On the road with AVMA's vice president

Dr. Jennifer Quammen describes her first year in the position
Dr. Jennifer Quammen
Dr. Jennifer Quammen

The office of AVMA vice president is a demanding job. It's a two-year volunteer position involving a whirlwind of activities, from visiting veterinary schools and connecting with deans, faculty, and students to representing the AVMA at conferences and meetings around the world. The current AVMA vice president, Dr. Jennifer Quammen, was elected to the AVMA Board of Directors in July 2022. She spoke with AVMA News about her first year in the position and how she's hoping to impact future generations of veterinarians. The following responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did you spend your first year as AVMA vice president?

A: I've spent a good portion of my first year meeting with people and stakeholders on behalf of the AVMA, and I've resigned myself to having a "go bag" packed and ready. Between Board meetings, conferences, and more than a dozen veterinary school visits during the first half of my vice-presidential term, I managed to keep myself highly scheduled. I don't use that "busy" word if I can.

Q: What feedback from deans, faculty, and student leaders are you sharing with the Board?

A: I'm not sure if most readers would know this, so I'll start by saying that during veterinary school visits, I aim to schedule meetings with the student body, local Student AVMA (SAVMA) chapter leadership, faculty, house officers, and school administration via the dean or associate deans. I don't always manage to get each one scheduled but have been fairly successful. During these meetings, I can spread goodwill, snacks, and information that AVMA or SAVMA have for each of the groups. I always do environmental scanning of each group with the intent to bring any successes and challenges back to the Board and appropriate AVMA staff members to help problem solve or create communication channels.

I often find myself explaining the differences in scope of the volunteer and staff roles of the AVMA—with many accreditation and AVMA Council on Education (AVMA COE) questions—as well as explaining where the AVMA, American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), and American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) intersect. I may not be the person who knows the answer to all the questions, but I can make the connections with the right individuals to get questions answered.

Q: What is your message to the deans, faculty, and veterinary student leaders?

A: I bring messages about resources specific to each group. For example, the AVMA has professional development grants for educators while SAVMA has scholarship and grant money for veterinary students in specific topic or interest areas. I also share information about upcoming events, such as SAVMA Symposium, AVMA Convention, and the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference. And I share AVMA resources on topics such as wellbeing and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) content via Journey for Teams, as well as the AVMA's Online Educator Community (OEC).

Specifically for student meetings, I try to bring a little fun and a bit of myself. My career currently involves several jobs as well as my volunteer work with AVMA. Explaining how I got to the roles I'm in with AVMA as well as sharing the ups and downs of my first 10 years post-graduation has been fun. I want to share that becoming a veterinarian might mean you are in full-time clinical practice; and it might also mean you want to become a specialist or a veterinary educator; and it might also mean you can cultivate a career of several passions, as I've been fortunate enough to do. My roles in relief practice, coaching within our profession, and leading a technology team are all different facets of what make my life awesome.

My overall message is that veterinary medicine is incredible. You can become a fabulous Jack or Jill generalist, a niche specialist, an educator, a communicator, or a champion of animals and people in so many different ways.

Q: What visits are scheduled for your second and final year?

A: The rest of 2023 is pretty well planned out, and I'm excited to see where else I can get to in 2024 before my term ends. The places I'm visiting this fall are Royal Veterinary College in London; Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, both in Scotland; Louisiana State University; Michigan State University; Texas Tech University; the University of Florida; and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. If your school or alma mater is interested in an AVMA VP visit in early 2024, drop an email to AVMAVicePresidentatavma [dot] org (AVMAVicePresident[at]avma[dot]org).

Q: What is the most challenging part of the vice presidency?

A: The initial steps of who and when to contact at the veterinary schools to arrange a visit does not come with an easy answer. Is it the SAVMA president or president-elect? The SAVMA delegates, the dean or more likely their administrative assistant? The SAVMA faculty advisors or someone else? As has been happening in many sectors of veterinary medicine, people have changed jobs or institutions a lot in the last several years, leading to a lot of Google searches and scanning of school directories.

Q: Did anything surprise you?

A: There are lots of interesting logistics to manage. Outside of scheduled Board meetings and certain conferences, the AVMA vice president has flexibility and autonomy to travel for school visits. I do work closely with the Student Initiatives Team on the AVMA staff side, but we are more working in tandem than parallel.

Q: What advice would you pass along to your successor?

A: Be open to learning and listening, develop an awareness of the resources AVMA and SAVMA have already at your fingertips, get a copy of the AVMA staff organizational chart, and be ready for things to change at a moment's notice.

Q: Anything else you want to share?

A: Every person I've interacted with—be they administrators, educators, students, practitioners, technicians or any combination of these—are all dealing with similar struggles. There's seemingly not enough time to do all that we want or have to do. Boundary setting and maintenance is difficult for us all. Rather than thinking "it will be better when ___ happens or I have ___ job," I would prefer to encourage us all to give each other grace and the benefit of the doubt. We are all in this collective of veterinary medicine together. Let's find common ground and find solutions for all of us, not just one or two subsets of the profession.

Serving as vice president has been a ton of work; lots of travel and "schedule Jenga" as I refer to it, and it's been really rewarding. Also, time zones are hard! I've connected or reconnected with so many enthusiastic students, residents, interns, faculty, and administrators along the way who continue to do amazing things for each other, animal health and the continued acceleration of our profession. I'd like to pass along my gratitude for each of you who have taken time to chat, listen to my anecdotes and stories, and add your energy into AVMA and SAVMA.

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

Check out a photo montage of AVMA Vice President Jennifer Quammen's travels.