For now, check out this article about my new position:
I'm so honored to begin this role, and hope to share information and the experience with you here!
For now, check out this article about my new position:
As I shared in a previous blog post, the AVMA Board of Directors is the only AVMA Board position that you as an AVMA member directly elect. In many member associations, members directly elect their entire leadership, including the officers of the association. One concern that has surfaced when AVMA governance is discussed is how will the average member know who is a good leader and who is not? A worry expressed by others was the ability to “buy” influence and votes, such as a major veterinary corporation dictating that all of its AVMA member veterinarians vote for a specific candidate. Another was the potential for a major veterinary publication to endorse a candidate and unfairly publicize that candidate. The concern I would like to throw out is that of money.
How much should it cost to run for an AVMA Board position?
Well, there is no entry fee, but there is a cost to the time committed for reaching out through social media and to district state VMAs, sometimes even taking time off work to travel long distances to do so. The state VMAs in District I have been incredibly supportive of both candidates in my Board race. Each has allowed the candidates to speak to their executive boards, provided information in their member newsletters, and Vermont even allowed both candidates to address the VVMA members at their winter business meeting last weekend. The outreach necessary for members to know who you are as a candidate can even require postal mail. Yes, a flyer or letter in the mail is a traditional route of communication from candidates or their nominating organizations, to reach members.
Now here is where the cost can really add up. I looked into this option and calculated the cost of mailing a simple 5x7 postcard to the approximately 8900 veterinarians in District 1 (New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont) and postage alone would cost in excess of $3,000. Yes, three thousand dollars. While I am committed to earning your vote for this position, I felt that $3,000+ was better spent invested in my family, my practice, and my efforts to reach AVMA District I members on a more personal, less junk mail kind of level. So in the interest of not throwing my hard-earned savings account into the wind and creating an environmental mess of printed cards, I decided to attach what my flyer would have looked like had it been sent to your postal mailbox.
I realize that for some, a quick snapshot of my qualifications may be the best information, so I have created a virtual mailer, posted here. It will also be available on my Facebook, twitter and Linkedin pages. Please help me share this perspective and my qualifications and get the word out in an environmentally friendly manner by sharing far and wide!
Show me the money
For those of us in the veterinary community, there is something we all recognize and cringe when we think about…how much it costs to become a veterinarian these days. The AVMA, VIN Foundation, and AAVMC have several resources that can be found in simple internet searches that show the incredible sum total of debt most veterinary students incur by the time they graduate. If you want specifics, please check them out:
In a nutshell, according to the 2015 AVMA Report on Veterinary Debt & Income, the average veterinary student who borrows for their education, graduates with over $150,000 in debt. Some owe over $200,000 and higher. Annual tuition and fees for veterinary school varies considerably among US veterinary colleges, but the cost of this education has increased by nearly 250% in 15 years! This means that the tuition I paid from 1992-1996 was around $5,000 per year and in 2014 at my CVM it was around $19,000 per year. Very few other expenses have increased by this much in such a short period of time and the same can be said about all higher learning. Consider the cost of college education compared to the cost of all other consumer goods (the CPI); for the period of 1980 to 2014, college tuition has increased 260%, more than twice the rate of increase in the CPI, which was 120% for the same period. (http://www.businessinsider.com/this-chart-shows-how-quickly-college-tuition-has-skyrocketed-since-1980-2015-7)
Are you sure you want to be a horse vet?
To those who are not veterinarians, this amount of debt might seem acceptable for becoming a doctor. The problem lies in the debt to income ratio that a newly graduated veterinarian with that enormous burden of debt will face. Also from the 2015 AVMA Report on Veterinary Income & Debt, the average starting veterinary salary in 2014 was $67,000; mean starting salaries ranged as low as $43,000 (equine only) to $73,000 (food animal exclusive). This results in an average debt to income ratio of 2:1 (https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/BusinessIssues/Documents/2015_Report_on_the_Market_for_Veterinary_Education_Summary.pdf). By comparison, physicians often graduate with a much healthier debt to income ratio of 1:1.
And here is where I want to remind us of something about veterinary medicine that not everyone is aware of: we are the whitest profession. Yes, we are not ethnically or racially diverse and in the United States, 95.2% of working veterinarians are white (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014).
There has been a lot of discussion on this and many members of the profession embrace the need and desire to have a more racially and ethnically diverse population in veterinary medicine. But progress in this area has been slow. Theories abound about why underrepresented races and ethnicities are not in veterinary medicine and there are clear solutions that have been implemented at some veterinary colleges. To read more on this topic, I highly recommend Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine (available on Amazon or from Purdue University Press).
