Meet the AVMA president-elect candidates

Drs. Grace Bransford and Rena Carlson talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion and the future of veterinary medicine

One item of business during the AVMA House of Delegates’ regular annual session this July in Philadelphia is selecting the 2022-23 AVMA president-elect. The candidates—Dr. Grace Bransford, former AVMA vice president, and Dr. Rena Carlson, former chair of the AVMA Board of Directors—spoke to AVMA News about their reasons for running and their goals if elected.

The following responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dr. BransfordDr. Bransford

Q: Why do you want to be president of the AVMA?

A: I want to be of service and cannot think of anything I would rather serve than this profession and its members. Our vocation is one of the noblest on this planet. I would like to be a leader and collaborator in ensuring its health and success into the future.

Given the economic, workforce, well-being, and diversity issues facing our profession today, I believe I have the unique skillset and experience to guide our association through these challenging times. I have been fortunate to have had two careers in my life. I have been an advertising and a veterinary professional. I have been trained in strategically assessing an industry’s future and, as a veterinarian for 24 years, know how to do it in the context of our profession. My AVMA volunteer career path is also unique. I have risen through the leadership ranks serving on many councils, committees, task forces, and the 20/20 Vision Commission. These entities perform all the detailed work that helps drive AVMA’s future. This experience helps me effectively navigate the many different business divisions of the AVMA as well as outside entities. My time as AVMA vice president has also provided me with Board experience, the opportunity to work closely with the House Advisory Committee and HOD, and the chance to serve in the role as AVMA’s figurehead with the veterinary schools and their students, faculty, and deans.

Q: What is your elevator speech about why the HOD should elect you this July?

A: With my unique qualifications, I am not your typical AVMA president-elect candidate. With my experience in advertising management and my council/committee path in AVMA volunteer leadership, I will be able to use that background to look at the challenges our profession faces with a different lens. I think that will be critically important as some of these looming issues will need to be addressed with not the business-as-usual approach. This profession and its success are my passion. From the delegates who took a chance on me back in 1998 to elect a new graduate to the (former) Council on Public Relations, I hope the HOD sees my nearly quarter-century of dedication to the AVMA as evidence that I am unswerving in my commitment to helping make the veterinary medicine profession the very finest it can be. Our careers and of those who follow us are being changed in ways and at a rate that none of us could have foreseen. I believe my 24 years of AVMA experience, previous career in advertising and marketing, wisdom gained from a Stanford education, and hard work as both an associate and practice owner have given me the skills and chops to be an extremely effective AVMA president.

Q: How do you feel about AVMA’s efforts to make veterinary medicine a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession?

A: I am encouraged by collaboration and long-range planning of the AVMA and American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges to see that our profession becomes more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in many ways—and not just among racial, ethnic, and gender preference divisions. We need to ensure we keep an equitable balance among all identifiable segments including geographic, political, and age, to name just a few. The best work to address our profession’s issues will be done by diverse groups that will not rubber-stamp each other. They will be willing to tackle big problems, speak up about how they view the situation, and present their potential solutions. We will not be able to effectively address AVMA’s or the profession’s future by practicing groupthink.

Q: Where do you see the U.S. veterinary profession in 10 years?

A: Our profession is going through a time of rapid change and expansion. There are strong external forces that are at work shaping our future. It is critical that as our profession’s lead association, we continually watchdog our industry’s landscape and plan and act in ways that protect our members’ needs now and into the future.

If our profession follows the traditional industry cycle, we will soon hit the stage of maturity, where the strongest entities will survive, and the weaker will not. We will have to ensure we have a clear understanding of what does and doesn’t define organizational strength. We will have an increased dependence on technology to deliver care more efficiently. The animal health care client will demand that. There will be greater use of telemedicine, but even so, we can never lose sight of the core of our care: the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Medicine is the most personal service that one can deliver. It must remain personally delivered, and we must control the narrative of what that means.

Q: If elected, what would you do to ensure a bright future for the profession?

A: This takes me to my mission: to continue to build awareness and reinforce the value of the veterinarian. Our key stakeholders need to be keenly aware not just of the depth and breadth of the skills and knowledge that the veterinary degree brings to enhancing the health of our planet, but to our critical contributions at the intersection of animal, human, and environmental health. I will work hard so that not only our legislators, industry, and the consuming public are aware of our incredible value, but to remind veterinarians themselves not to forget what all their training, sacrifice, and committed care they perform mean to the society we all serve.

