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Saturday, March 24, 2012

AVMA Presidents: Dr. Jack O. Walther 2003-04

Posted March 24, 2012
by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013). 
See Dr. Walther's complete biography and interview with audio at,%20Jack%20).%201963%20UC%20Davis,%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Walther grew up on a ranch in Nevada and graduated from the University of California, Davis in 1963. He established an equine practice in Reno but like many other veterinary graduates of the early 1960s, he was drafted during the Vietnam War and spent two years in the Army Veterinary Corps. Returning to Nevada after his discharge, Jack entered the companion animal field and over the next 35 years established three small animal hospitals in the Reno area.

Dr. Walther was heavily involved in activities of the Nevada Veterinary Medical Association starting in the 1970s and in 1992 was selected as Nevada’s delegate to the AVMA. From there, he  was elected to the AVMA's executive board representing his region of the country. 

During a trip to Cornell University in September 2001 while AVMA vice president, he received an unanticipated call from a colleague encouraging him to run for the position of president-elect. Though no previous vice president had used that position as a springboard to the presidency for almost 100 years, Dr. Walther entered the race and in July 2003 was installed as the AVMA's 140th president.

Dr. Walther was president in a year in which serious diseases of food-producing animals, notably, highly pathogenic avian influenza and bovine spongiform encephalopathy emerged as threats to the nation’s food animals and international trade.

Dr. Walther testifying before Congress in 2004, encouraging 
improved surveillance for Chronic Wasting Disease that
threatened deer and elk populations.
AVMA photo provided by Dr. Walther

In what he considers one of his most important initiatives, Dr. Walther energized and expanded the public relations programs of the AVMA, transforming that department in ways that were long overdue. He also fundamentally improved the way in which legislative issues in various states were monitored by the AVMA so that relevant and timely information could be shared among veterinary associations in other states. Dr. Walther also facilitated the establishment of a privately-managed testing service for veterinary graduates of foreign and non-accredited colleges that helped reduce a two-to-three year backlog of new veterinarians awaiting examination for licensure to practice. 

Throughout his professional career, Dr. Walther has been involved in community activities. Dr. Walther promoted major expansion of passenger and commercial air service in the Reno/Sparks area while a leader of the Washoe County Airport Authority. He was also chair of the board of the National Championship Air Races in the 1990s. An avid cowboy himself, Dr. Walther served as chairman of the small and financially-fragile Reno Rodeo and saw it become one of the top rodeos in North America. 

Dr. Walther plays his role as working cowboy
on his ranch in Lamoille, NV in 2010.
Photo provided by Dr. Walther.

Dr. Walther continues to be an active leader in veterinary medicine, serving on several veterinary boards, in particular the Western Veterinary Conference. His various roles with the conference were so distinguished that the program for the 2013 annual meeting will be named in his honor (only the sixth time this has occurred in the past three decades).

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Arizona's Proposed College of Veterinary Medicine

Posted March 10, 2012
By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

Will Arizona become the 27th state to have a veterinary college? YES, according to Midwestern University's president and CEO Kathleen Goeppinger who announced this week that its Glendale campus near Phoenix has allocated $90m for a teaching facility and hospital complex and anticipates accepting its first class of 100 veterinary students in just two years.

Conventional wisdom of most practicing veterinarians in the country, especially considering the business impact associated with the downturn in the economy and the 25% growth in the number of veterinary graduates in the last decade, is that we now have an oversupply of new veterinarians entering clinical practice each year.

However, the number of Arizona residents who currently graduate each year from U.S. veterinary colleges is only about 6.5 per million population. This is in the lowest quartile of all states, and only slightly higher than neighboring New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. Similarly, the number of veterinarians per capita practicing in Arizona (also Utah and Nevada) is much less than the national average.

When it comes to the vast rural areas in Arizona, the need for veterinarians is especially acute for both livestock and companion animals. That is the theme that resonates with the administration of Midwestern University as they propose to establish a college that will accept more students from rural areas with the hope that they will eventually fill part of that critical need in the State.

Representatives of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association and the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association  (AzVMA) I spoke to yesterday see the logic but also the challenges of this strategy. They acknowledge that most veterinary graduates regardless of origin, end up in small animal practice where compensation is greater and you don't have to "drive 80 miles one way to see a sick or injured horse".  The AzVMA has not taken an official position, but will continue to be involved in the conversations with Midwestern as plans for the school take shape.

Unmet needs outside of Practice:
There is another great unmet need for veterinarians across the entire U.S., and that is in public and corporate practice. Perhaps a new veterinary college in the southwest that is developed in association with other health colleges (as at Midwestern University) can help both regionally and nationally.
Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, USPHS
Surgeon General of the United States 2002-06

This priority is recognized by a prominent U.S. physician, Rich Carmona, the former surgeon general who is running for U.S. senate for the state of Arizona. Carmona has not to my knowledge given an opinion on this nascent veterinary college.

However, when speaking with him earlier this week, he shared with me his abiding respect for veterinarians in both the public and private sphere.

"During my tenure as United States Surgeon General [2002-06], it became very apparent that veterinarians were essential elements not only to the nation's health, but also to national and global preparedness activities, and as leaders of our multidisciplinary teams.

Veterinarians were some of the most sought-after professionals by all branches of the Federal Government. Whether from traditional veterinary practice to research and development, zoonoses, emerging infectious and global health, we were always in short supply of veterinarians."

Debating the merits of establishing new veterinary colleges will continue. However, we as veterinarians must find better ways to meet the needs of underserved areas in the country as well as expand into those fields in the public and corporate sectors where our educational background in comparative medicine and our talents in working in health care teams meet critical regional and national needs.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gender and Jobs for Veterinarians

Posted March 5, 2012
By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

Four decades ago, only 10% of graduating veterinarians were women. With the passing of Title IX and the removal of gender bias in veterinary college admissions during the 1970s, approximately four out of five veterinary students are now female. The number of female veterinarians now exceeds the number of male veterinarians (AVMA members). However, contrary to conventional wisdom and numerous articles, the number of male veterinarians in the U.S. has remained stable for the past five years. This presumably relates to the fact that their retirement balances the number of men receiving their veterinary degrees and entering the profession for the first time.

Number of Female and Male Veterinarians (AVMA members)
in the U.S. between 2006 and 2011 (see footnote)

The following chart show the distribution of men and women in private clinical practice in the United States. The total number of companion animal veterinarians (dogs, cats, pet birds, rodents and amphibians) vastly outnumbers those engaged in large animal, mixed animal or other species. Six years ago, there were many more men than women in companion animal practice but women now exceed men by almost 25%. Most of the equine-oriented students in veterinary colleges today are women and this is reflected in the near parity of equine practitioners in private clinical practice. Despite the preponderance of men in food animal practice, an increasing number of women veterinary students are now interested in livestock practice.

Number of Female and Male Veterinarians (AVMA members)
in Clinical Practice in the U.S. in 2011, by Species (see footnote)

The following chart shows the number veterinarians, by gender, in public and corporate employment. Women now outnumber men in universities and colleges; however, men remain the majority in federal and state/local governments, and in industry. There are now equal numbers in the uniformed services. The "other" category includes non profit organizations and animal shelters, where women are employed in larger numbers. 

Number of Female and Male Veterinarians (AVMA members)
in Public and Corporate Employment in the U.S. in 2011 (see footnote)

Footnote (reference): Market Research Statistics of the American Veterinary Medical Association

Dr. Smith invites comments at