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July 01, 2021

HOD to decide historic AVMA election

Bransford and Teller are candidates in first women-only AVMA president-elect contest
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This July, the AVMA House of Delegates will decide the first women-only race for AVMA president-elect in the Association’s 158-year history. The election’s winner, either Dr. Grace Bransford, former AVMA vice president, or Dr. Lori Teller, AVMA Board of Directors chair, will go on to become the 2022-23 AVMA president and the fourth woman to hold that post.

In the following interviews, Drs. Bransford and Teller explain why they’re running for president and how they think SARS-CoV-2 has changed the veterinary profession. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Dr. Bransford

Dr.  Bransford
Dr. Grace Bransford

Q. How do you feel about being part of the first women-only race for AVMA president-elect?

A. It is always exciting to feel one is part of history, especially of the AVMA with its century-and-a-half–plus legacy. I think of the “first” individuals in our profession’s history—each and every one a trailblazer and leader in their own right. The first African American veterinarian, Dr. Henry Stockton Lewis, graduating in 1889; the first women veterinarians, Drs. Elinor McGrath and Florence Kimball; and more recently, our first female AVMA presidents; our first woman AVMA executive vice president, Dr. Janet Donlin; and our first AVMA president from Puerto Rico, Dr. José Arce. We are seeing more firsts for our AVMA record book, and it is an exciting time. If elected, I would be the first Asian American president-elect in AVMA history.

I’m sure we will see more AVMA president-elect candidates like this, but I look forward to seeing more elections with firsts. I encourage all who have the desire and passion to run for this AVMA position.

Q. The winner will be only the fourth female president in AVMA’s 150-plus–year history. What are your thoughts on that?

A. I feel fortunate that I have been a part of AVMA long enough to see each of those women serve their presidency, starting with Dr. Mary Beth Leininger in 1996-97 as our first AVMA female president, along with Drs. Bonnie Beaver and René Carlson. Each president has served as an inspiration to me and left a legacy of their own. I was honored to serve with Dr. Beaver on the 20/20 Vision Commission, and Dr. Carlson was a mentor to me as she was to so many AVMA volunteer leaders. Each led in their own unique way and demonstrated not so much what it was to be a strong female leader, but a strong leader period.

I tend not to look at leaders by gender or gender preference or by age, race, ethnicity, or veterinary discipline, but by what leadership qualities they exhibit. I have witnessed strong leadership up close by observing great leaders in AVMA during my 20 years of service to our esteemed organization. Our three female presidents have demonstrated what it is like to lead and tackle the tough issues, but so have countless other AVMA presidents. I would like to see more female AVMA presidents in the future but also those of all sizes and stripes.

Q. Why do you want to be AVMA president?

A. I sometimes reflect on my career, first as an advertising executive with my marketing and strategic planning training, then my career transition to a veterinary student and graduate, becoming a veterinary practice owner, and as an AVMA volunteer with over two decades of experience. I believe it all comes together now to provide me with a unique set of skills and experiences to serve as AVMA president.

I have always seen this organization as a family. I have learned so very much from every member, volunteer, council and committee member, staff person, member of the Board of Directors, the House of Delegates. They have all helped to shape my professional and personal future. When I mentor others, I hope that I am providing the wise counsel that I received for many years. I want to continue paying it forward for the gift that I was given when I started serving with AVMA and provide my skills and experience to the people and projects that I touch.

Q. What qualities and skills do you bring to the position?

A. Along with the aforementioned professional skill set, I bring a listening ear, the ability to ask thoughtful and insightful questions, the training to look at an issue from all angles, and the creativity and optimism of an innovator. I’m also a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Executive Veterinary Leadership Program, and I look forward to using that knowledge in my presidency. You can learn more about me on my website.

Q. What is your elevator speech about why the HOD should elect you?

A. I bring the old and the new to this position. I have over 20 years of experience serving the AVMA in many capacities, including as a former AVMA vice president. I know what it’s like both as an associate and as a practice owner. I became a second-career veterinarian, after making a major transition from an advertising executive to a veterinary professional. I come from a diverse background, being raised by an adoptive father from Montana and an adoptive mother from Japan. It all gives me unique insights into how AVMA and our profession can adapt and grow for years into the future.

Q. Do you think the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has changed the delivery of veterinary services? What about the profession itself in terms of preventing the next outbreak? Which changes do you think will stay, and which do you think are temporary?

