling. If elected, I look forward to collaborating with the AVMA staff, students, and the veterinary colleges to make a difference. We will not sit idle. We will continue to work toward our goals and continue to adjust them as new challenges arise.

I truly appreciate everyone’s support and encouragement during my campaign. I was able to visit several states and address their VMAs before the pandemic developed; however, I had hoped to visit more. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.