Resolutions ask AVMA to explore foreign accreditation, globalization efforts

Members seek greater transparency into AVMA's international activities

Published: May 20, 2011
By Jennifer Fiala

Resolutions 5 and 6 recommend creating a task force to audit the AVMA's international efforts. Even if the AVMA House of Delegates approves the measures, only the Executive Board has authority to establish such an entity.
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Veterinarians want the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to study whether the group's involvement in global affairs and international accreditation is positively impacting the national organization's 81,500 members.
The ideas are laid out in two resolutions scheduled to go before the AVMA House of Delegates — the association's policy-making body — during the group's annual summer meeting. The gathering will take place July 14-15 in St. Louis. There, more than 150 representatives of state and allied veterinary medical associations will determine whether the AVMA needs to throttle back on its foreign accreditation and globalization efforts

The call for introspection comes as the nation's economic downturn hammers veterinary practices, job opportunities shrink and new graduates average $130,000 or more in educational debt, sentencing them to years of costly student loan payments. As veterinary schools expand class sizes and more foreign programs earn U.S. accreditation — thereby easing the entry of foreign-trained veterinarians into America's uncertain job market — AVMA members are becoming wary.

Dr. Billy Martindale, Texas’ delegate to the House and a practitioner working near the Oklahoma border, believes that in general, AVMA members have little knowledge or understanding of why the national association is increasingly involved in foreign affairs. Some are wondering what impact such actions might have on veterinarians practicing domestically, he says.

"I don't want us to be called protectionist, but isn't the mission of the AVMA to protect the economic viability of the profession?” he asks.

In terms of challenges to U.S. veterinarians, Martindale refers to the AVMA’s efforts to spread its brand of accreditation internationally — a move that eases the entry of foreign veterinarians into the United States, where pockets of the veterinary profession are considered by some to be over-saturated.

Resolution 5, titled "Formation of Foreign Accreditations Task Force," addresses the AVMA’s efforts to accredit foreign veterinary medical programs. It revives last summer's failed attempt by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) to initiate an audit of how extending U.S. accreditation of veterinary medical programs in other countries might impact veterinarians domestically. This time around, six other states have aligned with the TVMA in its quest for a review of the AVMA's accreditation practices.

Resolution 6 is sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association and titled "Globalization of the AVMA." It asks that the AVMA's Executive Board create a task force to analyze the association's policy on getting involved in global affairs, and to what extent. Like Resolution 5, it also touches on AVMA policies regarding foreign accreditation — a topic that's heated up since the association's quasi-independent accreditation arm, the Council on Education (COE), approved the National Autonomous University of Mexico's (UNAM) veterinary college.

With accreditation, the 350-plus veterinarians who graduate annually from UNAM, Mexico's largest university, can bypass foreign graduation equivalency examinations and sit for the same licensing tests posed to graduates of U.S.-based veterinary medical programs.

"We want to explore what is AVMA's role in the world, not just on accreditation," explains Dr. Richard Sullivan, a member of the House of Delegates representing California. "We may find that it's a very important role, but that's a discussion we need to have. I am not sure we're fully aware of everything AVMA is doing. We constantly use the term transparency, and I think that's the job of the House — to look at topics and bring them up for discussion so that our members have a better view of what's going on and can have some input."$0
The task forces outlined in each resolution are estimated to cost the AVMA $25,000 apiece, though there's talk that they could be combined if the House sees fit.

In Resolution 6, the prospective task force is charged with tallying what the AVMA spends on global outreach. Late last year, the AVMA created a new staff position dedicated to coordinating international affairs. Apart from the AVMA’s efforts to spread U.S. accreditation, the association has worked to rebuild the animal health infrastructure in the Middle East, participated in multinational veterinary meetings and contributed to international projects.

When asked why American veterinarians should care about the state of the profession outside U.S. borders, Dr. Beth Sabin, assigned as the AVMA's staff coordinator of international affairs, gave a statement to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association:

“I know it sounds trite, but the U.S. doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's only become more obvious that what happens in other parts of the world will ultimately have an impact here, and what happens here impacts elsewhere.”

That might be true, acknowledges Dr. George Bishop, California’s delegate to the House. But what’s driving Resolution 6 is a call for transparency and member awareness. Though member dues are expensed for global initiatives, it’s impossible to glean just how much the AVMA is spending on such activities by studying the association’s budget, he says.

Furthermore, it’s unknown whether AVMA members want their association invested in international activities and to what extent, Bishop adds.

“Isolationism certainly isn’t something that we think the AVMA should be about, but to what extent should we be globalized?” Bishop questions. “We have domestic issues to tackle, like a stagnant economy, the state of our workforce and student debt.”

Bishop suggests that while the AVMA tackles global food safety and zoonotic diseases, members might feel that those areas should be the responsibility of governments, not a national trade organization.

“It may be reaffirmed that what's being done internationally is perfect; it's what the members want. But without asking the questions, we don’t know what our members are thinking,” Bishop says.

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