A. Absolutely. Homebound clients and curbside service created distance between veterinarians and the families and animals they serve, but in some ways the pandemic has had positive effects. It opened up opportunities for more house call veterinary care and telemedicine with a veterinarian-client-patient relationship in place. In my practice, I felt the distance and the resulting feeling of losing some of that personal touch. Medicine is one of the most personal services one can deliver, and it’s on us as leaders to help practitioners adapt.

We focus on science, which is a significant part of the mission statement of the AVMA. I’ve spoken with veterinarians involved in government and nongovernmental organizations who had predicted such an outbreak. This pandemic has elevated the visibility of veterinarians and the role we play in public health and society at large. Focusing on one health—the intersection of animal, human, and environmental health—the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak has provided a fitting example of this interplay. More and more young careers will come out of one health, and that is where a lot of new opportunities lie.

How can we help with prevention in the next outbreak? In our mission statement, we make a commitment to “advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health.” That says it all—we support the phenomenal advances in our scientific community regarding infectious disease, and our job as veterinarians is to prevent or reduce the harmful impacts, physical and mental, we all just experienced in this pandemic. Looking at how we changed, convenience and value will never go away, but neither will our personal touch.

Q. What are you most proud of accomplishing during your time as AVMA vice president?

A. I’ve been proud to work with students—hearing their incredible ideas and plans, helping the next generation of veterinarians. For example, at the first-ever AVMA Virtual Student Town Hall, which focused on well-being. I worked with the students to connect the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Lincoln Memorial College of Veterinary Medicine via Zoom. They talked with each other in a group setting about their well-being program successes, concerns, and issues. Having students from these two great schools come together and learn from each other, 2,500 miles apart, was spectacular to see.

I so loved serving as a leadership example to so many students and getting to know them. I enjoyed hearing their concerns and issues and helping them realize that their ideas and opinions are critical to the success of our profession and that they are also not and never alone.

Being a keen student of change management, I also loved shepherding the AVMA vice president’s transition to also working with the faculty of our veterinary schools. I enjoyed managing the focus groups to listen and learn about faculty needs and ultimately getting support objectives on paper. Dr. Sandra Faeh is doing a wonderful job as vice president and continues to make that transition a great success.

Q. When you look back at the end of your presidency, how will you know that you had an impact?

A. I am often told I am a connector and a collaborator. I love bringing people together, helping them generate ideas, and seeing where all of our effort can take us. It’s hard to have a solid metric around an AVMA president’s impact. It is a collective team effort of member volunteers, AVMA staff, and other organizational alliances. As the pandemic demonstrated, what may start as a given year’s goals and objectives may dramatically change, and one must spin on a dime to redirect and head in a brand-new direction.

I think I will sense that I had an impact if I feel I made a difference by doing some of the things I do best for the AVMA: connecting, collaborating, communicating, and creating. Perhaps my goal is one best said by Robert Baden-Powell, “Leave it better than you found it.”

Dr. Teller

Dr. Teller
Dr. Lori Teller

Q. How do you feel about being part  of the first women-only race for AVMA president-elect?

A. I think it’s very exciting. The AVMA has had some amazing leaders serve as president, both men and women. The next president-elect will stand atop very big shoulders. I feel fortunate to have many mentors who have served in that role and who make themselves available to me. They have shared some great advice with me through the years and during my campaign.

Q. The winner will be only the fourth female president in AVMA’s 150-plus–year history. What are your thoughts on that?

A. The previous female presidents—Drs. Mary Beth Leininger, Bonnie Beaver, and René Carlson—really set the bar high. It would be an honor to continue their legacy. I hope and think that I can. With a profession that is now predominantly female, I would love to serve as a role model to those who are currently navigating their way—whether it’s learning how to be involved in advocacy, become a leader, or juggle the roles of professional and parent.

Q. Why do you want to be AVMA president?

A. I have been blessed to serve in many different positions with the AVMA—on committees, the House of Delegates, and the Board of Directors. In those roles, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with colleagues who represent the broad spectrum of everything you can do with a veterinary degree, and I have gained tremendously from these experiences. I want to be AVMA president to share the great things that we do and to encourage others to contribute. Volunteers and staff have been singularly dedicated to meeting the needs of the profession. We are a small profession with a big heart, and it will take all of us to protect and promote what we have and propel us forward. There is strength in our collective wisdom. As president, I can give voice to that wisdom.

