Kinnarney honored with AVMA Award for dedicated service to AVMA Family

North Carolina veterinarian held leadership positions with AVMA, AVMF, AVMA Trusts for nearly 35 years combined
Dr. Joseph H. Kinnarney
Dr. Joseph H. Kinnarney

Dr. Joseph Kinnarney took a well-deserved victory lap for being honored at AVMA Convention 2023 with two awards that recognized more than three decades of service with the Association and its related entities. The AVMA Trusts chair is stepping down from his position this summer after five years and much transformation at the organization that provides insurance coverage and retirement solutions through AVMA PLIT and AVMA LIFE.

Dr. Kinnarney (Cornell ’80), of Reidsville, North Carolina, accepted The AVMA Award July 15 during the keynote at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. The award recognizes contributions to the advancement of veterinary medicine in its organizational aspects.

Dr. Rena Carlson, 2023-24 AVMA president, nominated him for the award. In her nomination letter, Dr. Carlson wrote of Dr. Kinnarney, “It is impossible to count the number of animals, people, organizations, and associations Dr. Kinnarney has impacted and touched. His presence is felt throughout the veterinary community, and his legacy is one of unselfish dedication, passion, and generosity.”

In addition, he and Dr. Tom Meyer were recognized with awards July 14 for their work helping to steer AVMA LIFE and AVMA PLIT through a period of growth and revitalization.

Called to lead

Dr. Kinnarney’s leadership in organized veterinary medicine extends back to his days as a veterinary student in the late ’70s at Cornell University. Student loans were just starting to become an issue as was starting pay for veterinary graduates.

“I think early on something dawned on me: We’re a small group and, if we don’t stick together, we’re vulnerable,” he said.

When he became the national Student AVMA (SAVMA) president in 1979-1980, he had the opportunity to sit in on the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) meetings, which further drove his interest in organized veterinary medicine.

He would return to the House after starting his career and getting involved with the North Carolina VMA, becoming an alternate delegate for North Carolina in the HOD from 1990-99. It was then that Dr. Kinnarney worked with SAVMA to help win it a vote in the HOD in 1997.

“I then went on to be something that I had always wanted to be—vice president of the AVMA,” he said, which allowed him to deal with issues affecting students, including educational debt and starting salaries. For two terms, from 1999-2001, he helped transform the AVMA’s relationship with veterinary students. During his tenure, the Student Initiatives Team grew and increased visits to veterinary colleges.

“And since that time, that position (vice president) as well as our involvement and interaction with SAVMA changed to the point that the SAVMA president became an ex-officio member of the Board,” he said. “One of my goals had been to make sure we had continued unity and interaction with students.”

Dr. Kinnarney went on to be elected as District III representative to the Board of Directors (BOD) from 2007-13, and AVMA president in 2015-16. He says a defining time in his involvement with the AVMA was the speech he gave to the HOD as incoming AVMA president. He challenged his colleagues to act and think differently in order to improve the lives of AVMA members versus dealing with policies and rules.

“If we are to be relevant to our members, we must change our governance to allow current, pertinent issues to be openly discussed and acted upon by this body,” he said in 2015. “I challenge the leaders of this House—the House Advisory Committee—to tackle this issue.”

The House Advisory Committee (HAC) responded by having the HOD hold its first Veterinary Information Forum before is regular annual session in 2016, which allows time for open discussion of issues brought forth by the delegates after listening to their constituents.

This development and others allowed for AVMA leadership to react faster to changes and member needs.

All in the family

Dr. Kinnarney’s leadership benefited not only the AVMA but also its philanthropic arm, the AVMF, from 2008-18 when he served on its board of directors. During that time, many programs benefited from his contributions.

The same can be said for Dr. Kinnarney’s involvement with the AVMA Trust. While he was chair, Dr. Kinnarney oversaw its restructuring, to become more unified and closely aligned with the AVMA, the hiring of CEO Tracey Gray-Walker, the reintroduction of a health insurance program for AVMA members, and the addition of a retirement plan option for veterinarians.

‘When I look at it, these five years at the Trust have been most challenging—but leaving it this summer, we’re in really good shape. We have a great board and CEO. We have a plan for the next five to 10 years,” he said. “The group will do a great job implementing the plan and members will be receiving great value.”

In the near future, Dr. Kinnarney plans to spend more time with his family and continue to show his horses, which he says are some of the best he’s ever had.

Dr. Kinnarney is still practicing veterinary medicine, just less so these days.

“I’ve been a veterinarian all my life and I’ve worked hard to be good at it,” he said. “I still want to enjoy sharing my knowledge and benefiting the patients I see.”

A version of this story appears in the August 2023 print issue of JAVMA.

Dr. Joseph Kinnarney advises that veterinarians to stick together and come to a consensus to solve any issues affecting the profession during his recorded acceptance speech for The AVMA Award, which he received during the keynote presentation on July 15 at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. (Video by Matt Zingale)