Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect voting results from the House of Delegates.
Hundreds of veterinarians converged on Chicago today in anticipation of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Leadership Conference.
The five-day conference revolves around the biannual meeting of the House of Delegates, the AVMA’s principal policymaking body comprised of representatives from every state and 18 allied groups.
One of the meeting’s most widely discussed topics likely will be the Dec. 11 hearing in which a U.S. Department of Education panel ordered the AVMA Council on Education (COE) to address conflicts of interest and other criticisms after more than 800 veterinarians wrote to the government with complaints. Chief grievances revolved around accusations of cronyism; a lack of transparency and autonomy; the accreditation of foreign programs; and the uneven application of accreditation standards, particularly among schools without traditional teaching hospitals.
The COE has six months to a year to respond to the panel’s findings. At stake is its continued recognition as the nation’s sole evaluator of veterinary education.
That news, however, has not made the House’s formal agenda. Officially, delegates will vote on at least six resolutions and two proposed bylaws amendments, the most controversial of which is a bid to revamp the AVMA’s mission statement so that it focuses on members.
Right now, the AVMA mission statement makes no mention of members, an omission that’s spurred grumblings from veterinarians who believe the AVMA’s current governance system is overly bureaucratic and steered by those who are politically savvy rather than its general 85,000-plus membership.
A newly proposed bylaws amendment, submitted by the Board of Directors, states that “the mission of the association is to lead the profession by advocating for its members and advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health.” (The bylaws amendment passed after an 86.9 percent vote in the affirmative.)
House delegates twice debated altering the mission statement last year but couldn't settle on a version submitted by several state associations that said the AVMA's mission should be to "serve, support and advocate on behalf of its members in order to advance the veterinary medical profession ..." The proposed bylaws amendment was referred to the AVMA Board of Directors for editing, owing to fears that rewording the mission statement without careful examination by AVMA officials could invite “unintended consequences.” Given that the 2014 bylaws amendment is listed as unfinished business on the House agenda, it again will arise for consideration by delegates during Friday's meeting. (The bylaws amendment failed because just 63.5 percent of the House voted in the affirmative. Passage of a bylaws amendment requires two-thirds of the vote.)
AVMA officials want the mission statement to be in line with the group’s strategic planning initiative, an estimated three-year project to strengthen the AVMA so that it’s more focused on and relevant to veterinarians. The AVMA’s introspective look at how it governs, serves and reflects member values was announced last year following several varied but failed attempts by delegates to implement direct elections and provide general members some role in policymaking processes.
Efforts by the AVMA Board of Directors reflects pressure by delegates as well as its general members. After a long history of steady growth, it’s rumored that AVMA membership numbers could be headed for a decline. Two years ago, then-AVMA Treasurer Dr. Bret Marsh expressed dismay concerning results from a Member Needs Survey that showed just 23 percent of nearly 3,000 veterinarians polled believed that they had a voice within the AVMA.
“That suggests to me that 77 percent said they did not,” he said during a speech before delegates. “That’s compelling.”
Current AVMA Treasurer Dr. Barbara Schmidt is expected to present the latest membership data during Friday’s House meeting.
Also up for review and debate:
- Bylaws amendment 1, submitted by the Board of Directors, no longer requires the AVMA Board of Directors to approve the policies and procedures of the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities, the accrediting agency for veterinary technology programs in the United States. (The bylaws amendment passed by unanimous vote.)
- Resolution 1, submitted by the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners, calls for the AVMA to adopt a policy supporting the humane transportation of animals for the purposes of biomedical research, testing, and education. (The resolution passed by a vote of 99.7 percent after it was amended to insert the word "all" before "animals." The sentence, "Animal species typically used in research include but are not limited to: fish, rats, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, cats, swine and nonhuman primates," was omitted.)
- Resolution 2, submitted by the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association, calls for the AVMA to explore allowing members to select what group — state or allied — might best represent them in the House of Delegates. This is in response to cases when an AVMA member is not a member of his or her state association and, therefore, lacks representation in the House because state associations often select House delegates. (The resolution failed by a vote of 70.2 percent. Delegates expressed concerns that such a change might discourage veterinarians' membership to state associations, thereby negatively impacting their influence and resources.)
- Resolution 3, submitted by the Board of Directors, revises the policy on veterinary participation in spay-neuter clinics to state that such services should meet the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ medical care guidelines for spay-neuter programs. The proposed revision was drafted in response to a five-year review that's required of many AVMA policies. (The resolution was amended to include the phrase, "and comply with local and state laws." The revised resolution passed by a vote of 95 percent.)
- Resolution 4, submitted by the Board of Directors, calls for the adoption of antimicrobial use guidelines by companion animal practitioners. Supporters say the new policy should be used as a resource to “improve antimicrobial use stewardship.” (The House passed the resolution by a vote of 95 percent after amending the policy's title to read, "Antimicrobial use guidelines for companion animal practice." A sentence stating that the guidelines do not dictate any specific course of treatment or procedure also was included.)
- Resolution 5, submitted by the Board of Directors, calls for the AVMA to endorse guidelines for using antimicrobials to treat urinary tract disease in dogs and cats, developed in 2011 by the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases. (The resolution failed by a vote of 56.3 percent after some delegates called it overly prescriptive and suggested that the topic belonged with an organization such as the American Animal Hospital Association, not the AVMA.)
- Resolution 6, submitted by the Board of Directors, calls for the AVMA to endorse guidelines for treating superficial pyoderma in dogs and cats, developed in 2014 by the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases. (The resolution failed by a vote of 62.5 percent after some delegates called it overly prescriptive.)
- Resolution 8, a carryover from last July's House meeting, tweaks the principals of veterinary medical ethics for "clarity." (The resolution was amended to remove the sentence, "It is acceptable for the consulting veterinarians to communicate directly with the clients when performed in collaboration with the attending veterinarians." The revised resolution passed by a vote of 97.8 percent.)
Delegates will vote on the bylaws and resolutions on Saturday.