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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women's Leadership in the U.S. Congress and the AVMA's House of Delegates: Exploring Parallels and Looking Forward

By Julie Kumble*, Guest Author
with Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted November 28, 2012

As veterinarians watched the election returns on November 6th, most eyes were on the top of the ticket or on specific congressional, state or local races. However, something else was happening as the election of women to Congress reached historic proportions. For the first time, the Senate will have 20 women (an increase of three), and the House of Representatives will reach 17% women.

Julie Kumble, 
guest author
What was particularly fascinating to us is how closely the gender distribution in the 113th Congress will approximate the number of women representatives in the House of Delegates (HOD) of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The HOD is the AVMA's principal governing body and consists of 52 delegates, one from each state including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; plus 14 members from professional associations like the specialty, species and career-based organizations. For each delegate, an alternate is also a sitting member of the House. 

Only delegates (not alternates) can vote within the HOD, and their votes are weighted proportionate to the population of their respective states. For example, California has 47 weighted votes and Texas has 41. At the other end of the population scale, Wyoming and Vermont have four and five weighed votes, respectively. The allied groups each have two weighted votes.

This graph shows the gender proportions in the newly-elected 113th Congress compared to the 2012-13 HOD. We further segmented the data in the first two columns for those HOD delegates and alternates who are state representatives (104 total) from the total number of delegates and alternates that includes those representing other organizations (134 total).

Percentages of Women and Men  in the 113th US Congress
and in the AVMA's House of Delgates

The proportions of women in the HOD and in Congress are entirely consistent with other sectors, from academia to business to politics, where women hold only an average of 18% of the top leadership positions. However, women earn 57% of college degrees, with most of the gains above 50% being achieved in the last decade. Women have been more numerous that men in veterinary colleges since the early 1980s, and have earned over 80% of veterinary degrees for almost 20 years.

The following graph shows the relative age distribution of delegates and alternate delegates for the HOD, using graduating year as an rough proxy for age. The mean year-of-graduation for each cohort is shown on the y-axis. For example, the mean year-of-graduation for all HOD delegates is 1979 (33 years ago). For women, the mean year-of-graduation is 26 years ago (1986). Male delegates on the other hand are older, with their mean year of graduation being 35 years ago (1977). 

Not surprisingly, the alternates who represent the more recently-appointed HOD members are more likely to be younger. That age difference is seen in men as well as women.

Distribution of House of AVMA's House of Delegates
by Year of Graduation
Experts recommend a minimum of 30% women for leadership positions in any sector to achieve a critical mass where women’s roles become part of the norm of that sector. The Wellesley Center for Women considers that proportion to be the minimum needed for change at the governance and top levels.  With the total population of women veterinarians now over 50% and growing more rapidly than any other major profession, it is even more important to establish institutional frameworks to assure that the number of female HOD delegates and alternates reach and maintain at least the 30% critical mass as soon as possible.

Karen Bradley, DVM
Delegate and Chair,
House Advisory Committee
Dr. Karen Bradley is the current HOD delegate from Vermont and also currently serves as the chair of the House Advisory Committee. This is a group of seven members who act as the executive body for the HOD.  As the leading member of the HOD and also the owner of a four-doctor veterinary practice, Bradley has the opportunity and the responsibility to look ahead and consider the changing demographics in our profession from a leadership point of view. 

She comments: "How states and allied groups identify HOD members varies greatly. Some states have many people waiting in line for their turn as a delegate, and others have to seek out people for the position.  Some states even have a formal election from their membership.  Though the Manual of the House of Delegates states that the term for delegates and alternates is four years, there is no limit to the number of terms imposed by the Bylaws nor the Manual.  Without term limits, delegates can remain in office for decades.  

"I am very fortunate to be in Vermont, a state with very active women veterinarians--and men willing to share the table.  Our state VMA's Executive Committee has been approximately 50% women for the last 10 years whereas 20 years ago it was similar to the HOD and Congress with 20% or fewer women.  What did Vermont do to effect this change?  It seems that in our small state, the veterinarians active in organized associations tended to bring in new blood more frequently.  After serving for a number of years they would seek out new recruits for committees and leadership positions and those happened to be women more and more as the population of veterinarians in Vermont became more female.  And for what it’s worth, Vermont's AVMA HOD delegation over the last 20 years has been four women and two men! " 
Looking ahead and considering the changing demographics in our profession, we will do well to encourage more women to run as delegates, to mentor younger female veterinarians and encourage them to take on leadership roles, and to serve as role model to other professions by striving to achieve and surpass the critical mass point of 30% in the House of Delegates.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

*Julie Kumble is Director of Grants and Programs, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts
Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027. She can be reached at 

Photo credits
Julie Kumble's photo provided by Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts
Karen Bradley's photo provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Driving with my Dog to Alaska: The Road Home

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted November 27, 2012

Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first 15  installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page.  My wife, Doris, flew into Anchorage and joined us for 10 days. 

Doris flew out of Anchorage on September 3rd, on the last direct Chicago flight of the season. The following day, American Airlines would be rerouting its Chicago plane to San Juan, yet another indication that the north is ephemeral and relatively isolated especially in the winter months.

After leaving the airport, Beau and I retraced our path from Anchorage through Palmer and the Wrangell Mountains to Tok, where we spent our last night in Alaska. We had barely reached Tok when my daughter called with the news that my 89-year-old mother had fallen at a bus stop in Toronto and broken her hip. My plans for a circuitous trip back through the northern Yukon and then south through British Columbia changed, and we headed home by a more direct route, even including the interstate after we reached the United States south of Winnipeg, Manitoba four days later.

