HSVMA to launch insurance options, recruitment campaign

Membership drive markets group as a welfare-friendly alternative to AVMA

August 25, 2008 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Davis, Calif. — An association founded on welfare activism is embarking on a collegiate tour that coincides with the pending announcement of new business insurance options for veterinarians.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), an arm of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), launched in January as a counter to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It’s goal: to loosen the alleged grip AVMA has on veterinarians, who must retain a membership in order to gain access to the group’s insurance programs. In the coming months, HSVMA hopes to attract practitioners who are at odds with AVMA’s strict science-based stances on welfare issues by offering liability and malpractice insurance options to the profession.

AVMA officials say the emergence of HSVMA is no threat to membership numbers that include more than 70 percent of all licensed practitioners in the United States. Yet as HSVMA embarks on a campaign to attract new graduates, AVMA also plans to step up its presence among the nation’s 28 accredited veterinary medical institutions. In July, the group’s House of Delegates voted for a resolution calling for increased AVMA involvement with veterinary students. What that entails remains to be seen. Yet the decree came in response to a controversial and defeated proposal by the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) to eliminate the role of the AVMA vice presidency — a two-year political post that serves as a liaison to students — in exchange for creating a larger, more professional student division within the national association.

At the time, CVMA officials contended that if AVMA did not to take student recruitment seriously by changing the typical face of AVMA from an older, male vice president with no professional speaking skills to someone who could better relate to the largely young, female student body, the growing disconnect would open the door for HSVMA, which draws from the same pool of students.

But AVMA officials like former two-term Vice President Dr. Rene Carlson have insisted that the group’s status alone carries credence — a fact illustrated by last year’s enrollment numbers showing 97.2 percent of all U.S. graduates joined the national association. 

That’s about to change, predicts Dr. Paula Kislak, a private practitioner and HSVMA board member. No matter what AVMA does on the recruitment level, a growing number of students are put off by the group’s “limp-wristed” welfare stances, she says. That includes AVMA’s apparent reluctance to come out against small livestock enclosures as well as other controversial agriculture issues such as foie gras production practices, she adds.

“I do not agree with AVMA policies, and a lot of my colleagues feel the same way,” Kislak says. “Our plan is to give students a choice, and I think insurance will go along way in swelling our membership.”

Just how much remains to be seen. At press time, HSVMA officials could not give exact membership numbers; the group’s infrastructure exists in early stages. Yet HSVMA inroads are, by some accounts, impressive. Backed by the deep pockets of HSUS, HSVMA formed by merging the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights’ (AVAR) 3,000 members with Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), which has deep roots in U.S. veterinary medical institutions. Between March and August, an activity report of the newly named HSVMA Field Services shows 410 veterinary students received externship experiences through the program and held a dozen clinics in underserved, rural communities that treated nearly 6,000 animals. 

That kind of entrenched commitment and branding puts AVMA’s toehold on students in jeopardy, says Dr. Holly Cheever, HSVMA member. What’s more: Unverified numbers suggest HSUS’ membership roster includes the names of 10,000 DVMs.

“It’s no stretch of the imagination that HSVMA wants to encourage AVMA to be more welfare oriented,” says Cheever, also an AVMA member who has spent years lobbying the group for tougher welfare statements. “If they want to remain relevant, it’s incumbent upon AVMA to be more welfare based.”

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