Students rank high on AAHA leader's agenda


If Dr. Dennis Feinberg, incoming president of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), was allowed to focus energies on just one demographic during his presidential tenure, he's convinced students would win out.

If Dr. Dennis Feinberg, incoming president of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), was allowed to focus energies on just one demographic during his presidential tenure, he's convinced students would win out.

Dr. Dennis Feinberg

"Students are tomorrow's veterinarians," Feinberg says of the student demographic, for whom he has an "unbelievable passion."

Feinberg says it's up to AAHA to be a visionary to students when they're in school. "Then, once they graduate, and go into practice, they may get turned on to AAHA. It's harder to reach them collectively once they graduate."

Feinberg will be installed as the 68th president of the 29,000-member association at its annual meeting this month in Tampa.

Speaking from experience, as an Auburn University veterinary student, Feinberg got his first taste of AAHA while attending an annual meeting in Philadelphia.

"I could see quality written all over that organization," recalls Feinberg.

Feinberg says he saw quality written all over veterinary medicine for as long as he can remember, though his career path included a detour in dentistry and pit stop in pharmacy.


Caving to parental pressure, the Alabama native says he earned degrees in dentistry and pharmacy, because of economic concerns tied to veterinary medicine. He was even en route to medical school at the University of Alabama, before ultimately deciding to wait instead for an opening into Auburn University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

"That's important to me, because it reflects my passion for veterinary medicine. If I looked strictly at the economic level, I probably would've chosen human medicine," he says.

Upon acceptance, Feinberg married, entered school and never turned back on a 26-year career that he says has completely fulfilled his expectations.

Feinberg feels much the same about AAHA, the companion animal veterinary organization to which he feels indebted. Upon graduation in 1975, he joined an AAHA affiliate practice, before buying his own practice in Charleston, S.C., and gaining AAHA accreditation in 1977. He's been a member ever since.

AAHA influence

In his latest role as president, Feinberg, a self-described consensus-maker, says, "My position is to carry on the needs of the profession. Just because we have a new administration, it's not like we're going from a Democrat to a Republican."

As previously mentioned, Feinberg says students are not only his passion, but also one of AAHA's top priorities for 2004. Specifically, efforts are under way to round up volunteer veterinarians, including recent graduates, interested in speaking to students on campus in their freshman, sophomore and junior years.

Deep-seated passion

Feinberg recently spoke at a University of Georgia management lecture and hopes to continue speaking this year.

"If AAHA can expose a student to much more than a pizza night or an award when they graduate, I'd hope we'd be able to get exposure and show them the standardized quality of care AAHA offers," he says.

The student demographic is, after all, one of the biggest growth areas of the profession, Feinberg says. "We're dying to reach them."

In another area of focus, AAHA introduced practice standards in 2003 that Feinberg and the association plan to continue to tweak in 2004. Members of the standards taskforce, on which Feinberg serves, continue to meet weekly via teleconference for a two-hour discussion.

Standards not forgotten

"These standards have far more reaching values than for just the members of AAHA. We feel that they're standards for the profession," he says. The standards are available to members of AAHA and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

On the horizon are new species and specialty-specific standards, which AAHA expects to release in part this spring. According to Feinberg, who serves on the accreditation program taskforce, the standards apply to board-certified surgeons, ophthalmology, housecall and mobile practices, avian and feline and emergency and critical care specialties.

While students have priority within AAHA leadership, Feinberg says equally vital is the involvement of recent graduates within the association.

Recent graduate effort

At the 2004 annual meeting, AAHA plans to sunset the recent graduate taskforce, which has been responsible for creating tracks for annual meetings and offering insight into education. To replace the taskforce, AAHA plans to mainstream participating recent graduates on the taskforce, by appointing them to main committees where they can have "tremendous impact."

"If we want to position ourselves for the future, part of that is trying to be an organization for all seasons and ages," Feinberg says.

Another effort in the works is the creation of a section on AAHA's Web site dedicated to recent graduates that would cover issues such as paying off student debt or how to write a C.V.

The increasingly vital role of women in the profession is not to be underestimated, Feinberg says. He's partial to the gender issues in his own four-doctor practice, where three are women who work part-time.

Women's presence

"I am a very big champion of and I respect people balancing professional and personal life," he says, while admitting at times it can present scheduling challenges.

As for AAHA's awareness of the issue, Feinberg cites an article in the January/February 2004 issue of AAHA's Trends magazine that examines women's earnings and reports a recent study showing that in veterinary medicine, female practice owners earn about 79 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

He says AAHA plans to continue to address the issue in other ways. "These demographic changes are here; you have to embrace and prepare for them. As we create different programs, women's issues will be an integral part of programs," Feinberg says. "We are there for females in the profession."

Ever since AAHA revealed results of the compliance study, Feinberg says it's never been more evident that "there is so much work to do."


"Poor compliance throughout the profession is an overwhelming challenge. The overwhelming majority of clients aren't receiving the standard of care we know is best for their pets," Feinberg says.

Additional challenges ranking high on Feinberg's list include the vaccine issue, where he says it's imperative the profession reaches consensus on what's best for the pet; profession economics; and animal welfare and humane issues.

Feinberg says his vision includes continuing to foster AAHA's emphasis on practice teams.

Team approach

"AAHA advocates it takes a complete staff, certainly well-educated and trained, to meet healthcare needs of pets and to provide great customer service," Feinberg says.

The association's team approach applies to the entire profession. Feinberg says AAHA's ongoing goal is to continue partnering with groups such as AVMA or the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.

"Unity only strengthens the profession," he says.

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