SAVMA president looks to lead with vulnerability, authenticity

Max Paulson will use his voice to amplify veterinary students’ voices around the country
Max Paulson
During his time as Student AVMA (SAVMA) President, Max Paulson hopes to support other veterinary students while emphasizing the importance of mental health and diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Photos courtesy of Paulson)

Max Paulson didn’t always know where he belonged. He grew up in Homer Glen, Illinois, and attended the University of Illinois to study animal sciences as an undergraduate. It was then he became involved in the theater and found a supportive group of friends along the way. Now a third-year veterinary student at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, he says this close network was one of the reasons he chose to stay at the university for veterinary school.

He loved the sense of camaraderie he found and hopes to bring some of that energy into veterinary medicine.

“I want students to go out onto life’s stage and be confident and empower themselves,” he said.

As a veterinary student, he became involved in student leadership, including as a SAVMA delegate. He’s also part of his local SAVMA Chapter Wellness Committee and on the board of the veterinary college’s chapter of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE).

Most recently, Paulson was installed as the 2023-24 president of the Student AVMA (SAVMA) during the 2023 SAVMA Symposium. The event, held March 17-19, was hosted by University of Illinois veterinary college.

Advice for veterinary students

Max Paulson's frog, Angus
Paulson holds his pixie frog, Angus. Paulson said the frog’s temperament is remarkably sweet for a species that is known for being aggressive.

As he nears graduation, Paulson has some guidance for incoming veterinary students. “It’s important to be involved and give back to your community,” Paulson said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than being that community builder and reaching back and offering a hand for those who come after you.”

He didn’t ever envision himself serving as president of SAVMA, but after being convinced by a friend to consider it, he looks back with no regrets. Paulson hopes his involvement in student veterinary leadership will help his peers feel supported and set up for success. He said veterinary medicine is a profession where everyone wants to help each other.

At the same time, “We need to take our mental health and the mental health of our team and those around us seriously,” Paulson said.

He recognizes that the profession is emotionally and physically intense, and there is a risk for burnout. As someone who experiences anxiety, Paulson explained, he is transparent about how challenging it is to hold leadership positions along with managing studies. Making time for self-care is vital, he said, which is why he makes time to create art, take walks, and interact with his three frogs: Beef, Angus, and Gonzo.

“One of the things I believe in most when it comes to leadership is leading through vulnerability,” Paulson said.

Goals as SAVMA president

Max Paulson's cat, Bouge
Paulson adopted his 11-year-old cat, Bouge, who is blind in one eye, during his undergraduate years. He hopes to specialize in veterinary oncology after being inspired by the care of Bouge when she was sick.

Paulson said he is in the position of SAVMA president not because he is seeking some grand leadership role, “but because I want to give back and listen to what vet students find important and bring that to the forefront of our profession.”

He wants to advocate for what’s important to veterinary students as a whole, he says. “The things I’m most wholeheartedly passionate about are diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as mental health,” Paulson said.

In order to achieve these goals, he understands the importance of community and commitment. He wants to continue the work that Zachary Tooley, SAVMA immediate past president, has done to build community and positive in-person relations among SAVMA members.

Paulson finds it validating to be a Generation Z leader in veterinary medicine with the opportunity to go to SAVMA and AVMA events and to find support there for students.

“There are people who want to help us, so it’s been really heartwarming to see that, deep down, all of us want what’s best for each other,” Paulson said.