Q: What would you say to people questioning whether they made the right decision to join the veterinary profession?

A: I would say they have made a choice that leads to a magnificent career. There is so much to do within the breadth of our discipline that we often don’t consider. Yes, there is the highly visible work of clinical practice, the large animal veterinarian in the barn or field, the small animal practitioner hard at work in their practice. Yet, one doesn’t often consider the admirable work of the academic, the researcher, those in industry or public health, the military officer. We have an incredible smorgasbord of work we can choose to do with a veterinary degree, and so many of us don’t even scratch the surface of that variety during our careers. There are so many different ways we can serve animals and the public. Yes, you made the right decision, and don’t forget that there are many paths you can follow in this amazing profession.

Q: We’re well aware of the challenges veterinarians face. Remind us about the positives of being part of the profession and all that veterinarians do for society.

A: As tough as some days can be for any of us, there is a quiet beauty in the days where we bring an animal back to health, we solve a problem that we know is going to enhance animals’ health and welfare, we create a product or service that helps make the world better for animals and people, or we just bring a smile to someone’s face. We do all of that in this profession and more. How rich is this profession that each of us in our daily work helps make the world a better place?

Q: When people look back at your time as AVMA president, what do you hope they’ll say?

A: I see myself as a trailblazer, and I hope to serve as one for the AVMA. We have many great leaders in our profession, and I hope to serve as a role model for the young leaders waiting for their turn to serve at the highest levels. I guess I hope they'll say I worked hard to elevate the value of the veterinarian to the American public, reached out to entities within and outside the AVMA to convene and collaborate on the issues that faced the profession, encouraged new leadership, and, paraphrasing the great leader Robert Baden-Powell, that I left the AVMA better than I found it.

Dr. CarlsonDr. Carlson

Q: Why do you want to be president of the AVMA?

A: I became involved in organized veterinary medicine early in my career and quickly realized the importance of veterinarians working together for the benefit of the profession, public health, and animal well-being. Giving back to the profession and the people who have given me so much became a guiding light that has shaped my career since. As AVMA president, I can use my experience of over 30 years in organized veterinary medicine as we work together to protect, promote, and advance the profession and animal health care.

My goal is for all veterinarians to have a professionally rewarding career. I am committed to using my passion for the betterment of our profession and to enhance the veterinary voice in all areas.

Veterinary medicine is experiencing increased pressure from many directions that may compromise our position as the leading experts in animal health and diminish our influence in advocacy. AVMA has been—and must continue to be—the leading voice for veterinarians and their advocacy efforts. As an ambassador for AVMA, I will help lead the way in effectively advocating for veterinarians and advancing the practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health.

Q: What is your elevator speech about why the HOD should elect you this July?

A: My years of service in the AVMA House of Delegates and on the Board of Directors have prepared me for the job. I understand the challenges veterinarians face. My goal is to help ensure that the passion that brought us all to this profession does not consume us but sustains and fulfills us in these turbulent times. Supporting the mission of AVMA is critical to this goal.

Q: How do you feel about AVMA’s efforts to make veterinary medicine a more diverse, equitable, and inclusion profession?

A: We must better resemble the diverse society we serve. We must continue to identify and pull down barriers to our profession and access to veterinary care. We must do a better job of reaching out to BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color), Asian, Latinx groups, as well as men. When I was chair of the AVMA Board, we established the Commission for a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Veterinary Profession with the AAVMC, partnering with affinity groups and our veterinary colleges to reach underrepresented groups and to support advancement and leadership opportunities for underrepresented minorities in our profession. DEI is also an important aspect of our workforce challenges. Creating inclusive and equitable workplaces can decrease staff turnover, improve job satisfaction, and improve our ability to provide the best care for animals. AVMA’s work in DEI can help clinics and small businesses avoid unintentionally limiting our opportunities and excluding the talent and skill of many people.

Q: Where do you see the U.S. veterinary profession in 10 years?

