Dr. Janet Donlin takes AVMA helm

Replacing DeHaven, association appoints first female CEO

August 16, 2016 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Courtesy of the AVMA
Dr. Janet Donlin

For the first time in its 153-year history, the American Veterinary Medical Association's top officer is a woman. Dr. Janet Donlin has been tapped to head the nation’s largest organization representing the profession.

Her appointment comes at a time when women comprise more than half of all practicing veterinarians and roughly 80 percent of the U.S. veterinary student body.

A long-time official in the AVMA, Donlin will assume the post in September of chief executive officer, a position also referred to as executive vice president. The job is being vacated by Dr. Ron DeHaven, who is retiring after nine years.

Leading up to announcement, Donlin was mum about her interest in becoming CEO. Asked during last week's House of Delegate's meeting in San Antonio, Texas, she shrugged off the possibility of becoming DeHaven's successor. Days later, AVMA leaders revealed she had the position.

“I'm passionate about member service, and I am honored and humbled to be entrusted with what I consider to be one of the most important positions in veterinary medicine,” Donlin said in an AVMA news release.

AVMA President Dr. Tom Meyer described Donlin as “one of the true champions of veterinary medicine.”

“She has an outstanding record of success in both the veterinary association arena and in the animal health industry,” he said. “She is a skilled strategist with a proven background of diverse AVMA experience and a known reputation for working with leaders from all segments of the veterinary profession, key stakeholders and staff members to drive innovation, growth and success.”

Donlin is a 1981 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and spent her early career in mixed-animal practice before joining the UM faculty while working in an emergency clinic.

She began working for the AVMA in 1991, where she ascended the executive ranks. She’s held several AVMA titles — assistant director and interim director of the Scientific Activities Division as well as associate executive vice president. In 2004, she was promoted to assistant executive vice president, under then-Executive Vice President Dr. Bruce Little. When Little announced his retirement in 2006, Donlin moved to replace him but was passed over for DeHaven, an AVMA outsider and government official who’d spent 28 years with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service near Washington, D.C.

At the time, some food animal veterinarians reported feeling displaced at AVMA by a wave of animal welfare-related initiatives moving through the organization. Insiders saw DeHaven’s appointment as a way to placate their discontent. His former role with APHIS also fit with the AVMA's developing interest in food safety and governmental relations.

DeHaven was named AVMA executive vice president in April 2007 — a title that eventually changed to CEO. Four months later, Donlin left the AVMA for the corporate sector, taking a job as the chief veterinary officer of Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc. Still, she remained a familiar face at AVMA meetings and events, cultivating a deep institutional knowledge of the organization.

Donlin left Hills and returned to the AVMA in 2013, this time as chief executive officer of the Professional Liability and Insurance Trust, or PLIT. During her tenure, she has undertaken a re-branding of the insurance program.

Dr. Allan Holladay, a delegate from Tennessee, entered the House as Donlin exited in 2007. Remarking on her affable and professional disposition, Holladay anticipates that Donlin will move the AVMA forward.

“I think she’s a great person for the job,” he said. “I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.”

Online, veterinarians expressed hopeful sentiments. Dr. Kate Knutson, for one, said she's “thrilled” with the announcement.

“You are an excellent choice for where we are in our profession and you will serve our organization with grace, humility and as a leader who can listen to all sides of our very complicated membership,” she wrote to Donlin on an AVMA blog. “We are lucky to have you in this position.”

In another congratulatory message, Dr. Gary Beard described himself as as one of Donlin's “longest and strongest admirers.”

“We have worked together on projects over the years and it was always a pleasure," wrote Beard, a former assistant dean at Auburn University. “My heartfelt good wishes go with you always.”

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