Shining a Light on Leadership

  |   WSVMA News

Since I was in first grade, I dreamed of being a veterinarian.  With time, my desire to snuggle kittens transitioned into a love of scientific reasoning and problem solving, in order to help those kitties with successful diagnostic and surgical outcomes.

All of us entered the veterinary field for varied reasons; ranging from a love of animals and their owners to a love of science and technical skills. Not many of us chose to be a veterinarian out of a love for leadership. Yet once we step from graduation into clinical practice or advanced training, we are thrust into a leadership role. We use leadership skills every day: from encouraging our clients to follow through on therapies to helping our staff through an emergency. Veterinarians are inherent leaders.

Our professional organizations, Washington State Veterinary Medical Association and American Veterinary Medical Association, recognize the wealth of natural leaders in every veterinarian. As a matter of fact, our professional organizations are powered by these same veterinarians. Through their work, veterinary medicine has advocates tending to our profession.   These volunteer leaders come from clinics large and small, non-clinical positions, and from every corner of our state.

Leadership is sometimes inherent, but mostly trained or gained through experience. During veterinary school, we are taught the elements of leadership. Choosing to work for an association or professional organization provides additional opportunities for leadership growth and experience.

The annual AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference was recently held in Chicago.  It is a conference providing classes specific to leadership, communication skills and wellness issues, in addition to providing opportunities to learn more about the structure and function of the national veterinary association (AVMA). This year our WSVMA Board of Directors attended, in part to learn and improve our leadership skills.

Convergence of veterinary leadership during this annual conference allows another important aspect of interacting with other associations.  Networking with others allows a sharing of successes and challenges facing our organizations. Washington belongs to the northwest district, which is comprised of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. By attending the leadership conference, WSVMA board members had the opportunity to interact with the leadership of these other state associations and our district AVMA leadership.

During this yearly leadership meeting, the AVMA House of Delegates meets to carry out business and consider resolutions involving AVMA policy.  We were fortunate to watch with pride, as our AVMA delegate and alternate delegate, Drs. Sandy Willis and Diana Thomè, represented Washington State. Washington is well represented at the national level. As a matter of fact, presiding over the House of Delegates was Dr. Tom Meyer, the current President of the AVMA, who is from Vancouver, Washington.

Every year the AVMA encourages each state to bring a recent graduate to the conference. Instructions are to bring one who shows promise as an emerging leader. This year, we brought Dr. Shawn Thomas, who practices in Belfair, WA.  He has also recently been elected to a new intern position as a non-voting board member for the WSVMA.

Closer to home, we continue our commitment to leadership training through hosting our second “Power of Ten” group this year. Power of Ten is a program for veterinarians who are out of school less than seven years. It is a one-year program designed to focus on personal development, leadership skills, communications, project management, and team-building. Every year the class selects a project and uses the skills taught through seminars and lectures to fulfill their plan. Our Power of Ten class for 2017 will be developing the “Recent Grad Institute” at the Pacific NW Veterinary Conference September. They will be providing speakers on a range of topics from financial and contract issues, family issues and job development.  Our hope is that through this program, led by Candace Joy, Dr. Heather Fowler, and many guest speakers, participants will leave with a better sense of who they are as individuals and how they can use their talents for giving back to their families, communities, and the veterinary profession.  Dr. Shawn Thomas, a graduate of our inaugural year, is a prime example of the power of this leadership building program.

We may not all be natural leaders or have received significant leadership training, but we are all veterinarians. Inherent in our job is a leadership role in the clinic and community. We are also fortunate to have the many and varied opportunities through local, state, and national associations.  Serving time supporting local and state veterinary medical associations has been vital to my personal growth as a leader and veterinarian, allowing me to build many close friendships and network within our field, as well as provide me with skills that have improved my personal wellness and the health of my practice, family, and community.

Our profession and our communities need leaders. I highly encourage you to step out of your box and get involved in one of the many organizations available to you. Leadership is in our profession and is needed by our profession. Our state association, WSVMA, is always looking for task force members, leadership committee members, Power of Ten applicants, and/or board members.  In all of us, there is a leader, just waiting to shine.

By Dr. Kathy Hickey, President