Q. What qualities and skills do you bring to the position?

A. I have worked in private practice in various roles since I was 12, and now I’m on the veterinary faculty at Texas A&M University teaching our future colleagues. I have served in organized veterinary medicine at the local, state, and national levels, including as president at each level. I have served on foundation boards and as a trustee for the Texas VMA Veterinary Political Action Committee. I have also been a founder of and board trustee for a high school for children with significant learning differences. I have had a monthly radio show for about 12 years, write regular articles for both the news media and veterinary journals, and speak at regional, national, and international meetings. I am extremely well organized, and I get things done. I am a connector and love to bring people together to work through problems. I am a networker.

There is no way any one person can know everything there is to know about being a veterinarian. Before serving as the Texas VMA president, I built a network of people who worked in other aspects of the profession. That way, if an issue arose that I was not familiar with, I had expert colleagues on speed dial who could provide me with accurate and timely information to help. I am fiercely loyal and do not like it when others try to infringe on our profession, and I will constantly advocate on our behalf. I have excellent communication skills and am not easily flappable, so I am comfortable speaking with a variety of people and audiences. I am adaptable and fully recognize that as veterinary medicine changes and progresses, the AVMA needs to readjust as well. I am in the trenches every day, so I can represent to the AVMA the views and needs of those still hard at work, to ensure that we maintain our focus and our strategic plan on what is important to our current and future members.

I welcome people to friend me on Facebook or on LinkedIn.

Q. What is your elevator speech about why the HOD should elect you?

A. Organized veterinary medicine encompasses the hearts, the souls, and the brains of the profession. I have a long history of service to the profession at all levels, and I have proven that I can get things done. I know what it’s like to work in private practice and then transition to another path in academia, how to successfully handle the many different issues that face the profession, how to make hard decisions, and how to communicate. I believe in teamwork and collaboration with our members and others. The AVMA is a rock-solid organization, and I would like to continue supporting our mission on behalf of our members. The AVMA rocks!

Q. Do you think the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has changed the delivery of veterinary services? What about the profession itself in terms of preventing the next outbreak? Which changes do you think will stay, and which do you think are temporary?

A. Most definitely. We are very fortunate that the AVMA advocated for veterinary medicine to be an essential service so we could continue to provide care for our clients and patients. Practices had to be nimble to find ways to provide the same excellent care while keeping staff and the public safe. Curbside service became the new normal in many places, and some clients will want that to continue even after everything fully reopens. Many veterinarians will make that an option; I know that we will. Others miss the opportunity to be together in the exam room. Veterinarians will continue to encourage and build on the relationship of mutual trust that develops between client, patient, and veterinarian.

Food animal veterinarians have been in overdrive to maintain the integrity and safety of our food supply. There are many steps in getting food from farm to table, and veterinarians ensure that we continue to have safe foods to eat. Our colleagues in research and public health put in many extra hours during the pandemic to learn everything possible about SARS-CoV-2 and its impact on humans, animals, and the environment. They have played a role in its diagnosis, treatment, vaccine development, and more, and they will continue to create new and better ways for us to detect and prevent future diseases before they become outbreaks. The use of telemedicine also grew significantly during the pandemic. We continue to learn much about how to best incorporate telemedicine into veterinary care, what works and what doesn’t, and what clients, veterinarians, and staff like and don’t like about it. Telemedicine will be around for the long haul, and its use will evolve as we learn more about best practices.

Q. What are you most proud of accomplishing during your time as chair of the AVMA Board of Directors?

A. I am extremely proud of the BOD for its ongoing flexibility to meet the needs of our members while managing their own busy work lives. At meetings, the BOD reviews input from the House of Delegates, our councils and committees, members at large, and staff and ensures that we continue to do our best on behalf of the profession. Our Government Relations Division has been phenomenal at advocating on our behalf, regarding animal welfare, education, business-related issues, and more.

The BOD has continued to encourage expansion of our wellness, animal welfare, and economic resources. We are partnering with other organizations to build on each other’s expertise and resources. We recognized issues around workforce utilization, whether at the veterinarian or support staff level, and are doing more research in this realm so that appropriate policies and resources are created. We have projects under development to increase nondues revenue so dues will stay at a manageable level. We continue to address diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the profession.

Q. When you look back at the end of your presidency, how will you know that you had an impact?

A. Objective impact will be measurable by an increase in membership numbers, both new and renewed, and by an increase in people’s positive opinions about the AVMA. It will reflect an increase in the number of outside organizations seeking AVMA’s input and knowledge. Subjective impact is harder to measure. If elected, I would be the first mom to serve as AVMA president. I want people to know, whether they’re parents or not, that it is possible to have a thriving, well-rounded life within and outside the profession. There are ups and downs, to be sure, but if one person can tell me that I inspired them to make a difference, then I will know I have been impactful.