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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Encouraging Signs for Women's Leadership in the AVMA House of Delegates in 2014

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University, and Julie Kumble, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts

In the companion article posted on July 31st,[1] we reported that the percentage of women delegates in the current House of Delegates (HOD) is 31.4%.[2] As hopeful as those data appeared relative to the proportion of women we reported a year ago (25%),[3]  we also expressed concern that the voting power of women delegates was constrained because of the proportional weight of the delegates from the ten largest states, eight of whom are men. This is not to imply that men who serve on the HOD fail to make wise and informed decisions, but rather that the deliberations of a decision-making body as critical to the profession as the HOD, should be more representative of the gender profile of the AVMA membership, which is now well over 50% women.

In this article, we present data that further define the demographic profile of women in the House. The following graph shows the percentage of men and women HOD members (delegates and alternates are combined in this graph), segmented by years of graduation from veterinary college.

The high proportion of women HOD members who graduated in the most recent five-year periods (including the years 1995-99 and 2000-04) represents the period when the percentage of women graduates increased from approximately 65% to 72% of the aggregate of US colleges. Though the number of HOD women delegates and alternates who graduated during these two five-year periods is not large (15 and 5, respectively), there appears to be a close parallel between the percentage of women graduating during this period and the percentage of women delegates and alternates in the House. 
Percentage of men and women in House of Delegates 
segmented by years of graduation from veterinary college. 
Delegates and alternates are combined in this graph.
(From AVMA website, www.AVMA.org), July 1, 2014)[4]

This is especially encouraging because it shows progress over the proportion of women in the HOD who graduated in the 15 previous years (1980-1994). Women who graduated during that earlier period have lower proportionate representation in the HOD compared to their male colleagues. For example, while the proportion of women graduates ranged from about 40% in the early 1980s, increasing to 50% in the late 1980s, and to 60% in the early 1990s, the percentage of women currently in the HOD who graduated during that period was far less, ranging from 20% (early 1980s) to less than 40% a decade later. 

There may be multiple personal, professional and even institutional reasons why women who graduated more recently (1995-2004) are proportionately well-represented in the House. We do not assume that these demographic changes are happening simply because more women are graduating and joining the profession.  After all, the evidence from earlier graduating years (noted above) do not support that conclusion any more than well-documented evidence from other professions.

Though the numbers are not high, the data presented here are encouraging. In the future, we would like to explore potential causative factors and propose recommendations for replicating successful strategies to encourage even greater proportions of female participation.

While not simply a numbers issue—women don’t add value by just being at the table—we believe that the women who have been in the HOD and who are being added now in greater numbers, are not only making a substantive and positive difference, but have great capacity to add real value to the profession as we face the challenges ahead.

By Dr. Donald F. Smith and Julie Kumble, Director of Grants and Programs, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027. She can be reached at juliek@womensfund.net.
The authors thank Dr. Lisa Greenhill, Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at AAVMC, for her contributions and review of this story; also Mr. Nate Watson ’17 for his contributions to data collection.

Dr. Smith invites comments at dfs6@cornell.edu





[1] Smith, Donald F. and Julie Kumble. “Women in the AVMA’s 2014 House of Delegates, with Some Government Comparisons.” Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, July 15, 2014.
[2] AVMA web site, Jul 1, 2014. 
[3] Smith Donald F. and Julie Kumble. “Women’s Leadership in the U.S. Congress and the AVMA’s House of Delegates: Exploring Parallels and Looking Forward.” Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, April 28, 2013.
[4] Source, AVMA website, July 1, 2014, Ibid. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Women in AVMA's 2014 House of Delegates, with some Government Comparisons


By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University and Julie Kumble, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts


In April 2013, we reported on the gender makeup of the AVMA’s House of Delegates (HOD).[i]  We thought readers might be interested in seeing an update of the current composition of this important legislative body of the veterinary profession in as they meet for their semi-annual HOD meeting this week in Denver.[ii]

Graph 1 below shows that 22 (31.4%) of the 70 HOD delegates are women.[iii]  This is a higher proportion than we reported last year when women comprised 25% of the HOD delegates. The percentage of female delegates representing the 52 states (including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) is  26.9% and the percentage representing the allied organizations is 44.4%.

