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Q&A with a keynote: Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA; and Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD

San Diego

San Diego Fetch dvm360® keynote speakers describe their joint talk, professional achievements, and more

The first day of the San Diego Fetch dvm360® conference kicks off with a joint keynote address titled “Courageous Conversations: Change Through Communication,” led by Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, owner of PAW
Consulting and president of Simple Solutions for Vets, in Irvine, California; and Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD, recently retired dean, professor of immunology at Western University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California. In anticipation, dvm360® sat down with Weinstein and Nelson to gain insight
on the talk and recount special moments in their careers.

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA

Weinstein received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University before achieving his DVM at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, he moved to Orange County, California, and worked as an associate for a few years before starting his own hospital, which is when he realized he knew little about the business. In response, he went back to school at the University of Redlands and worked on earning his MBA at night while running the business during the day. This inspired him to instill changes in his practice, move it, and expand it, before selling it to a corporate consolidator.

Since then, Weinstein has been involved with the California Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association veterinary economics strategy committee, and the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association (SCVMA), serving as its executive director for 14 years. Additionally, he’s worked in the pet health insurance industry and expanded to consulting and coaching. Last year, he left the SCVMA to pursue teaching at Western University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD

Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD

Nelson graduated from Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He then completed an internal medicine residency at Mississippi State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine and achieved a PhD in comparative immunology from North Carolina State University. He has been involved in the veterinary education profession from the moment he graduated, first joining MSU College of Veterinary Medicine during its second year of operation. Also, he was a member of the founding faculty of 2 veterinary schools, MSU and Western University. Most recently, he stepped down as the dean of Western University after serving in that position for 15 years and has assumed a faculty member position at the college.

Of the roles you’ve held, which has been your favorite?

Weinstein: When I took the role as executive director of the [SCVMA], I really didn’t know what to expect or how long I would be interested in it, and it grew on me. I really enjoyed the role...because it put me in a position of being an advocate for the profession. It allowed me to create continuing education programs for my membership, from that standpoint. It allowed me to focus on collegiality and camaraderie and...collaboration, which is very important within the profession. And it allowed me to be an influencer for the profession, not just in Southern California, but in other parts throughout the industry.

I think the role with SCVMA, which allowed me to touch on so many different things, was my most rewarding in many ways. [It] helped me to have a broad understanding of the veterinary profession... especially since I was the leader during the largest portion of [the COVID-19 pandemic], which truly tests your leadership skills. Overall, I like to influence and disrupt the profession with the hope of making it better in the future, and I think we were able to do that with SCVMA.

Nelson: When I went to veterinary school, my plan was to practice with my mentor, Dr Roland Powell, in Jackson, Mississippi, it was happenstance, or God interfered in my life. Because when I graduated, Mississippi State started a veterinary school. Powell was an active participant in establishing that veterinary school and recommended me for the faculty there because he thought another year of seasoning would help the partnership. Little did he know that I had become so interested that I would never go into private practice with him because...I saw an opportunity to be involved in establishing a veterinary school and I thought at the time I would never have a chance to be a part of establishing a veterinary school again. To see how it happens, to be in the room when it happens... honestly, I couldn’t turn my back on that... Being a part of the founding [veterinary] faculty at Mississippi State was probably one of my favorites and I have to say that that dovetailed into being a part of the founding [veterinary] faculty of Western University as well.

What is your proudest moment professionally?

Weinstein: I can look out in the hallway and see a bunch of glass that I’ve received, and plaques at other times, but I think the recognitions that I’ve received as Speaker of the Year, for both the Veterinary Meeting & Expo and the Western Veterinary Conference, really touched me because they reflect my ability to communicate to the profession as a whole—to veterinarians, to managers, to technicians, to team members....On a personal level, [I am proudest of] my 2 daughters, one of whom is less than a year from graduating from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University.

Nelson: My proudest moment, professionally, was when...Western [University College of Veterinary Medicine received accreditation] because I was dean at the time... and because of the uniqueness of the curriculum that we accredited. At the time, Western sailed against the winds of politics and expectations, much more than Mississippi State did, and the inclusion of problem-based learning, the inclusion of distributive modality in clinical training and the public consensus that we didn’t need any more veterinarians at the time Western was established. Those 3 things came together at significant headwinds. And there was a large consensus that Western University was not needed. And that the pedagogy we adopted would ruin veterinary medicine and ruin the graduates of Western. We were able to meet the standards of the [College of Education] and convince [them] that we had a quality program.

What is the significance of your keynote address on courageous conversations?

Weinstein: Communication is a human weakness in many cases, and a notable weakness in the veterinary profession. And we are involved with communications every day with our team, with our clients, with family members, with friends. Many of those conversations are pretty unremarkable. However, in the world in which we live, with the news that comes through on the TV, through the newspaper, via the internet, [or] on the radio...there are issues that call for difficult, or courageous, conversations.

The premise of the keynote is to encourage those types of conversations. To find individuals [with whom] you can engage in those conversations...whether on social issues or work performance, build the skills and confidence to ask difficult questions. Also be prepared to have difficult questions asked of you. So courageous conversations are those which you initiate or [which you are] reached out to [about], to discuss the issues that you’d rather avoid, the so-called “undiscussable.” I think the significance of our keynote is this focus on being comfortable being uncomfortable in these types of conversations.

Nelson: The significance of the presentation that [Weinstein] and I are going to make is a recognition that our country needs to reassess and relearn how to have a public conversation. I am very concerned about our inability to share our opinions without retribution.... [We will] encourage members of our profession to reach out to people who do not think like them...and to have the courage first, to share [their] opinions and secondly, to listen to the opinions of others. Then thirdly, to agree to disagree in an agreeable manner.

Being an African American, the purpose for that is so that we can move forward in recognizing that we are all human beings, that race is a myth, and that...our laws and practices have been structured to deny certain demographics within our country. The only way we’re going to get past that is to understand how each of us have arrived at our perspective of what America is supposed to be. This presentation is designed to gently prod the audience into looking at how they arrived at whatever perspective they have about whatever issue they think is important.

What inspired you to give this joint talk?

Weinstein: For over 2 years Dr Nelson and I have had what we call courageous conversations. These started out with my reaching out to Dr Nelson after the murder of George Floyd and asking him for some help in understanding what’s going on in the world. I just couldn’t reconcile the issues and felt that society was going backward. The whole thing just disrupted my mindset.

So, we started having conversations, and from our conversations, we created a podcast called "Courageous Conversations" (www.peterandphil.com), during which we share our thoughts on life and other issues, not just on veterinary medicine—very little of it is veterinary medicine. We challenge each other and our unique perspectives on the issues. Dr Nelson is from Mississippi. I’m from New York. And we come at things from a different perspective because of [his] upbringing in the South during the ’60s, and [mine in] the North in the ’60s and ’70s. The courageous conversation joint talk will allow us [not only] to share with the audience our perspectives, but also the benefits and importance of having these tough conversations.

Nelson: Shortly after George Floyd died, Weinstein called me and was so disturbed by the incident that he called me with several penetrating questions. Questions that I didn’t feel comfortable answering, but because of that interaction, we developed the podcast and ultimately that led to this presentation.

I have always been involved in diversity [and] diversifying the profession, largely because of my experiences as a minority in the profession...[and] my experiences as an educator and administrator in education and observing the practices that occurred in the ’70s and ’80s within this profession. History is important and the history of our profession as it relates to inclusion is not a pretty picture, so my inspiration for this talk is one that has developed over time.

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