AVMA president-elect ready to build on association's strong foundation


If Dr. Joe M. Howell could pen his legacy right now as the 122th president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it would be that he paid attention to the right issues and responded appropriately.

If Dr. Joe M. Howell could pen his legacy right now as the 122th president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it would be that he paid attention to the right issues and responded appropriately.

"I would say that I was glad to have been a part, however small,of helping accomplish goals set by my predecessors, especially concerningeconomic issues."

But Howell, 55, is certainly not looking backward just yet. His sightsare clearly set on the future, especially on his term as president, whenhe is sworn in this month at the AVMA's 139th Annual Convention in Nashville,Tenn.


Howell tells DVM Newsmagazine he is not looking to chart a newcourse for the 67,000-member organization, but steadying the course thathas already been set. He credits his predecessors, especially outgoing AVMAPresident Dr. James H. Brandt and former President Dr. James Nave, as layinga good foundation to build on-especially concerning economic issues.

Besides economics, Howell says he will focus on gender issues in theprofession, potential changes in the public's perception of veterinarians,foreign veterinary school accreditation and DVMs being thrust to the forefrontsince the September 11 terrorist attacks on issues concerning biosecurityand bioterrorism. All of these issues are underscored by the rapid changesin technology and information dissemination.

"We, as an organization, can accomplish these goals by being responsible,staying flexible and being financially viable," says Howell.


Howell says the AVMA is making positive inroads in trying to developcompensation parity with other professions for practitioners through itsparticipation in the National Commission of Veterinary Economic Issues andother initiatives. But he says low compensation for practitioners is onlypart of the issue-students with debt, academicians and veterinary techniciansalso shoulder economic concerns that need to be addressed.

Howell says delivering quality medicine is synonymous with good business.And unless there are happy, appropriately compensated teachers turning outwell-educated, fairly compensated practitioners who have competitively paidstaff, the quality medicine chain is weakened.

"This (economics) is our biggest opportunity to really help theprofession," Howell believes.

He also says college boards of regents need to appropriate more moneyto keep good educators in the classroom and not have them lured away byhigher-paid positions in the private sector.

Gender vs. generational

According to Howell, an area that needs further formal research is thechanging demographics of the profession with the influx of women. He predictsthat within the next five years the majority of practitioners will be women.

"This isn't necessarily a gender issue, but a generational one,"he says. "It goes beyond economics. The gender issues need to be identifiedas well as other demographic changes."

He cites other demographic issues such as more foreign and foreign-trainedgraduates working in the U.S. and a different age group with different moresand beliefs .

"Eighty-seven percent of veterinarians belong to the AVMA,"he says. "There are a lot of different needs under one umbrella, andwe need to be responsive to those needs."

He feels research that unequivocally determines these needs is the responsibleplan of attack.

Public perception

While veterinarians have enjoyed a high ranking in public opinion asa trusting, caring profession, Howell does not take that distinction forgranted.

"We shouldn't assume that will continue," Howell says. "People'srelationships with their pets are changing."

He cites the idea of "guardianships versus ownership," suitsfor pain and suffering and higher fees as possibly taking the bloom offthe rose.

"Food animal practitioners are also seeing a change in how theywork with the public; from one on one with the farmer to working with aproduction team. This will also affect public perception over time."


Howell sees the AVMA's accreditation as the "gold standard"for veterinary education and is adamant about not lowering that standardto accept foreign or foreign-trained veterinarians. However, he does seethe value of working with other countries and visiting foreign schools tolearn from them as the science of veterinary medicine becomes more global."AVMA can be a resource to facilitate that exchange of knowledge andeducation," Howell says.

September 11

World events have also thrown DVMs into a more important role-that ofusing their scientific knowledge to help thwart bioterorrism.

"With the terrorist events of the past year, the public is learningthat veterinarians can be a science-based resource within the communityfor information about bioaggression and zoonoses," says Howell.

This profile will only heighten as the government's effort to protectnot only the U.S. population, but also its food supply, intensifies, Howellbelieves.

AVMA is responsive

For DVMs who think the AVMA is a stodgy "old boys" networkand only join for the insurance, Howell asks that they take a look at whatthe AVMA does in all areas.

"Yes, the insurance is an incentive to join, but look at all theother services available," he says. "Our Council on Education,Council on Biologics and Therapeutics, continuing education, the developmentof policy and standards, our programs for veterinary technicians; the organizationgoes way beyond insurance. Maybe the faces of the leadership don't representour membership, but we can still represent their concerns."

Howell says changes are happening so fast in the profession it's difficultto keep up, but the AVMA leadership, as Howell sees it, is willing to listen,be open and draw consensus rather than furthering their own personal agendas.

"We must be truly representative of the membership. We can be veryresponsive even if our faces are different," Howell says.

Growing up

Howell, a native Oklahoman, grew up in the state's rural northwest. Hisfather was in vocational agriculture and his mother taught home economics.

The family farmed cattle and wheat part time in another county. Evenwith his farm-background, Howell chose small animal practice as his vocation.

"The first time I was in a small animal practice was when I wasin veterinary school," he recalls.

Once he graduated in 1972 from Oklahoma State, he worked in a small animalpractice, what is now Britton Road Veterinary Clinic, buying half-interestin 1975. It is now a four-doctor practice. He plans to continue workingthere when his schedule permits during his term, and return to full timework after his term is over. He has owned other veterinary hospitals andowns Howell Investments, Inc. as well as owning and operating other non-veterinarybusinesses since 1989.

The family farm is still a recreational haven for the Howells and thepresident-elect enjoys hunting, fishing, boating, horse back riding andriding three-wheelers with his son and brother. Howell also has a daughter.His wife, Jayme, is a licensed speech pathologist and teaches.

Besides being involved in organized veterinary medicine for most of hiscareer and his business interests, Howell is also politically active, havingchaired campaigns for candidates in gubernatorial, state legislature andmayoral races and was instrumental in the creation of a political actioncommittee within the Oklahoma VMA.

First love

But veterinary medicine is definitely Howell's first love.

"I like to develop a rapport with people through their animals,"he says. "I do enjoy the business side as well, but I became a veterinarianbecause I enjoy helping people through their animals."

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