Letter: Let us peek behind the curtain, AVMA

Veterinarian who petitioned House wants inclusiveness, transparency

January 18, 2021 (published)
By Gail Hansen

The American Veterinary Medical Association is concerned about the shrinking proportion of veterinarians belonging to the AVMA ("AVMA to consider dues break to attract new veterinarians," Jan. 6, 2021). The reasons for the trend aren't entirely known, but about two out of 10 of new veterinary school graduates don't join. If the AVMA truly believes it is powered by veterinarians and that members are at the heart of organizational decision making, the leadership needs to allow members a peek inside the inner workings. Veterinarians are scientists who rely on our powers of observation, and not wholly on the narratives given to us, to make decisions.

With that principle of objective observation in mind, I was disappointed by not being allowed open access to the most recent meeting of the AVMA House of Delegates. On Jan. 8 and 9, the House met virtually to conduct official business that included debate and votes on various resolutions. The AVMA states that "[a]s a valued member and volunteer, we want you to know how the AVMA operates and how you can contribute to the conversation."

Apparently, that contribution does not include a view of delegate deliberations without first paying $340 to register for the Veterinary Leadership Conference, which hosts the House of Delegates meeting.

When the House has met in person, AVMA members have been invited to attend as non-voting observers. I have attended House meetings in the past, both as an observer and as a non-voting, invited affiliate member, and I never paid for access.

This year, since the meetings were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I expected that there would be a method for AVMA members to join as non-voting, non-debating observers. However, I was informed that only those members who registered for the Veterinary Leadership Conference would be allowed access to the HOD meeting; I could not get complimentary access. This lack of access and lack of transparency is not what I expected, since AVMA purports to be a member-run, member-driven association representing the needs and priorities of diverse member veterinarians.

I was especially interested in attending as an observer this year because I submitted a petition-based resolution calling on the AVMA to reclassify "ventilation shutdown" and "ventilation shutdown plus" as "not recommended" for all animal species in the AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals. As required by AVMA rules, more than 50 current AVMA members signed the petition. The petition was submitted 24 days before the meeting rather than the normal 60 days, and I had hoped the House would waive the prior-notice provision, as they have for other late submissions. However, for the first time in its history, the House rejected this late-submitted resolution, declining to even discuss the proposal, according to a report by the VIN News Service. I didn't hear from anyone at the AVMA until Jan. 15 — almost a week after the decision — in response to emails I sent asking for an update on the status of the petition. 

In my veterinary career, I worked in private clinical practice for 13 years, served in public health for 27 years, and was a 2008-09 AVMA Congressional Science Fellow. I have taught veterinary students, developed public health policy, furthered One Health, and promoted veterinarians and veterinary medicine. Over the years, I have put myself forward as a volunteer for AVMA committees, but after several rejections, have given up volunteering for AVMA committee assignments. I have volunteered in both state and local veterinary associations in a variety of positions. During my 40-year AVMA membership, I have not unconditionally agreed with every resolution or position but had believed that the AVMA overall was benefitting the profession, animals and me, and was a place for openness.

Lately it appears that the AVMA's commitment to advance the shared core values of innovation, being member-centric, inclusive and supportive needs work. The leadership needs to figure out how to include more veterinarians in its governance and provide transparency to its members.

Dr. Gail R. Hansen is a veterinary epidemiologist in Washington, D.C.

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