Proposed AVMA governance changes stir heated debate

House of Delegates members voice concern about being voted out of existence.

Things need to change. This was the consensus from most veterinarians in the room at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates meeting in Chicago on July 19. However, the conversation got heated when delegates started discussing exactly what needs to change in order for the AVMA to stay relevant to the ever-changing profession.

For starters, delegates had a lot to say regarding the proposed governance structure revamp inspired by a task force report introduced to the AVMA last month. The report proposes a number of a changes—including the possible elimination of the House of Delegates. This sparked a nearly two-hour debate at the end of the two-day meeting after AVMA President Clark Fobian, DVM, opened up the floor and delegates headed for the microphone.

“Everyone in this room feels like we need some change in our governance. The thing is we’re trying to move too fast,” said delegate for Oklahoma Charles Freeman, DVM. “We need to slow down. Elections should be held in each state, and term limits should be defined so you aren’t in the same position for the rest of your life.”

One of the AVMA’s top priorities is to appeal to and attract millennials, but many delegates weren’t clear on the other reasons for the proposed governance change, or how the proposed changes would solve existing problems.

“When somebody brings a pet in the room, the first question we ask is, ‘What's the problem?’” said Florida delegate Steve Shores, DVM. “I'm sorry but I don't understand the problem. Tell me what the problem is and I bet we can come up with a treatment plan and treatment options.”

Tensions were already high in the room because this open forum followed the discussion of a resolution stating, “The House of Delegates recommends to the Executive Board that any final proposal for the governance change for AVMA includes the House of Delegates.”

Though a number of members voiced their disagreement with the proposed resolution, saying it was premature while the larger organization was still evaluating what shape governance changes would take, it still passed with a majority (73 percent) vote. This decision was on the heels of another hot resolution in regard to a recent AVMA membership survey.

That amended resolution read, “The House of Delegates recommends to the Executive Board that any delegate or alternate delegate that signs a confidentiality statement can receive the questions and results relating to governance of the AVMA Member’s Survey that was used by the Task Force on Governance and Member Participation.”

A whopping 97 percent of delegates voted in favor of the resolution. This may help ease the minds of delegates questioning the transparency of the board. For example, delegate of West Virginia Shawn Sette, DVM, dismissed the executive board’s concerns that if released, the survey data could get into the wrong hands.

“I don't think there's anything more damaging than an executive board not giving us the information,” Sette says. “I'd rather them give us the truth than make assumptions.”

In other House of Delegates news, the group voted on a number of resolutions and elected officials for the coming year:

> Chose a president-elect. The House of Delegates elected Theodore “Ted” Cohn, DVM, co-owner of University Hills Animal Hospital in Denver, Colo., president-elect in an uncontested race for the position. Cohn, a graduate of Tuskegee University, has most recently served as chairman of the AVMA executive board. He has held numerous roles in organized veterinary medicine at both the regional and national level.

> Opposed long-distance care. The house also passed a resolution opposing “remote consulting,” which it defined as telephone or Web-based communication intended to diagnose or treat a patient in the absence of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. (See this related article on a lawsuit against the Texas veterinary board.)

> Set standards for alternative medicine. The house adopted a policy on alternative and complementary medicine stating that such modalities be held to the same standards as other types of medicine and that “diagnosis and treatment should be based on sound, accepted principles of veterinary medicine.”

> Welcomed a new organization. The House of Delegates voted to admit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to its body as an allied veterinary organization.

> Held off on welcoming another new organization. The house referred a resolution that would have admitted the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture to its organization to the AVMA executive board, which was charged with investigating whether the organization reflected the broad majority of veterinary acupuncturists.

To read more about of the actions taken during the meeting, visit avma.org.