Graph 1. Percentage of women and men in current HOD (July 1, 2014) showing total percentage, and also segmented by those who represent states and those who represent affiliated organizations.
(Data from AVMA, www.avma.org, July 1, 2014)

The proportion of women in the HOD does not represent the full story with respect to voting power, however. This is because the voting power for delegates representing state associations (including Puerto Rica and the District of Columbia) is weighted proportionate to the number of AVMA members in each particular state.

For example, delegates from the ten states with the most AVMA members carry approximately half of the total votes apportioned to all states. Because eight of these ten delegates are men (including the delegates from the five largest states), the weighting of male votes is disproportionately high compared to the total number of delegates.

Though the female representation of the allied organizations is higher (44%), the impact of their aggregate voting power is not realized proportionate to their numerical presence in the HOD because these organizations carry only two votes each.  Therefore, in the aggregate, the affiliated organizations provide less than 10% of the total weighted voting power of the HOD, with the other 90% coming from delegates representing state associations.

This is not to diminish the substantial progress that has been made in women’s representation in the House during the past year. Not only has the proportion of women delegates increased substantially, as noted above, but the gender ratio of the alternate delegates for the 10 largest states is now 50%. If some of these alternate delegates become delegates in the next few years, this by itself will have a substantial impact on the weighted vote of the body.

As we did in our story in 2013, we again match our HOD gender profile with data from the US Congress. We also added governors for one additional point of comparison. (See graph 2, below.)

Graph 2. Percentage of women and men delegates in current HOD (July 1, 2014) and of three governing bodies (US Senate and House of Representatives; and State Governors).
(Data from AVMA, www.avma.org, July 1, 2014, and other sources.)


Scholars generally recommend a minimum of 30% women in leadership positions to achieve a critical mass where they effectively influence policy and decision-making.  Unlike in the US Congress and governorships, we have reached that 30% point in the HOD.  Though we have not yet reached the threshold in weighted voting power within the House, we are optimistic considering the progress over the past year and the impact that the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative also may be having to increase awareness for the importance in achieving more women in leadership positions.  This is a favorable sign in a profession that is now well over 50% women.   

The authors extend thanks to Nathan Watson '17 for his assistance in preparing this story.


Dr. Smith invites comments at dfs6@cornell.edu


[i] Smith, Donald F. and Julie Kumble. Women’s Leadership in the U.S. Congress and the AVMA’s House of Delegates: Exploring Parallels and Looking Forward. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, April 28, 2013.
[ii] The House of Delegates meets just prior to the AVMA Convention (July 24-25, 2014).
[iii] This includes on delegates, not alternate delegates (delegates are non voting). The proportion of women among alternates is currently 34.1%.



Monday, July 21, 2014

In the 70th Year Since its Founding, a Tuskegee Alumnus will become AVMA President

Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
July 21, 2014


Editor’s Note: Continuing my episodic series on AVMA presidents, I present a story of Dr. Ted Cohn, who will be installed as the 2014-15 AVMA president on July 29th. In response to a tribute to Tuskegee University posted last January,1 Ted told me how proud he was to have been a graduate of that college, and how especially honored he was that I had cited him as an alumnus. This led to more substantive communications with both Ted and his wife, Becky. This is the story of their Tuskegee years (1971-75).2
Donald F. Smith

Dr. Cohn was but one of several white students in the 1971 entering class at Tuskegee. Six years earlier, the School had matriculated its first white male student and the following year, the first white woman was admitted. In his book, The Legacy, Dr. Eugene Adams summarized the feelings of the era.

There was an uneventful acceptance of these students by their classmates and teachers. No special arrangements were made for these first non-black students and no media publicity was accorded their entrance or graduation.3

Ted was unaware of this demographic change because the advertising brochure that the school provided did not contain any photos of white students so he really wasn’t sure that he would not be the only white student present.

