Impacting Veterinary Education & Public Perceptions

August 24, 2010

Dr Mary Beth Leininger
Dr. Mary Beth Leininger
Project Manager
North American Veterinary
Medical Education Consortium

She’s a leader. She’s a visionary. She’s a doer. She’s a mentor to more veterinary professionals than can be counted. Dr. Mary Beth Leininger has served the veterinary profession for more than 30 years. She has the distinction of being the first woman president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Goodnewsforpets.com publisher Lea-Ann Germinder met her while Dr. Leininger served as chair of the AVMA Public Relations Council, and was simultaneously running a small animal practice with her husband in Michigan. A few years later, Dr. Leininger served as national spokesperson for “National Veterinary Month” during her tenure as AVMA president. Germinder’s marketing communications agency, Germinder & Associates, Inc., again served Dr. Leininger while she was Director of Professional Affairs for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. We caught up with Dr. Leininger again as she completes the first phase of planning as project manager for the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC).

Q. Dr. Leininger, can you tell us what this most recent NAVMEC project is all about?

A. NAVMEC is an initiative to improve veterinary education that is a follow-up to two earlier studies. What is different about NAVMEC is that it is the first initiative that has been inclusive of the “three legs of the stool” of veterinary medicine: accreditation, education and testing & licensing. A very broad collection of stakeholders in these groups were involved in the process. In fact, the last time veterinary medical educational issues were evaluated in detail was the Pew Study in the late 1980’s.

Q. What is the significance of this project to the pet-owning public and society at large?

A. At the first meeting, participants recognized that we need to take a look at what society needs from the veterinary profession, and to better communicate and collaborate with all the health professions. Veterinarians have an impact on the health of humans and the environment, as well as animals via epidemiology and the challenging zoonotic diseases that affect people. While veterinarians are recognized for their contributions and trusted, it isn’t always recognized how they impact human health.

Q. You’ve had so many facets to your career in veterinary medicine ” ownership of a small animal practice, AVMA leadership, corporate leadership, why did you take on this NAVMEC project?

A. During my time as an AVMA officer, and even before, I’ve been involved in veterinary education. While I was in private practice, I served as adjunct professor at the veterinary school at Michigan State University. This current project allowed me to have an impact on the future of veterinary medicine on an even broader scale. That is very important to me.

Q. Since January, foreign school accreditation has become a rather hot topic in veterinary medicine. What has been the impact of the accreditation issues that have arisen during this project?

A. The NAVMEC Board of Directors recognized that international accreditation may impact the veterinary workforce in the U.S. However, the directors decided our primary charge was evaluating/improving education in North America, so the project did not address accreditation of foreign veterinary schools directly.

Q. Has the challenging economy impacted the direction of NAVMEC? In what way?

A. The Consortium was fortunate to have extremely broad support from stakeholders across the entire spectrum of the profession: almost every US, Canadian, and Caribbean school and many associations and corporate partners were financial sponsors. Conversations about where do we go from here have included discussions about all aspects of our challenging economy: decreased state funding for higher education, declining patient visits and student debt. We have primarily focused on student debt and what the veterinary schools can do to deliver a curriculum most efficiently.

Q. The number of product recalls in human medicine has increased in recent years as well as in veterinary medicine. Social media channels have increased the speed at which these recalls are communicated to the pet-owning public. How can the veterinary profession effectively participate in this dialogue in the future?

A. I agree that the 24/7 media cycle and social media have made the challenges for professional organizations to communicate far greater than ever before. I always encourage every organization and every veterinary practice to be informed and make sure their web site is up to date with the best and most verifiable sources of information such as www.fda.gov, www.avma.org and www.aahanet.org.

Q. You have been such an inspiration to so many women in veterinary medicine. What words of advice do you have for young women now entering the veterinary profession?

A. For any young colleagues, I stress don’t be afraid to say yes to an unexpected opportunity: it may turn out to be very fulfilling. Your success will be determined by how well you work with your colleagues, so networking is critical. As a veterinarian, you can do a lot of things. For example, my experience working with Hill’s Pet Nutrition as Director of Professional Affairs involved working with national education conferences, selecting speakers, orchestrating a trade show presence ” something I never dreamed I would be doing when I was in veterinary school, but this turned out to be extremely satisfying.

Q. Where do you see yourself in veterinary medicine today?

A. My hope is to continue to try making a difference within our profession and positively impacting the public’s perception of veterinary medicine. It’s a challenging time in veterinary medicine but a time of great significance ” how could I not be involved?

To reach Dr. Leininger directly, contact her at [email protected].

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