A: As animals continue to play a greater role in society, in 10 years, I see a thriving veterinary profession. I see advances in animal health care that improve our ability to recognize disease and clinical signs earlier, monitor and evaluate progress of treatment more efficiently, as well as treat diseases more effectively. We will realize greater access to health care for animals as we find different business models and health care teams to provide care to the millions of animals that do not receive care today. A profession that leverages the skill of expert veterinary technicians and other support staff and utilizes advanced technology will provide improved efficiency in the delivery of health care. I see enhanced models of education, expanding education to a more diverse group of people and disciplines. We will have incentives to keep veterinarians in rural areas and agriculture disciplines, which will ensure the safety of our food supply. I see collaborative efforts between multiple professions utilizing one-health concepts improving human, animal, and environmental health. I am eager to focus on the future and support a thriving veterinary profession.

Q: If elected, what would you do to ensure a bright future for the profession?

A: We must focus on our strengths, one of which is our people. Safeguarding the well-being of our veterinary professionals is a key. As we give of ourselves selflessly, we must also take the time to recharge and take care of each other. As chair of the AVMA Strategy Management Committee, I worked to strengthen and enhance AVMA wellness initiatives. We also focused on partnerships to better understand our well-being challenges and provide more targeted resources. Building a culture of wellness, inclusion, and belonging within the entire health care team is a priority for me.

Veterinary medicine is one of the most trusted professions around, and AVMA must continue leveraging this goodwill in our advocacy efforts to improve animal and public health.

Another strength is a long history in excellence in education and advancing animal health. We must continue work with our veterinary colleges to find innovative ways to provide a robust, diverse, and healthy veterinary workforce. We must set our future colleagues up for successful and rewarding careers. Preserving the culture of lifelong learning and improving our efficiency in delivery of care will support the entire veterinary community.

Lastly, a continued focus on business and economic resources to support the financial viability of our profession is essential. We have experienced healthy economic growth, and we are seeing clients more and more take advantage of the important services, diagnostics, and treatments we can provide. We need to strengthen and sustain this growth.

Q: What would you say to people questioning whether they made the right decision to join the veterinary profession?

A: I am filled with pride as I see and hear the admiration when a stranger finds out I am a veterinarian. We are one of the most trusted and respected professions. We are entrusted with the care of all types of animals that count on us for their well-being. As I have stated, veterinarians are the smartest, most compassionate, and most resourceful people on the planet. We all need to remember what an honor and privilege it is to hold this degree and be a part of this profession.

It is also critical that we continue to cultivate the passion that brought us to the profession by focusing on our successes, pursuing new and exciting challenges, using times of self-doubt as opportunities to grow and learn. We will be humbled when our lifesaving efforts fail, and grief can overwhelm us. Turn these times into opportunities to grow and develop as a veterinarian. It is important to always stay curious and search for new ways of improving our delivery of care. Everyone is different, and it is critical we find the tools that help us as individuals to recharge, remain curious, and strengthen the passion we have for the profession.

Q: We’re well aware of the challenges veterinarians face. Remind us about the positives of being part of the profession and all that veterinarians do for society.

A: Although the demands are high and the challenges frequent in our profession, the rewards are plentiful. I try to keep my focus on things like the puppy licking my face, wagging its tail, and asking for another treat after I have administered the vaccine. The wobbly legs of a newborn calf as its watchful mom eyes the Border Collie at my side are evidence of the miracles we see every day. It is an honor to comfort a family when they say goodbye to their cherished old Labrador. A child’s joy showing me their new kitten, the pride when a technician nails the catheter or other challenging task, and the countless other times the team has come through to help an animal in need, that is all it takes to find the pleasure and abundant rewards each day in veterinary medicine.

It is important to always stay curious and search for new ways of improving our delivery of care. Learning new techniques or using a new piece of equipment or seeing the success of a new medication is invigorating. “Pressure is a privilege.” I remind myself of this phrase on a regular basis. Regardless of the workplace, veterinarians have the pleasure and privilege of providing care to animals and service to people.

Q: When people look back at your time as AVMA president, what do you hope they’ll say?

A: The primary role for the AVMA president is to be an ambassador for veterinarians and this great profession. I hope to be remembered for my unwavering support for the mission and vision of AVMA, veterinarians, and the profession. I hope board members, colleagues, and stakeholders say we worked together, collegially, to develop resources and processes that benefited the entire veterinary team.

I hope to be remembered for helping change the narrative to seeing the pressures of this profession as our privilege and honor. In future wellness surveys, I want to be a part of seeing increasing numbers of veterinarians in the thriving category. As a practice owner, mom, and now grandmother from a rural background, I hope to be an example of a well-rounded life in managing and integrating life, family, career.

A version of this article appears in the July 2022 print issue of JAVMA.