Tuskegee University DVM Class of 1975 Photo, with Dean W.C. Bowie. One of Dr. Cohn’s classmates (Dr.

Tuskegee University DVM Class of 1975 Photo, with Dean W.C. Bowie. One of Dr. Cohn’s classmates (Dr. Michael I. Blackwell, top row) would later become dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee
(Photo provided by Dr. Ted Cohn, 2014)

Ted’s decision to attend Tuskegee was partly pragmatic, because his home state of Arkansas had just established a new regional plan to allocate two positions to the university. But his decision was also based upon his core values of social justice:

While in Jr. High, I had a read a biography of George Washington Carver―[born into slavery, he later became the first head of Tuskegee’s agricultural department]―and I was inspired by Carver’s life and accomplishments. At the time I actually told my mother, who had been active in the civil rights movement in Arkansas a decade earlier, that I wanted to go to college at Tuskegee.

Dr. Cohn found Tuskegee to be a “great place with a wonderful family atmosphere, caring faculty and administration.” The town was quiet and there was not a lot to do except to study, so that helped unite the class from almost the first day. Ted said the classmates got along well and treated each other with respect, understanding, and good humor, despite the occasional friction that is present among any group of students. Pig roasts, hosted by many classmates but especially inspired by the Caribbean students, were among the most popular extracurricular events and everyone gladly participated.

Apartment rented by Ted and Becky Cohn in Tuskegee (1971-75)
Apartment rented by Ted and Becky Cohn in Tuskegee (1971-75)
(This photo, provided by Dr. Cohn, was taken in 2014)

Though some students―both white and black―chose to live in Auburn which was 20 miles away, Ted and his wife, Becky, found an apartment in Tuskegee, close to campus. He had grown up in Little Rock, which at the time did not have a huge population (130,000), but living in this small, rural southern town provided a new environment for the Cohn’s.

The towns of Tuskegee and Tuskegee Institute were contiguous and had a population of about 12,000 people, and the students, faculty, and administration probably accounted for about half of them. There were just two grocery stores and a couple of small mom- and pop-type convenience stores. The only fast food was the “Dairy King” and perhaps the “Chicken Coop.”

Although Tuskegee was over 80% African-American when he arrived, Ted remembers there was a white mayor, and that the first black mayor since reconstruction was elected the following year. The area was part of a still thriving “southern cotton culture” in which the vast majority of the land, businesses, and ensuing wealth was white-owned. Ted also recalled a monument commemorating the civil war with a statue of a confederate soldier in the town square.

With few exceptions, the community accepted the Cohn’s. Becky found a job as a dental assistant and later a hygienist at the VA hospital, just down the street from the veterinary school. As a “long hair,” Ted drew some attention,

I did raise some eyebrows and engender some concerns with a few of the white folks, particularly at the barbershop and once at a hardware store. Subsequently, Becky learned to cut my hair, and did so for the next eight years. I found another hardware store to meet my needs.

By virtue of Dr. Cohn’s ability to secure financial aid through a work study program, he was able to have substantive exposure to the clinics during evening, weekends, and over holiday and summer breaks from the time he was a first-year student. Though he spent a great deal of time cleaning kennels and horse stalls, and exercising and restraining patients, he also had frequent exposure to faculty, staff, and upper class students throughout his educational experience.

During the summer between his third and fourth years, Cohn worked for the United States Department of Agriculture in their nearby Auburn laboratory. He made friends with several Auburn veterinary students and even attended a few of their classes. That experience opened his eyes to some of the differences between the two schools (and towns), which at that time—unlike today—had minimal collaboration.

Dr. Cohn’s summary of life as one of the early white veterinary students at Tuskegee, 40 years ago, is a warm and encouraging testament to both the university and town, and also to Becky and himself.

