AVMA's 20/20 Vision Committee advocates radical change


Schaumburg, Ill. - The American Veterinary Medical Association does not have the structure to adequately lead the veterinary profession into the future, according to a new report from the association's own 20/20 Vision Committee.

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not have the structure to adequately lead the veterinary profession into the future, according to a new report from the association's own 20/20 Vision Committee.

The organization needs to take a more proactive role in establishing veterinarians as the authority on animal-health issues or risk becoming obsolete and ineffective, the committee warns.

After more than a year in development, the committee's report, released in late March, spells out the weaknesses and strengths of AVMA, and offers a number of suggestions on how the organization can best serve its membership by the year 2020.

Times are changing quickly and drastically, and AVMA needs to adapt to be able to change just as quickly, the report notes. Generational, gender and minority issues as well as fragmentation of the profession by specialty and special-interest groups compound the challenges the modern world is throwing at the profession. The committee cautions that the association is at a pivotal time where it can either become a leader or lose influence and relevancy.

Commission members concluded that great leaders and organizations have the capacity to improve what is, and concurrently, what isn't. While commission members acknowledge AVMA's efforts that strive for continuous improvement and support of its current activities, the commission focused most of its attention on creating what isn't—a new vision and associated pathways that will create an organization for 2020 that is profoundly different than the association today.

The report outlines a detailed vision for AVMA by 2020 that includes better educating the public on the need for veterinary medicine, functioning in a way that promotes greater trust and broader participation in the association, and building partnerships internally and externally to advance the profession.

The vision

The commission recommends:

  • establishing and advancing a national agenda focused on the health and welfare of animals and their importance to our society;

  • securing a vital and economically viable future for all facets of the veterinary profession;

  • ensuring public appreciation and support for veterinary medicine to enable the profession to fulfill its essential role;

  • operating in a global context, recognizing the critical contribution that U.S. veterinarians play internationally including global health, trade, food safety, and security and education;

  • building dynamic partnerships with key groups and sectors, both internally and externally, to ensure effective collaboration on issues of shared importance;

  • contributing to the growth and health of the veterinary profession, including ensuring that membership in the profession reflects the full spectrum of Americans;

  • functioning in a manner that promotes high trust, broad participation, and commitment among its diverse membership and other key stakeholders;

  • ensuring the organization expands its portfolio to opportunities and activities in animal welfare, research, emergency response, and public health, and drives demand;

  • unifying the diverse interests and specialties in the profession toward a common purpose and sense of community; and

  • operating and governing proactively, strategically and incorporating technological advances.

To achieve this vision, the commission developed 11 key points and strategies for obtaining each goal. They include topics such as societal impact, public awareness, economics, relationships to other organizations and professions, global impact, membership, generational and demographic synergy, technology, governance and participation, culture and knowledge.

Some highlights of those strategies include the recommendation that the veterinary profession work to embrace minorities and support from the general public. Minorities, and how well they are served and represented within the veterinary profession, are a concern, according to the report, which cautions the veterinary profession's image could be tarnished without a reversal of this trend.

The association should implement an extensive public-awareness campaign that establishes veterinarians in the public eye as the authority on animal-related issues, and promote the benefits of preventive care for all animals, the commission suggests.

"The profession is hampered by a public not fully appreciating and valuing veterinary care and services, and by the profession's inability to convince animal owners of the benefits of wellness, veterinary visits, and the full spectrum of services needed to optimize the health and care of animals throughout their entire lifetime," the report states. "These issues are not just economically driven, but rather reflect the lack of public understanding and awareness of the benefits of routine veterinary care and the value of care which may be considered too expensive."

An economic strategy

Economics is also a huge concern as visits decline and student debt continues to rise, and AVMA should assume the role of developing and implementing a national economic strategy for veterinary medicine to drive business to the profession, the study suggests. Veterinarians need a better understanding of how to implement good business methods into their practices. AVMA should help practitioners develop these skills and also address the crippling student debt that hampers many young practitioners. It's up to the profession to drive new business through its doors, the report notes, using the dental profession as a model for change.

"The dental profession has made remarkable strides in convincing the public of twice-a-year visits and the need for beautiful smiles," the committee writes. "Large, national outreach and public-relations campaigns are very expensive, albeit helpful if sustained. Short of such tactics, the most crucial issue would seem to be the ability for veterinarians themselves to personally drive and market the needs and benefits of their services."

AVMA also needs to help identify new roles for veterinarians outside of traditional channels, especially within government and industry. It should work more closely with internal and external organizations, as well, and try to resolve the divisive nature present in many of the "special interest groups under the AVMA umbrella."

Age gap

The report also addresses a concern that some AVMA members—particularly women and younger generations—feel "disconnected" from the association, with concerns that it is "slow and bureaucratic, reactive and not focused on the most critical issues." AVMA needs to pay close attention to the need of its membership and should look to grow outside traditional means, embracing associated groups like veterinary technicians and members of the public for future growth. The report even recommends a possible "Friends of Veterinary Medicine" program as a means of additional revenue and participation from the public.

In its call to action, the committee's report states that to carry out the vision for 2020, AVMA's leaders will have to employ "radical thinking about the purpose, priorities and the very structure and functions of AVMA."

"The identity of AVMA and its brand recognition need to be reconsidered and both are also likely to change as the AVMA expands in scope, scale and impact. The culture must also be reinvented based on changing values and assumptions about the future and changing needs and demands of members and potential members," the report states. "The gap is growing incrementally between what AVMA is asked and expected to do and what it can deliver with a relatively small staff and reliance on volunteers as its principal workforce ...

"The future will belong only to those who have the tools and vision to embrace it, and those who recognize and act upon what needs to be done to lead membership and retain relevance."

The influencers

The 20/20 Vision Committee was formed by the AVMA Executive Board in January 2010, as reported in DVM Newsmagazine, and charged with the mission to make recommendations to carry the association forward into the next decade. Its members include: Chair Lonnie King, DVM, MS, MPA, Dipl. ACVPM; Bonnie Beaver, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVB; Grace Bransford, DVM; Anne Hale, DVM; Steven Kess; Joanna Morel; Stacy Pritt, DVM, MS, MBA; Stephan Schaefbauer, DVM, MPH; Christina Tran, DVM; Peter Weber, CAE; and Michael Whitehair, DVM.

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