All organizations strive for relevancy. Without it, an organization will eventually have no reason to exist. A primary focus for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) is how we remain relevant to our members. It is now, and always has been, our mission to educate swine veterinarians and to advocate for science-based approaches to industry issues. Our relevance is based upon those two critical purposes. Increasingly, the AASV finds itself in situations where our relevance to others outside of our membership, may be promoted or, conversely, questioned.
On one hand, the pork industry is tightly aligned with producers and veterinarians collaborating and communicating at multiple levels and in numerous settings. From an organizational standpoint, the relationships of the AASV with the National Pork Board (NPB) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) have never been stronger. The synergy that has developed over the years is substantial. The ongoing challenges with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus have made me more fully appreciate the working relationships that have been built over time within the pork industry. The leaders and staff of NPB and NPPC have valued and promoted the relevance of the AASV and swine veterinarians.
As we continue to work through PED, the issue of relevancy has continued to badger me. Relevancy comes down to this: How does the AASV better prepare for the next emerging disease? Very simply, we need to prepare and execute an informed and flexible plan, take action, achieve goals, and move ahead. Our ability to get results will ultimately determine our relevancy to our members and others. The AASV needs to be a leader, not necessarily THE leader. Our success will depend on the synergy of partnering with a host of stakeholders within the pork industry. An emerging disease that affects the entire industry needs leadership, expertise and resources from the AASV, NPB, NPPC, and state and federal animal-health officials.
Shifting to the other end of the spectrum of relevancy with others, there is an exercise in relevancy taking place within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA has a problem as they strive to represent all veterinarians within the profession. The struggle occurs because of the divergence of the members from one another. The brutal fact is that the AVMA has over 80,000 members and the vast majority (> 90%) of that membership is not involved in the day-to-day care of animals being raised for food. This separation leaves food-supply veterinarians outnumbered and at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to relevancy to the AVMA.
This disadvantage could intensify as the AVMA reorganizes from an “association of associations” to an association of individual members (remember the > 90% figure). In the current structure, the AASV has organizational representation on numerous AVMA councils, committees, and task forces. There is a substantial threat to representation in a re-organized structure where individual membership is emphasized rather than representation by allied species-related associations. The sheer numbers are against veterinarians engaged in animal agriculture. Our relevancy to the AVMA may be so diminished that we no longer find a role with the organization.
The other aspect of the AVMA that is reflecting the demographic changes in its membership is that it is increasingly staffed by veterinarians with no experience with food animal practice or production. I am a firm believer that practical experience with food animals is essential for those wishing to represent the veterinarians who practice food-animal medicine. This experience needs to be more than a day trip to a farm or a clinical rotation in college. It needs to be honed by the intensity of daily practice and interaction with food animals and their caretakers. Expertise and knowledge can’t be simply gained from a book. If staff and leadership of an organization are lacking this experience, then they must recognize the shortcoming. The solution to this shortcoming is asking for and following the advice from those who do have the expertise. Otherwise, one must question the relevance of the AVMA to food-animal veterinarians.
The pursuit of relevancy is a continuum. An organization like the AASV cannot arrive at any given moment and declare that all is well because we are relevant to our members and others. As soon as we do, we may very well have begun the slow descent into irrelevancy. We cannot stubbornly rely on what worked for us in the past. New circumstances may demand consideration of a range of options, some of which we may have never even considered. I have two goals for the coming year. First, the AASV will become better prepared and equipped to respond to emerging diseases. Second, the AASV will effectively advocate for swine veterinarians in all pertinent situations, whether our relevancy is universally valued or not.