A cat call for better care

New AAFP president Colleran sets goal of increasing feline veterinary visits
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Dec 01, 2010


Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran
Hillsborough, N.J. — Although she didn't plan to become a feline practitioner, Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran, MS, a 1990 graduate Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, is now the new president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

Colleran opened her first cat-only hospital, the Chico Hospital for Cats, in Chico, Calif., in 1998. The hospital is built in such a way to separate cats and it features an air filtration approach designed to remove odors and sustain a calm environment. Her second cat-friendly hospital, Cat Hospital in Portland, Ore., opened in 2004.

Earlier in Colleran's career path, she completed an internship in internal medicine and worked in a general small-animal practice for several years. In 1996, she garnered her master's degree in animals and public policy from Tufts and once again worked in a small-animal practice.

She is an active member of several groups, including AAFP, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). In 2003, she was honored as Northern California Small Business Person of the Year. Most recently, Dr. Colleran was appointed president of AAFP.

DVM: What do you hope to achieve as president of the AAFP?

Colleran: What is most important to me is that we help to increase the number of cats that are being seen by DVMs. We've already formed some strategic alliances with AAHA and the International Society of Feline Medicine to try to combine skills and move toward that goal. We've also put together various feline-related guidelines with AAHA. If I had my way, AAFP would be regarded by all veterinarians as an important source for feline veterinary medicine. Currently about 60 percent of our members are not feline-exclusive.

DVM: As AAFP president, what is your perspective on the state of the economy and how it impacts small-animal veterinarians?

Colleran: Honestly I see this as an opportunity to focus on adjusting our routines that we have in practice to accommodate the unique needs of cats. If your practice is 100 percent booked, you're not looking for new opportunities.

With the economy the way it is, we're talking to small-animal practitioners on how to make practices more feline friendly.

DVM: What kind of solutions would you like to propose?

Colleran: We really believe we need to increase awareness in small-animal practices of the unique qualities of feline medicine so that veterinarians make adjustments in the way they communicate with clients before the visit, modify the way they manage cats in practice and expand on what they know about maintaining the health of the cat. In some practices, there's that cat person who moves the ball in the right direction. In those practices, many things we're talking about already are being implemented.

DVM: What are some other trends you've noticed in feline medicine?

Colleran: In small-animal practice, there is an awareness of differences in terms of managing illness. The most important thing I'm seeing, however—and I picked up some of this at a recent conference—is the understanding of a relationship-based practice. There's a move toward learning how to acquire communication skills to make a relationship-based practice work. It's critical for clients to be able to have a trusting relationship with veterinarians. Veterinarians need to be aware of the kind of questions clients ask, the body language they use, how to develop rapport and how to engage the client as a teammate in making a plan for the pet.