Overall, living and going to school in Tuskegee was a unique and educational experience from many different aspects―one that certainly has helped to shape Becky and me into the people we are today. Admittedly, while compared to some of the other veterinary colleges, Tuskegee may have had some shortcomings in their facilities, the culture of the school―the caring personal touch of the faculty―ultimately made up for any deficiencies. Amongst the many lessons Tuskegee taught me, perhaps one of the most important, is that the effort you put into your education is much more important than where you go to school. With almost 39 years of veterinary experience behind me, I believe that even more today.

Dr. Michael Blackwell, whose father was a faculty member at Tuskegee, was one of Ted’s classmates. He later became Assistant Surgeon General and was Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee (2000-2008). “You will appreciate that our time as veterinary students was during the turbulent period of civil rights reform”, he told me. “It was clear that Ted wanted to be there [at Tuskegee] and seemed very comfortable with Black people or anyone else who appeared different.”4

Dr. Douglas Aspros, AVMA president in 2012-13, who has known Dr. Cohn for years, and also served with him on the Executive Board, had this to say about his friend and colleague, “Ted’s experiences as a student at Tuskegee are the foundation of who he is as a person as well as a veterinarian. It’s clear why he’s been the most determined advocate for diversity at AVMA, and throughout the profession, that I’ve known.”5

Dr. Theodore Cohn, AVMA President (2014-15)

Dr. Theodore Cohn, AVMA President (2014-15)
(Photo provided by Dr. Cohn)
Dr. Cohn will become the first Tuskegee DVM graduate to receive the AVMA’s gavel of the presidency. What a fitting tribute for this, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the veterinary school at that institution.



1 Smith, Donald F. A Tribute to Tuskegee. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. Jan 17, 2014.
2 Cohn, Theodore, DVM (President-elect, AVMA). Emails to Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), Feb 23, July 11, July 13, 2014. Unless otherwise noted, all of the quotations attributed to Dr. Cohn, as well as the information about his time in Tuskegee is contained in these email communications.
3 Adams, Eugene W. The Legacy. A History of the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. (Tuskegee: Media Center Press, 1995), 80.
4 Blackwell, Michael J., DVM, MPH (Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.), Dean Emeritus, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine). Email to Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), July 16, 2014.
5 Aspros, Douglas G., DVM (AVMA president, 2012-13). E-mail to Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), July 12, 2014.


Dr, Smith invites comments at dfs6@cornell.edu

Sunday, July 20, 2014

AVMA Vice President Candidates Discuss Mentoring and How to Advocate for Veterinary Students

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
July 20, 2014

I recently posted interviews with the two AVMA president candidates, Drs. Larry Dee and Joseph Kinnarney.[i]  Today’s story is a follow up on the other officer election that will be decided by the House of Delegates (HOD) July 25th, preceding the annual convention in Denver. An earlier interview conducted by AVMA staff was reported in the July 15, 2014, issue of the JAVMA, and also on line.[ii]

Email responses to four questions I posed to the two candidates, Dr. Rebecca Stinson and Dr. Mark Russak, are below.

Regarding Mentoring:  The concept of mentoring has received a great deal of attention recently. What are your thoughts about mentoring programs for veterinary students, especially as it relates to seeking support and advice from those outside the traditional veterinary college environment?  

