Association Makeover

WA Veterinarian Magazine

by Lisa Parshley, DVM, DACVIM

Sept/Oct 2016

A little over four years ago it became clear that the future of associations was uncertain. Facing competition and steadily declining membership through the retirement of older generations, and little interest in membership by millennials, the WSVMA like other groups could eventually reach a break point. Over the last few years, professional associations across the United States have been assessing their value in search of a solution. It was clear that the WSVMA was also at risk of suffering from the same woes as all these other professional associations. This meant a serious self-assessment of worth and a make-over were going to be needed to ensure the future existence of the WSVMA.

One of the hardest things to ask any group or organization is “do you have a reason to exist?” For most professional organizations this incredibly important question often goes unasked for years or even decades at a time. Without frequently asking and answering “why do we exist” a group can get lost straying from both the mission and the vision. As the association strays from its path, the value of the association becomes unclear to even those working for it. Essentially, an association that cannot effectively articulate its purpose or mission, even to itself, is at risk of losing perceived value to its members.

So why do professional associations exist? To answer this question, we would first have to define what is a professional association and why they are formed. We have seen many articles and even a book or two published on the topic of discovering the “why” of associations. Sometimes it is easier to find the why after you have established what something is first.

So what are professional organizations? Are they clubs? Well a club “is an association of two or more people united by a common interest or goal.” Another definition of club “is a knot of people that have clubbed together to pay the shared expenses.” In the purest sense then professional associations are clubs. Or a professional association is a group of people banded together through a common interest, their profession.

If a professional association is defined as group representing the community of a profession, then the “why” is relatively easy to define. It is the association’s responsibility to care for the profession through nurturing its growth and overall health while protecting it from opposing forces. Or the “why” of an association is that it provides a means of sharing the effort of caring for and managing the interests of the profession.

Associations as caretakers of professions or trades is not a new or even a twentieth century idea. As a matter of fact, the first association of record in the United States, the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, was incorporated even before the revolutionary war (1768). Onset of the industrial revolution and growth of the United States economy caused the rapid specialization of trades and professions. With this expansion came the need for influencing federal and state legislation, setting standards for the professions, and promoting healthy growth within the professions. In answer of these needs professional associations grew at a pace with the professions.

Are professional associations necessary today or will they be needed in the future? That is the question that should be asked and was asked by WSVMA. Absolutely they are needed. It is also possibly true that they are more important today than they were during our nation’s early history. In today’s world legislation and governmental swings and trends happen faster, economies are tightly tied together via fast electronic communications, and society is evolving in what seems like the speed of light. Professions succeed or falter based on predicting and reacting appropriately to these and other professional environmental factors. Thus, it reasons if professions found associations necessary during the growth periods of our country then they are essential in this fast paced electronic age.

So how did WSVMA answer its self-assessment of “should we exist?” After honest reflection and well-reasoned discussions, the answer was “yes.” It was concluded that we still have worth and relevance to the veterinarians of Washington. WSVMA serves as the champion for all veterinarians in Washington. Through the WSVMA veterinarians have an advocate that tends to the growth of our profession and protects it from outside forces. WSVMA stands for all veterinarians and through them all animals and the people they touch.

Be proud of that group of people who were brave enough to ask and answer that difficult question “should we exist.” For their answer provided the strength to redefine and restructure the WSVMA. It is now a nimble and productive association whose sole purpose is the service of our profession. What’s more, our state veterinary medical association is now considered one of the best in the nation. So yes we all should be proud of these daring people for they have secured WSVMA and thereby saved our best advocate.

WSVMA’s work is not done, will never be done, but thanks to a group of 18 hardworking people, we now have an association that routinely gets work done at every meeting. Our new system of management will allow a continual evolution ensuring that our association will always remain relevant to and working for the profession.

As I leave office, I challenge all our state’s veterinarians to join us and the work of our profession, because without the WSVMA, who would pick up the mantle of our profession in this state?

Washington State Veterinary Medical Association:

Mission Statement
Advancing the cause of veterinary medicine to better the lives of those touched by it. 

Vision Statement
Inspiring, supporting and advocating for a passionate and thriving veterinary community.