Heading to The Hill

Dear Colleagues,

It’s nice to know veterinarians have friends in high places who are working to help us solve some of our most pressing issues.

Dr. DeHaven and I had the pleasure of sharing some of our concerns with these folks when we recently traveled to Washington, D.C., on two separate occasions, to testify on behalf of important pieces of legislation related to the veterinary profession. We are hopeful that both of the initiatives – the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act and the National Veterinary Medical Service Act – will get the attention they deserve so that veterinarians can continue to protect the health and safety of our nation’s animals and people.

Dr. DeHaven visited Capitol Hill on Jan. 23 to testify before a House of Representatives subcommittee in support of the Workforce Expansion Act. The Act would create a competitive grants program designed to produce more veterinarians and enhance the country’s capacity for research on diseases that threaten public health and food safety. If approved, the program would provide federal funding to build more classrooms, laboratory space and support facilities at the country’s 28 veterinary colleges, which are currently at or above capacity and graduate only about 2,500 veterinarians annually.

Joining Dr. DeHaven at the hearing was Dr. Alan M. Kelly, dean emeritus of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges; and Dr. Sheila W. Allen, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.

Members of the subcommittee expressed their support for the measure, which will now make its way through the process before coming up for what we hope is a successful final vote. We need your help too. Show your support by letting your Congressional representatives know that the legislation is important to you and the profession.

I also testified Feb. 7 before a House subcommittee concerning the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, which has been law since 2003 but has yet to be implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture. This Act would provide college loan forgiveness for veterinary school graduates who pledge to serve in a number of underserved areas of veterinary medicine, including food supply veterinary medicine.

The Congressional members who sit on the committee share our frustration with USDA’s inaction and recognize how important food supply veterinarians are to the health of our nation’s food animals and in preventing the spread of foodborne and zoonotic diseases.

I left the hearing honored to have been able to represent AVMA members before Congress, and I am confident that, by working with USDA, we will soon see some concrete action on implementation of the Veterinary Medical Service Act.

Being invited to testify before Congress allowed Dr. DeHaven and I the opportunity to educate and inform our lawmakers and the American public about issues that are of critical importance to our profession. One of those issues is animal welfare, and the AVMA had the opportunity to once again reach out to the public and share its position on animal welfare issues after the Humane Society of the United States and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights recently announced a “corporate combination” to form the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA).

While the announcement by HSUS and AVAR didn’t create any significant buzz, Dr. DeHaven was sought out by the trade media for comment. He indicated in several news stories and industry publications that the differences in how the two sides view animal welfare ultimately come down to a fundamental difference in philosophy. He shared the message that the AVMA takes a more inclusive approach to animal welfare issues and bases its policies on not only emotion but on scientific input from many parties. “Credibility in the animal welfare arena,” he said, “is earned by engaging and gathering input from the broadest range of voices, not by listening only to those who agree with us.”

There’s a new FAQ on the AVMA Web site that explains our perspective on this recent development. We hope you’ll take a few moments to read the document, which we believe answers many of the questions posed by the creation of the HSVMA.

In other animal welfare-related news, Dr. Gail Golab, director of our Animal Welfare Division, has been closely involved in establishing a veterinary student division in the Animal Welfare Intercollegiate Judging/Assessment Contest that will be held March 15 and March 16 at Michigan State University. Participating veterinary students from around the country and Canada will use multiple measures of animal well-being, such as physiology, health, behavior and production indices, to objectively assess the welfare of animals in a variety of environments. As complicated an issue as animal welfare is, we know that additional information on how to properly and comprehensively evaluate animal well-being is needed for veterinary students. This contest brings education about the science and ethics of animal welfare assessments to students in a way that engages and educates them at the same time.

Students are the future of the veterinary profession. What they learn now impacts the future roles they will play. We want them to look at all aspects of animal welfare, and we want them to make good science- and ethics-based animal welfare decisions. We also want them to understand that sometimes there can be more than one acceptable solution to animal welfare concerns.

Speaking of future leaders and keeping the profession strong at all levels of organized veterinary medicine, it’s a pleasure to announce that our 2008 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and House of Delegates Winter Session was a resounding success. About 500 attendees recently gathered in Schaumburg, Ill., for this year’s event. Our programming, which included topics from Crisis Communications to Gender/Generational Diversity, helped us fulfill the Conference mission “To develop leaders for the benefit of the individual and the veterinary profession.” Geared primarily toward our colleagues in state and allied associations, as well as recent graduates, the Conference, as one attendee put it, serves as a “prime opportunity for building relationships and leadership” throughout the profession. Said one recent grad, “I thought the conference was very motivating and inspired me to further pursue my interest in organized veterinary medicine.”

Thanks for taking the time to read this month’s edition of AVMA@Work.


Hammer signature DeHaven signature
Gregory S. Hammer, DVM
W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA
Executive Vice President

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