The concern I would like to raise in this post is that the very cost of this education is a huge impediment to all students but especially to those of economically challenged backgrounds. We stand to lose so much if we do not achieve a more diverse profession, one with more members from under-represented groups (and the AAVMC definition of under-represented groups in veterinary medicine includes socioeconomic, geographic, and educationally disadvantaged individuals). If we are committed to the need for veterinary medicine to no longer be the whitest profession—we must make veterinary education accessible to those in lower economic brackets.
Hope for the future
I just found out about an exciting event, one that seems to have a chance for some real think-tank brainstorming from leaders and interested veterinary professionals. It’s called Fix the Debt…Our Future, Our Responsibility. Below is a link with information. Are you interested? Do you have creative ideas or solutions? If so, get to this summit and let’s make a difference for the future of the veterinary profession.
Last week marks my 8th year attending the annual AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago. For those who might be interested in this event, start planning for next January!
Here is a link to see who should attend:
I attended my first meeting as an alternate delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) with my 13-month old daughter and my mother (a.k.a. free nanny). I remember meeting seasoned leaders I revered who were mingling and inspiring up and coming leaders in the first decade of their careers. Since the HOD held a convened session, I was not able to attend and take part in the workshops and presentations that were offered to the emerging leaders, VMA officers, and executives (definitions of these categories can be found in the who should attend link above). All groups are together for inspiring talks in opening and closing sessions and I often have a good takeaway from these. Each year the conference has evolved to include more and more attendees and this year there were some exciting changes.
For the first time, members of the HOD were allotted time to attend workshops and enhance their leadership skills and knowledge base. Topics included: compassion fatigue and burn-out, how to attract and engage members in our associations, and critical leadership skills. The Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) presented workshops on imposter syndrome in veterinarians and that ever elusive work-life balance. I was honored to be one of the speakers for these sessions.
Another exciting event was the WVLDI networking breakfast. The attendance was astounding! Men and women leaders of all generations came together to support each other and have some great roundtable discussions. Veterinary technician leaders were also invited to attend for the first time.
When I headed home from this conference I had a mixed bag of feelings. I felt:
AVMA faces many issues in the future. As the professional organization that collectively brings together all veterinarians in the U.S. it is a real challenge to be all things to all people. Representing the profession to the public is a high priority as is meeting member needs. I have had conversations with veterinarians who questioned the need to be an AVMA member—what value it had for them. As a 20-year member, I had accepted this was important and hadn’t stopped to compile why it was important. I’m glad they made me stop and think. I know the value it holds for me: it is a critical means of networking in my professional community, it provides essential legislative and advocacy for my professional issues, and it is a collective voice for veterinary medicine to the public. But how can we better convey this value to more members, especially those who may be considering leaving AVMA membership?
I started digging around—you know—on the internet. I found a paper from almost 10 years ago titled the “Value of Membership in Professional Associations.” In it, the authors discuss the trends that have been identified as essential to an association’s ability to maintain value to its members and to society at large. I include a few of them here because as AVMA leaders, we should remember them in order to achieve success and fulfill our Strategic Plan (https://www.avma.org/About/Governance/StrategicPlanning/Documents/strategic_plan_2015-2017.pdf).
The authors conclude with the statement: “To promote self-organization, leaders need to clarify their purpose and values, minimize bureaucracy, and understand the critical importance of knowledge sharing and trust.” Now this captures critical elements we must capitalize on to remain a viable member association. Clarify our purpose, share knowledge, and foster trust and support within our veterinary community.
I started out writing my version of that term we hear all the time, “work-life balance” and came across this article titled, “Why We All Need to Give Up on Work-Life Balance Once and for All":
It pretty much sums up a lot of what I wanted to say. That there is no balance and that we shouldn’t be disappointed when we realize that this nirvana of balance is probably not attainable. Instead of trying to having “it all” the author says we should strive to have “our all.” Now that I can do!
When I participate in presentations and roundtable discussions on this topic, I emphasize that whatever we do is our life and it requires choices. Every minute, whether you are choosing to read this blog post and the article shared on Facebook that is associated with it or choosing to catch up on sports scores or get back to your actual work—you choose what constitutes your life. And our work is part of our life. This article is written from the entrepreneur perspective but as veterinarians, our work can be very similar. We often put our heart and souls into it whether we are a practice owner or not. Some days can suck every ounce of energy right out of us. At the same time, many of us love what we do. And we went into this profession recognizing we wanted meaning from our work precisely because we knew it would be a huge part of our life.
