AAVMC leadership change puts Osburn at helm

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou resigns to pursue work in public health

October 21, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Outgoing Dean Bennie Osburn is headed to Washington. Photo courtesy of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

As Dr. Bennie Osburn packs his office during his final days as dean, the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) mainstay has his sights set on academic affairs nearly 3,000 miles away, in Washington, D.C.

On Nov. 1, Osburn will become the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ (AAVMC) interim executive director. He’s replacing Marguerite Pappaioanou, DVM, PhD, who resigned early this month to “pursue her lifelong passion for global health and development,” reports an AAVMC news release.

The outgoing AAVMC head and one-time researcher with the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Molecular Virology did not respond to a VIN News Service interview request.

Just how much time Osburn will be spending in Washington is unclear. The veterinary school dean could not be reached for comment. His replacement at UC Davis, Dr. Michael Lairmore, is a cancer researcher and former top administrator with The Ohio State University’s veterinary college. He is scheduled to move into Osburn’s position on Monday.

After 41 years working at UC Davis, Osburn isn’t bowing out indefinitely. As the AAVMC Board of Directors amasses a search committee to find Pappaioanou’s permanent replacement, Osburn will be juggling his AAVMC position and administering a $1.3-million grant recently awarded to UC Davis’ veterinary school by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The goal of the project is to develop national food safety curriculum to train food-industry and agency personnel. If all goes well, the grant, focused on preventing food-borne illnesses, is renewable after five years for a total of $6.5 million.

Meanwhile, the AAVMC is in the midst of major projects of its own, namely pushing a roadmap for academia laid out by the association’s North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium, or NAVMEC.

During the past year, NAVMEC has outlined dramatic changes for veterinary academia in the United States with the goal of keeping the profession viable in the coming decades. Arguably the biggest issue facing veterinary medicine’s future health in this country centers on the mounting educational indebtedness of new graduates as earnings drop and job prospects wither

It’s been three months since the AAVMC approved its final NAVMEC report titled “Roadmap for Veterinary Medical Education in the 21st Century.” The AAVMC Board of Directors is set to gather Nov. 1 to discuss ways to implement ideas laid out in the report.

Moving things along is Dr. Michael Chaddock, AAVMC deputy director, and others in the association’s Washington offices. Late last month, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger's position as NAVMEC’s project manager ended and she took a job with The Hartville Group, Inc., which created a pet health insurance program for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Leininger now works as Hartville’s vice president of veterinary relations.

It’s uncertain whether the AAVMC eventually will replace Leininger; however, the group is forging ahead with NAVMEC — a program that launched in 2009 and is the AAVMC's largest project to date, involving stakeholders representing 158 groups.

The AAVMC's beginnings, by comparison, were more modest. In 1966, 18 veterinary school deans came together to form the AAVMC to represent their interests. Originally founded as a non-profit in Illinois, the association was chartered in Washington, D.C. in 1997.

Around that time, the AAVMC launched its Veterinary Medical College Application Service, or VMCAS, as a central distribution, collection and processing service for applications to veterinary medical colleges. The system earned the group income that allowed it to expand.

The AAVMC now represents the interests of all 28 U.S. veterinary medical colleges and five in Canada, nine U.S. departments of veterinary science, eight U.S. departments of comparative medicine and eight international veterinary medical programs, among other institutes. The group's constituency includes 5,600 faculty, 5,000 staff, 12,400 veterinary students and 4,000 graduate students.

To help relay the importance and needs of veterinary academia to policymakers, the AAVMC announced on Oct. 20 that it retained the governmental affairs firm Cavarocchi, Ruscio, Dennis Associates, LLC. According to a news release, the AAVMC hired the firm to develop relationships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the federal government’s primary agency responsible for funding biomedical and health-related research.

Right now, the vast majority of NIH research grants — awarded from a budget totaling more than $31 billion — go to researchers in human medicine. The AAVMC would like to change that by guiding more NIH funds to veterinary medical programs.

“In a challenging fiscal environment, it’s more important than ever to communicate the critical role that academic veterinary medicine plays in promoting and protecting our nation’s health as members of our nation’s healthcare team,” Pappaioanou says in a news release. “Support to veterinary medical education from both the legislative and executive branches of federal and state government is critical to ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of veterinarians in the public health, biomedical research, and food animal health workforce.”

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.