We left Tok very early on our second morning and soon crossed the border back into Canada. Though much of the scenery was familiar, the days are much shorter now and the higher elevations in the Yukon were snow-covered. 

On our way through Beaver Creek ten days earlier, I had noticed more than the usual roadside advertising for Buckshot Betty's Restaurant and Cabins. Though I'm not one for silly local fork lore, we were both in need of a breakfast break, so I pulled onto the spacious gravel apron and parked between two large RV's, each with miniature dogs barking at Beau through the closed windows.

I entered a cozy breakfast nook already inhabited by a large table overflowing with a dozen or more people with plates spilling over with pancakes, eggs and sausage. I patiently waited by the door for at least five minutes -- I didn't want to sit down until invited to do so -- when from the kitchen burst a larger than life person who could only be Betty herself, balancing another half dozen plates in one hand and two coffee pots in the other. She ordered me to sit down in the most colorful language I"d heard all trip, and reinforced her admonition with something about her not being my mother. When I told her I wanted takeout because a had my dog in the car, she replied without hesitation to "bring the mutt inside." 

Beau and I had a delightful time with Betty, especially after the RV's left and it was just she and her assistant with the two of us. She is a legend in these parts and, as we left, she tucked a copy of the CD, "The Ballad of Buckshot Betty", under my arm. 

'Buckshot Betty' and Beau in Beaver Creek, Yukon.

Red fox along the Alaskan
highway in the Yukon.
People in the Yukon seemed to be either natives or newcomers. Betty was a native. But at one midnight rest stop in Teslin (Yukon), I found a newcomer when I inquired of her  if the northern lights were often visible during the fall. Looking at me as if she didn't understand the question, I repeated it and said we had seen them in Denali Park. "No," she answered authoritatively, "I've never seen them.
As I walked back to the jeep, I saw the lights reaching from the expanse of the northwest and hovering almost above me. The multi-colored aurora was visible for the next two hours, so brilliant and beautiful that we stopped several times so I could marvel at the wonder of it all.
Proprietor of the Kluane Museum of Natural
History in Burwash Landing, with Beau

I met another long-timer at the 95-person hamlet of Burwash Landing at milepost 1093 on the Alaskan Highway. We were the sole patrons of the quaint Kluane Museum of Natural History with its interesting taxidermy collection complete with a standing polar bear that stretched to an imposing ten-feet in height. The proprietor, a caustic young man with long hair and beard told me he was originally from Toronto. "How did you get up here?", I asked. "By Greyhound!" was his curt answer, and the conversation deteriorated from there. 

An hour-long wait along the southern stretches of Kluane Lake
due to blasting associated with new construction.

Patience is a must requirement for travel on the Alaska Highway whether encountering long  sections of road with pot holes the size of boulders, or extensive delays due to construction and the never-ending maintenance associated with extreme frost upheaval that occurs during the long winter months. 

Almost two weeks earlier I had met truck-driver Jon at  near the beginning of the Alaskan Highway. He warned me to drive carefully, especially around wild animals. "Don't drive like dumb-shit", he had said. Jon's words were prophetic on the evening of my second return day when I encountered a black bear sow and three small cubs. One of the cardinal rules is to never leave your vehicle to approach wild animals, and to beware of oncoming traffic. 

Black Bear Sow and her Three Cubs
in Northern British Columbia
One of the three curious cubs
beside the Alaska Highway

As I was pulling over the right shoulder, facing east, a robust family of about eight tourists were piled out of a large van just ahead of me. Three of them spilled out onto the road, within ten yards of the sow, and incredulously, two more fumbled around in the back of the van pulling out tripods and cameras. Just as the pair with the cameras started across the road towards the bears, an enormous blast from a 28-wheeler erupted behind our jeep and an accelerating driver swept his rig past us, barreling down the middle of the road and barely missing the tourists. The sow kept on munching grass and inching her brood further down the ditch beside the road as the undeterred visitors set up their tripod and snapped pictures.

The remainder or the trip was relatively uneventful and I was visiting my mother -- she had returned to her assisted-care facility several days earlier -- ten days after leaving Anchorage. Beau and I stayed in Toronto two more days and then returned to Ithaca. 

Beau's behavior was no different from the many other times he had returned home from a long trip. As we neared our home, he sat up, started to whine and jiggle all over. His tail flapped loudly against the jeep's seat and he dashed from the driver's side as soon as I opened the door. Around and around the lawn he ran then bounded in the house as Doris opened the front door to greet him. After his hugs from her, he was back outside, sniffing new smells for deer and squirrels throughout the property. Then, as is his ritual, he raced around the house again, this time stopping at the water dish for a few noisy laps. Within half an hour, he was stretched out on his favorite chair, sound asleep and snoring softly.

After gassing and cleaning the jeep, I returned it to the Avis at the Ithaca airport the following morning. Thirty-five days and 10,049 miles after leaving Ithaca with my boy.

It has been five years since our Alaska trip. Beau turned 16 on election day, 2012, and is still a wonderful and easy traveler. My days as veterinary dean behind me, I rejoined the faculty and continue to teach and now do research and write on the history of veterinary medicine and its impact on the future of the profession. I have given several talks about our trip to various groups, encouraging people to be more attuned to the human-animal bond and more receptive to exploring life and this great country with our dogs and other pets.

Dr. Smith invites comments at