Mike Cavanaugh DVM, DABVP AAHA Executive Director

Mike Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP, was named executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in late December 2009 replacing John Albers, DVM, who held the post for 23 years. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Mike for over 15 years, beginning with his years as a practitioner in Topeka and continuing on with his posts at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Heska and Pfizer Animal Health. It is no small surprise he is making his mark on this prestigious association.

AAHA continues its leadership position in the veterinary profession, and the organization continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of veterinary medicine and pet owners. Two years later, we catch up with this prominent Kansas State (K-State) University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate. His commitment to AAHA began early in his career, but his passion led him to K-State in Manhattan, Kansas, an appropriate story as we celebrate the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor events. " Lea-Ann Germinder, Publisher.

What made you decide to become a veterinarian?

I’ve always been an animal lover, but I was not one of those kids who knew they wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age. However, I was always intrigued with medicine and scientific research and I spent my first year of college exploring the University of Kansas (KU) pre-med program. Following my first year in college, I decided to transfer to K-State to be closer to a girlfriend. I worked part time for their Animal Resource Facilities department and got exposure to all kinds of animals; from dogs to cats to horses to cattle to goats and even monkeys. I enjoyed that experience so much that I learned that veterinary medicine was my true calling. The girlfriend who motivated me to transfer to K-State went on to become my wife and we’ve been married for 31 years and counting!

Were you always going to be a small animal practitioner?

Having not come from a farm background, I thought I might end up there. To explore all of my options, I specifically sought out a mixed practice for my first job. The caveat was that they had to have an AAHA-accredited hospital (really!). I was fortunate to find such a practice in Dwight, Illinois and I spent a year there working on multiple species, including lots of pigs. It was great experience and I accomplished what I set out to do, but I learned that I wanted to practice companion animal medicine.

How did you end up going to K-State?

I had a nice scholarship at KU my first year, but the girlfriend at K-State in Manhattan was a stronger influence on the remainder of my college career. Therefore, I attended K-State, and never regretted the move.

Was veterinary school all you expected it to be?

Veterinary school was all that I expected it to be and more! It was very challenging, stressful and invigorating all at once. Lifetime friendships were formed and wonderful opportunities to begin to develop leadership skills were presented. Most of the faculty had spent time in private veterinary practice earlier in their careers and it was fun to learn from their experiences. I will say that in today’s veterinary colleges, there is a much more healthy and supportive environment in terms of students being set up for success, attention paid to mental health issues and looking out for one another.

Do you still keep up on what is going on at K-State, including the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF)?

Although I don’t keep up on the day-to-day operations, I do touch base periodically with the dean of the K-State Veterinary College, and keep up with the alumni news that I receive.

Do you get back to Kansas often?

I get back to Kansas at least a couple of times each year, whether for business or to visit family. I still have two brothers in Topeka, a brother in Lawrence, and a sister in Overland Park. My wife’s family lives in Topeka and Kansas City as well. I continue to be amazed by the growth and changes in Manhattan, Kansas every time I visit there.

For this year’s Kansas City Animal Health Corridor Homecoming Dinner we are celebrating Kansas City’s western heritage at Hale Arena, home of the American Royal. Did you have the opportunity to practice on large animals in your career? Any particular stories to tell us?

My first job out of vet school was at a mixed practice. It was always interesting in the summertime when I would go out to swine facilities at 4 or 5 AM before it got too hot. We had many certified and validated swine herds, so a percentage of the herd had to be blood tested regularly. I’d spend the early morning hours drawing blood samples from pigs, then head back into town, shower and change clothes and then start seeing small animal patients. It was obvious that many days the folks bringing in their dogs and cats could tell and “smell” that I had been with the pigs earlier that day.

Now you are executive director of AAHA, the only accrediting body for companion animal hospitals in the United States and Canada. What is the best part of your job?

