President's message

The future of veterinary medicine

Rick SibbelI am sitting in an airplane on the trip home after spending 3 days at the AVMA headquarters and then visiting the beautiful Northwest. First, a bit about the AVMA and what is going on there.

At the fall meeting of the Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee, the committee members decided to send a resolution to the Executive Board of the AVMA. This resolution was drafted after much discussion about the need for a study demonstrating food supply (ie, food animal) veterinary medicine needs and opportunities analysis. In a previous President's message, I talked about the Food Animal Summit Task Force (FAST) group.1 The FAST and the AVMA would work collaboratively to design and fund the proposed study. Our Canadian members may be assured they will be represented. The AVMA Executive Board will meet in mid-November to decide on the resolution. All indications at this point are positive. Stay tuned.

My visit to the AVMA this week concerned the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC). The AVMA has retired the Long Range Planning Committee and replaced it with two committees, the Governance Committee and the SPC. With the help of Tom Burkgren and others, I was appointed as one of the six members on the SPC. The exclusive role of this committee is to set up a process to effectively plan for evolving issues in veterinary medicine and then offer strategies and tactics to assist the Executive Board in proactive action plans (concerning issues facing the profession both now and in the future). Interestingly, there are three males and three females on the committee. I believe gender balance is in order and was accomplished. More interestingly, three committee members represent food supply veterinary medicine and two represent companion animal medicine. The sixth is an AVMA staff member, Dr Elizabeth Galvin-Curry. All six members are risk takers and leaders. The advice and recommendations we develop will be dynamic and action oriented, and will be used to collaborate at the Executive Board level. I am excited and hopeful that this AVMA activity will provide some real innovation for organized veterinary medicine.

I was invited by Dr John Gay, Washington State University (WSU), to give a 2-hour lecture to freshman veterinary students about the opportunities in swine veterinary medicine and food supply veterinary medicine. Dr Gay supervises a curriculum course that brings in outside speakers to impress on the minds of first-year students the nontraditional opportunities in food supply veterinary medicine. What I found at WSU was nothing short of amazing. This school has a full-time human psychologist on staff who is developing a program to assess and nurture the characteristics of successful veterinarians, as described in the recent Personnel Decisions International study.2 In the late summer, first year students spend 3 or 4 days at a campsite where they are nurtured through development exercises designed to encourage collaboration and team building. This year's freshmen are the second class involved in this program, and WSU and the College of Veterinary Medicine are assessing the results. The early returns are amazing. Faculty have now begun the course as well. The class interaction and questions at my lecture strongly suggest that WSU is very definitely on the right track with this program.

This column would not be complete without a few words about animal welfare and how polarized our profession is becoming as we sort through the compromises on this subject. I think this issue will define the unity or disunity of our profession as we move into the future. I believe the "guardianship" issue is part of animal welfare and should be part of all discussions we engage in regarding animal welfare. Our profession is small politically: if we polarize and splinter, we will become even smaller. Science simply must be the backbone of decision making and compromises. The SPC has identified polarization of the profession as one of the top issues facing us in the foreseeable future.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, my tenure as your president. I have had a wonderful time interacting and doing my best to lead. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts and views in this column. There are still many issues to face, but I am confident our leadership is "getting it done."

I hope you shared family and friends this holiday season. After all, isn't that why we work!

Yours in spirit,

--Rick Sibbel

References - non refereed

1. Sibbel R. Educational reform or just keeping up with the times? J Swine Health Prod. 2003;11:163.

2. Mase CA, Lloyd JW, King LJ. Initial study results on future needs for leadership in veterinary medicine. JAVMA. 2003;222:1516-1517.