AVMA convention committee chair gives the people what they want

Dr. John P. Sanders Jr., emphasizes the importance of attendee feedback, one health

For the first time in three years, AVMA Convention 2022 is back in person—along with a virtual component, of course. Dozens of AVMA staff members and volunteers have worked diligently to make this meeting an exciting, engaging, and informative experience for attendees.

Dr. Sanders
Dr. John P. Sanders Jr.

The volunteers include Dr. John P. Sanders Jr., the 2021-22 chair of the AVMA Convention Education Program Committee and branch chief of food protection for the Office of Health Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

AVMA News spoke with Dr. Sanders about veterinarians as lifelong learners, what goes into creating the program for the convention, and what he’s most excited about this year. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How did you become the CEPC chair?

A. I started out with the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine in 2009 as their continuing education chair. At that point, I was helping generate the corporate and public practice track for AVMA Convention. I did that for a number of years, then moved up to content coordinator, then manager of professional development.

I’ve been a lifelong learner; I enjoy that part of veterinary medicine in learning new things and expanding my horizons. That’s one of the great benefits of being a veterinarian. The only boundaries we have are those we set for ourselves. That’s also one reason why I’m in one health. It’s been an evolving process, but I have a passion to see the profession grow and branch out.

Q. What makes a good speaker to you?

A. Someone who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic and passionate on what they’re trying to communicate to the audience. You kind of catch that fervor. I get that way when I talk about one health. I see that as one of the large avenues for veterinary medicine to expand into because, as opposed to human doctors, we look at the entire animal, housing, and environment, especially in beef or dairy practice.

Q. What feedback did you hear from attendees last year? How do you incorporate that in your planning?

A. We do look at surveys from each presentation and each course, especially when evaluating things for next year’s program. So, if folks really love a presentation, make those comments and that you want to hear more from a speaker or a topic. This is the best guidance we have from AVMA members to go forward with that.

About a week after convention, we put out announcements calling for programs for the coming year. That tends to close by September or October. By then, the committee gets to work. A major part is myself but also program managers. They all have their own content coordinators. These folks work hard going over all the submissions. We get two to three times as many submissions as we have time to schedule at convention. We work hard to find the best—what we think people giving us feedback want to hear about. Next year, we may have something about canine brucellosis as we’re starting to see a few more human cases being reported with that condition, but it depends on what folks submit and want to hear about.

In the last five to six years, popular topics have been well-being, substance abuse, suicide prevention and how to help colleagues with that, and the student debt crisis. Those will all be sessions this year.

On Thursday, it’s all virtual, and presenters will be talking about well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion. How do we get the profession to bring more folks in so we become a more diverse population? We need to get those opinions and experiences in our profession.

We’ve also had a lot of interest in cannabis lectures as that becomes a continuing issue. And we’ll have speakers talk about the Food and Drug Administration’s new compounding regulations.

Q. What is the future of meetings?

A. I think for a lot of professional meetings, henceforth, there’s going to be a virtual component. One reason is economics, and another is travel. I look forward to seeing more of AVMA Axon (the Association’s digital continuing education library) integrated with convention.

One thing I did enjoy about dealing with last year’s virtual convention was, as a program manager, you want to attend your program’s talks. With virtual, I could go back and listen to other topics that I didn’t get a chance to at the live convention.

Q. What are you most excited about for this year’s convention?

A. I’m looking forward to being in Philadelphia and back in person. The convention allows us to meet with a lot of colleagues we don’t get to see at other meetings and catch up with folks at social events and the concert.