The trick is owning the choices we make and forgiving ourselves when we feel we have made the wrong choices. This requires us to lift our heads and scan the crowd, look at those around us, especially the ones we care about the most. Checking in with them and acknowledging the choices we are making and the impacts they are having. There will be times when we have to say no to an opportunity because there is not enough room in our waking time to do it. And sometimes we will stretch ourselves to not say no to an opportunity. I love the quote from Alain de Botton, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” So what is worth fighting for? your career? your partner or spouse? your children? your pets? your causes or hobbies? your health (physical and mental)? your family and friends? your business? The answer is yes, yes to all of them. But on your terms and in your way not according to some image of a perfect balance.
When people see someone who they feel has achieved work-life balance what they are really seeing is someone who has found a blend. Someone who has gotten comfortable with the choices they are making that constitute their life and found the ability to let go of most of the guilt that comes when you feel like you have chosen one thing over another. Or they’ve decided to take the Scarlett O’Hara route, “I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.” Many days that works for me! And when I really feel frazzled, I remind myself of the last line from Gone With The Wind: “After all... tomorrow is another day.”
Currently, as an AVMA member, there are very few direct elections. The volunteer bodies are the Board of Directors (BOD), numerous Councils and Committees, and the House of Delegates (HOD).
The Board of Directors is the biggest chance for you as a member to have direct input into who will make key decisions and lead our professional association. The BOD appoints most AVMA committee members. The AVMA officers (President-Elect and Vice President) are elected by the House of Delegates, and the Treasurer is elected by the BOD. Every 6 years, AVMA members in each of the 11 geographic districts have the opportunity to directly cast a vote. If the election is uncontested, no ballots are issued.
I remember when I was less involved and this was not something on my radar. I paid my dues and just assumed that my elected leadership was someone who knew what they were doing. Ballots then were also something that arrived in the mail and I was hard pressed to know much, if anything, about the candidates. I am happy to report that the upcoming District I election will be by electronic ballot! This means that as long as AVMA has your email address on file, you will be able to vote easily online. (Paper ballots will be mailed to those who do not have an email address on file). So for those of you in AVMA District I (New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut), when you get that ballot in the spring, please vote! It would be great to have the highest voter turnout for an AVMA election in history.
If you’re reading this, you probably want to know why I am running for a position on the AVMA Board of Directors. For some people this question would more aptly be phrased, “Karen—what are you thinking? Why on earth do you want to do this with all the other things you have going on?!?!”
I have to confess, I have had this cross my mind once. Or twice. You know those times when it feels like you are pulled in many directions at once. The times when you look at your iCalendar and all the pretty colored appointments overlap between work obligations, meetings or conference calls, and then family events and activities. But most of the time, I really thrive on having a lot going on at once. I have always been a person who says yes and signs up for things or takes on more projects or tasks—and then decides I need to paint a room in the house too. I have accepted there will be chaos and I will do my best to get everything done.
I have served in organized veterinary medicine for quite some time—in my state VMA and the AVMA. I have learned so much and have honed my skills to participate in this leadership body as an effective board member. At the board level, it is essential that a diverse set of experiences and opinions are present around that table if AVMA is to remain relevant to its members. I envision an association that moves forward and is proactively the voice of animal health and welfare, food safety, and public policy—with veterinarians as the voice of authority. I envision an AVMA at your fingertips, one where members feel like they understand what is happening, why, and when. And in real time, what we need to know when we need it.
Many AVMA members experience what I do every day: they work part or full time, they have interests and commitments outside of being a veterinarian that are very important to them, and they are often juggling being there for the other people in their life. Participating in our professional associations can feel like something we have no time for. The same we can argue for taking care of ourselves. I believe that both of these are essential. Active participation in AVMA and our regional or professional speciality associations makes us better veterinarians and gets us out of the vacuums our daily career positions can tend to be.
For AVMA District I, I am the candidate who has experience and skills that will serve my district’s members well. I will be an active listener to you and your voice at the Board. I will also provide District I members with coverage and information of what AVMA and the BOD are doing for them. Please follow me on Facebook (Dr. Karen Bradley) and Twitter (@karenbdvm) and when those ballots from AVMA arrive in the spring—please vote!