Dr. Mark Russak:
Mentoring means very different things to different people….From improving veterinary technical skills to personal and professional finance success, as well as, life balance and satisfaction. I believe there is room for various modes of mentoring because it is not just about veterinary medicine but it is about being the best you can be professionally and personally. So far, long distance mentoring has not proven to be very successful. There is nothing like a one on one conversation and a personal relationship.  Over the last several years I have worked closely with AAHA and Vet Partners in developing a hands on mentoring program and toolkit... This is goal orientated, measurable and flexible for the mentors and the mentee. I truly believe this will be the answer to true mentorship in Veterinary Medicine. This is the link: https://mentorship.aahanet.org/.  I am proud to have been an integral part developing of this toolkit over the last several years.
Dr. Rebecca Stinson:
I am a firm believer in the concept of mentorship.  During my years of being active in organized veterinary medicine, I have seen many organizational models come and go within AVMA and through other groups including state VMAs, and AAEP.  I have learned from these experiences that a mentor is often a moving target.  The truly great mentors in our lives are often the ones that have identified themselves as mentors. These are the people who have invited me to visit their practice or other work environment, have invited me to become involved in AVMA, state associations, etc.  Mentorship changes constantly and our mentors for different phases of life will change as well.  Many of us will find one mentor who helps with career decisions and someone completely different who can offer advice on balancing personal and work opportunities.  The role of organized veterinary medicine will hopefully be to continue to expand the database of people that you have the opportunity to interact with in a meaningful way.  This will allow people to continue to form relationships that will help them throughout careers and life.  A mentor may not have to be around the corner but they will let you know that they are always there when you need them.


Regarding Women’s Leadership in the AVMA:  You are both well aware of the gender makeup of the AVMA leadership, whether in the House of Delegates, the Executive Board, or the AVMA senior staff.  Please comment about the current composition of the senior AVMA leadership (voluntary and staff), and discuss how you would address many students’ concerns about the fact that the leadership profile and the student profile appears so different to them. 

Dr. Mark Russak:
It is obvious that the current leadership of AVMA does not YET reflect what our profession physically looks like…..but it is changing. Leadership positions require our leaders to have time and experience so it is not surprising how our current leadership has appeared until recently. In the past several years, the gender shift has been occurring rapidly within the profession and I contend women are moving into more leadership positions. They are starting to catch up. For example, in one major veterinary organization, the current AAHA board of directors is composed 7 women and 1 man and it is a young board. This was not done by chance or through affirmative action it was done by proactively seeking the BEST and most competent persons for the position. It so happens that women were the best fit. Competency is always the key to a successful organization. AVMA must proactively pursue and welcome all competent potential leaders regardless of gender. It will not be long before the AVMA leadership reflects the appearance of all of our profession. This will be the natural progression that we are already starting to see.
Dr. Rebecca Stinson:
This is a challenging question.  When we look at the current makeup of the AVMA Executive Board, we see three women effective in July with one of those a staff member, one a non-voting but powerful position, and a newly elected District Director.  The AVMA continues to become more accessible to women interested in leadership roles and if you look at the committee and council structure, you will note a substantial number of wonderful female leaders rising through the current leadership models.  Similarly, the House of Delegates is predominantly male but continues to change in its makeup with each passing year.  I feel that the organization needs to continue to foster new leaders from all demographics and seek out ways to increase involvement by women as well as several other cohorts.  Additionally, the AVMA will need to continue to strive to keep leadership roles relevant to the next generations of veterinarians by being mentors and reaching out to those around us in our profession and helping the future leaders to see the rewards from being involved.  I hope that by being a woman working to be involved in leadership of AVMA that I may help to influence another generation to become involved and take the opportunity to continue to move the organization forward for the generations after.

Regarding the Current Role of Vice President: Some perceive the VP role to involve a great deal of time and effort in travel to veterinary colleges). Nonetheless, travel is often considered an impediment when people consider becoming candidates for the position. While you are both fully committed to this investment of time and effort, is there perhaps a different way—a better way perhaps—to fashion the position so that your successors can be selected from the broadest possible range of qualified candidates? 

