Veterinarians to AVMA: Focus on members

Debate to alter mission statement slated for January

October 28, 2013 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

  Veterinarians are lobbying the AVMA to retool the organization’s mission statement and objective to focus on members — as well as medicine and the health of animals.

The newly proposed mission statement reads: “The mission of the AVMA is to serve, support and advocate on behalf of its members so as to advance the veterinary medical profession and, thereby, improve both animal and human health."

Its postscript: “The objective of the association is to advance, promote and represent the profession, science and practice of veterinary medicine in the United States. By strengthening and supporting the education, research and practice of veterinary medicine the AVMA shall improve public health, animal health and welfare, biological sciences and the lives of veterinarians that compose its membership."

The AVMA’s current mission or objective states: "The mission of the association is to improve animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession. The objective of the association shall be to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine including its relationship to public health, biological science and agriculture."

The absence of "members," critics say, sits at the heart of debate about whether AVMA’s system of governance works on behalf of the 84,000-plus veterinarians who belong to the organization. In recent years, members have expressed frustration with a slow-moving economy, greater competition among colleagues and a growing educational debt-to-income imbalance that's squeezing new veterinarians. The discontent has spilled into criticisms of the AVMA, which has been accused of sugarcoating a suspected surplus of veterinarians and ignoring members' calls to stop accrediting foreign veterinary schools, perceived by some to contribute to U.S. workforce issues.

All the while, AVMA leaders are fielding accusations that a handful of association officials make important decisions without consulting members.

Dr. Arnold Goldman, a practitioner in Connecticut, predicts the AVMA is ripe for an overhaul, and refocusing its mission is a first step.

“There’s obviously a movement to change the way the AVMA is run so that there’s better member satisfaction and perhaps more member participation," he said. "If we’re concerned the organization isn’t serving members, we should look at its mission statement,” he added.

Goldman represents the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association in the AVMA’s House of Delegates, the group’s primary policymaking body comprised of 136 members, each representing a state or one of several territorial and allied organizations.

The House will mull calls to change the mission statement — proposed in the form of a bylaws amendment — when the group convenes Jan. 11 in Chicago for its annual winter session. The amendment is submitted by the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association with co-sponsors from state veterinary associations in Rhode Island, Texas, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Colorado, Indiana and Massachusetts as well as the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners. 

"The mission statement is the core, direction and purpose of an association," says a statement accompanying the proposed amendment. "... More now than before, our members and profession need and demand a very strong association focused on their concerns, their issues and their future. We need an association that makes the members its primary focus and not just an implied suggestion."

To promote the call for change, backers of the proposed mission statement note that major medical associations such as the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, American Dental Association and British Veterinary Association include language about representing members in each of their mission statements.

By comparison, the American Medical Association makes no mention of the organization's members in its mission statement, which is "to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health." The organization's five guiding principles also do not reflect the needs of members.

Likewise, the word "member" is absent from the mission statements of prominent veterinary medical groups such as AAHA and AAFP. Advocates of these organizations explain that member services are a priority, but their emphasis is on advancing pockets of medicine and the profession.

The Veterinary Information Network, parent of the VIN News Service, is an online professional community that also does not feature "member" in the group's mission statement. Rather, the statement, "VIN shall always be for veterinarians, by veterinarians and other colleagues who support the development of veterinarians and veterinary students," kicks off an addendum to the mission statement titled "Ten Commandments of VIN." 

Dr. Frederick Baum, an alternate delegate in the House representing Vermont, believes the AVMA is becoming irrelevant to members because it's weighed down by internal politics and an increasingly global focus.

"This is particularly true for our newer members who have so many concerns inside and outside of the profession," Baum said by email. "They want a strong association fighting for them, focused on their needs, finding solutions to their issues. Once these members are gone, be it through cost savings, association frustration or another group addressing their concerns and fulfilling their needs, we will have a very difficult time of ever bringing them back.

"Our members need to hear that the AVMA is working for them," he added. "We need to show them."


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