I very much enjoy the opportunity to interact with leaders in our industry as well as wonderful AAHA members and staff. I often say it is nice to work for an organization that makes the world a better place, and I honestly believe that AAHA does just that. The AAHA Standards of Accreditation promotes a healthy environment of accountability for veterinary teams. The practices that actively embrace AAHA accreditation tell us they are better for it. Through our standards and CE offerings we help our members practice the best medicine possible, and operate their businesses at the most efficient level. By providing excellent care for their patients and clients, the pets will be healthier; the human-animal bond will flourish, enriching their people’s lives. Happy, fulfilled people make a positive contribution to society and how could that not make the world a better place?

How has companion animal medicine changed over the years you graduated from K-State?

The level of sophistication in terms of what we as veterinarians can offer our patients is amazing. That, coupled with the expanded availability of specialists (even to remote locations via telemedicine) provides a veterinary care team that was pretty much unheard of in the 1980s. The advancement and availability of quality emergency veterinary facilities has certainly impacted the typical lifestyle of those of us who were used to being “on call” and carrying pagers in the pre-cell phone days. Technology has done wonderful things for our profession.

Are there any new exciting programs AAHA is involved with that you would like us to know about?

We have several new educational programs about to launch that I am very excited about. The Essentials for Associate Success launched in August and is designed to help new or recent graduate associate veterinarians learn veterinary medical communication skills and gain some business and personal financial acumen from AAHA rather than the school of hard knocks. In late October, our PEAK Executive Transformation program will launch. We are very fortunate to be collaborating with the renowned Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver on this program. Much of the curriculum is built on the Daniel’s Leadership MBA platform, and it is going to be a dynamite course! There are a couple of other exciting programs we plan to launch during the 2012 AAHA Yearly Conference in Denver next March.

AAHA is also proud to continue our heritage as being a leader in the veterinary profession. We continue to produce Guidelines that are very popular with our members. The updated AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines will be published in September while the Anesthesia Guidelines and Canine Life stages Guidelines are in development. We also recently completed the AAHA-AVMA Canine Preventive Care Guidelines and Feline Preventive Care Guidelines. As founding members of the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, AAHA is collaborating with AVMA and other industry leaders including associations and industry companies to educate pet owners on the importance of preventive care for their pets. We want to improve the health of our nation’s pets by getting them in to see the veterinarian. AAHA believes that the veterinarian is key to keeping pets in to see their veterinarian.

Are these programs for veterinarians or pet owners or both?

The new educational programs are geared for veterinarians and/or their practice team members. The Guidelines are created to help veterinarians and their teams. The Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare will reach out to pet owners as well as veterinary teams to promote the positive benefits of preventative healthcare for dogs and cats.

AAHA is known to accredit veterinary hospitals but you have a role with pet owners as well. How do you help educate pet owners about companion animal care?

We have a very popular website called healthypet.com that is a key way we communicate and educate pet owners. We also have an electronic newsletter called Petsmatter that we produce and our members can opt to send it to their clients. AAHA is in the third year of an Accreditation Awareness Campaign that is geared to help pet owners understand what AAHA Accreditation is all about, learn about wellness care and urge them to seek out accredited practices. The campaign began with a large presence on the Animal Planet with sponsorship of the last two Puppy Bowls as well as four commercial vignettes that covered wellness care, nutrition, parasite control and pain management. We are now in the process of moving that campaign into a social media phase to reach even more pet owners

One more question " are you a cat person or a dog person, or does every veterinarian tell?!

Actually both! After a long series of Golden Retrievers (which we adore) we now have a Border Collie named Zoe. It may be the stage of our life being empty nesters, but she is very, very special to me and my wife. She is well known to my AAHA staff as well as she comes to the office on a fairly regular basis. They even gave her a nameplate with the title of “Executive Dogrector”. All that said, we have had cats in our family beginning when I was in veterinary school. We have had a knack for adopting very outgoing and interesting cats. We currently have our own cat named June and my son’s cat who is called Bubba (as in Bubba Plump or Chubba Bubba due to his voracious appetite).

Thank you Dr. Cavanaugh! For more information on AAHA, veterinarians should visit www.aahanet.org or for pet owners, www.healthypet.com.