Dr. Mark Russak:
I have been traveling to Veterinary Colleges for the last 5 years plus. I have logged over one quarter of a million air miles in the last 2½ years. I know and understand the rigors of travel. I am young at heart, and in great physical health. I retired young and I am a widower so I have all of the time needed to handle this position. This will be my FULL TIME JOB. That being said, in today’s technologically advanced world there are multiple ways of delivering messages, webinars, podcasts, social media etc. etc. They all have their place but there is nothing like communicating in a face to face conversation through interactive presentations. I have developed numerous personal and long lasting relationships with young veterinarians throughout the country and it would have been difficult to cultivate credibility and trust without face to face interaction. This is a very dynamic position and I believe any candidate for this position understands the commitment necessary to fulfill the requirements and objectives of AVMA Vice President.
Dr. Rebecca Stinson:
Although I recognize that we have great opportunities to increase contact with others via non traditional means, I do feel that having a personal interaction at the schools continues to be important.  During my work on the Task Force on Governance, potential retooling of the position was given a lot of consideration. We had a large amount of feedback from the students that they felt that the volunteer leader visit was essential in keeping AVMA in touch with the students around the country and at the chapters beyond our borders and the Associate group at St. Matthews. Additionally, we need to continue to interact with the faculty at the colleges to understand the unique expectations they have of the organization. I think that we can continue to strive to improve the level of interaction by potentially adding some virtual visits in addition to the one in person visit to each school. The SCAVMA president networking opportunities seem to act as an added means to keep the schools aware of challenges one another are facing and help this new generation of veterinarians realize how much we have in common regardless of where we reside. It may be possible to improve the distribution of travel having additional volunteer leaders share in the role of the in-person visit. 


Regarding the Potential for Student Impact: Today’s students are bright, passionate, committed and have boundless energy. In the position as Vice President, how could you help students reach their full capacity having an impact on the future of veterinary medicine? More specifically, please identity one significant challenge that students face today, and share how you might advise them how they could go about finding a solution to the problem, either individually or collectively.

Dr. Mark Russak:
I believe the most significant challenge for our veterinary students and young associates is the debt to salary ratio in the current job market. It is not sustainable. Our young DVMs have no control over many of the factors that are contributing to this challenge. The best way to overcome this is taking the opportunity to become a highly productive veterinarian as soon as possible. This is a win- win- win….more productivity with client adherence equals efficiency and higher income for the associate, the practice and better medical care for the patients. Large or small animal, client bonding and trust is the key to successful practice. Most veterinary schools are not teaching or placing enough emphasis in this area. Curriculums are full and it is difficult to find time in the curriculum for non-technical skills…..what I call success skills. It was my mantra in private practice and this is what I was teaching during my time in academia and what I have been teaching in my seminars for many years.  I have seen the positive impact it has had on student careers and success. I hope to continue sharing this information with students as AVMA Vice President.

Dr. Rebecca Stinson:
The opportunities for students to impact the future of veterinary medicine continue to expand almost daily.  Students are asked to participate on several leadership entities at AVMA including Councils, committees and Task Forces.  The AVMA PAC has also opened up opportunities for students to have a voice and participate in the Advocacy on behalf of the membership.  Students who have participated in these volunteer roles or in the AVMA externship programs have often been very excited to see that the individual can have even in an organization as large and diverse as AVMA.  I would like to take the opportunity during school visits to introduce not only my story of being engaged but also those of other volunteer leaders from the region.  The make up of our leadership is only as good as the people who are willing to step forward.
Doubtlessly, the largest challenge for students today is the concern for financial stability.  A potential solution may be to work to reconsider pre-requisites for admission to include some basic business education in at least personal financial planning and management.  This could be potentially be addressed through the Economic Division in combination with the Council on Education and the AAVMC.  Having a basic understanding prior to entering veterinary school may help students to carefully evaluate the debt they are taking on and the process of contract negotiation.  Although this alone is unlikely to correct the difficult financial picture, it may help to start to chip away at the problem.

Lastly, I would like to speak to all of my colleagues, current and future, and say thank you for counting me as a part of this profession.  I feel blessed every day that I can always say that I AM a VETERINARIAN.

On behalf of all of the readers of www.veterinarylegacy.blogspot.com, I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to both Dr. Russak and Dr. Stinson.



[i] Smith, Donald F. AVMA Presidential Candidates Discuss Governance, Future Scope of the Profession and Advocacy. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, July 7, 2014.
[ii] Nolen, R. Scott (interviews). “The next AVMA vice president. Russak and Stinson explain they’re up for the job.”  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. July 15, 2014. 245(2).

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at dfs6@cornell.edu