AVMA VP strengthens ties with college deans, faculty

Faeh Butler takes to new liaison role

Interview by R. Scott Nolen
Published: 28 Oct 2021

Since the summer of 2020, when Dr. Sandra Faeh Butler was elected 2020-22 AVMA vice president, the companion animal practice owner from Lake Forest, Illinois, has been connecting with veterinary college deans and faculty as well as working closely with the Student AVMA.

Dr. Sandra Faeh Butler
Dr. Sandra Faeh Butler

More than halfway through her term, Dr. Faeh Butler talked with JAVMA News about her time in office, what she’s hearing, and how the AVMA is helping.

The following responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. The role of AVMA vice president changed under your predecessor to include serving as the AVMA’s liaison with veterinary college deans and faculty. What does that look like?

A. I have been honored to meet with the deans and faculty of 23 veterinary schools since the start of my term, all but one being virtually via Zoom. My goal is to meet with all of the U.S. veterinary colleges before the end of my term. From my numerous interactions, I have heard many different concerns and desires. The biggest request was to be able to connect with faculty from different colleges. This led to the creation of the AVMA Online Educator Community, which launched this past February. This group is a community of individuals involved in academia and the education of the next generation of our colleagues. It is a place to exchange ideas, learn about AVMA resources that may make their jobs easier, and discuss challenges and opportunities unique to the world of academia. It is important to note that this community is open to all educators, including veterinarians, PhDs, AVMA members, and non–AVMA members.

To launch the community, we started with a survey and gained valuable feedback. The top interests of the community included the ability to have discussion threads with peers, faculty-specific resources, and virtual roundtables. Their top focuses included diversity, equity, and inclusion; well-being; and economics, although many members wrote in curriculum development as an additional focus. They asked for resources on course content, mentorship, and guidance for career transitions.

As a result of this feedback, we launched a speaker series. This series was designed to provide faculty with a space to hear from and interact with subject matter experts on the topics that are important to them. There were two talks this summer.

Our June presentation was titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Academia,” featuring Dr. Ruby L. Perry, dean of Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Christine Jenkins, chief medical officer and vice president of veterinary medical services and outcomes research of U.S. operations at Zoetis, who co-chair the Commission for a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Veterinary Profession, along with Dr. Douglas Kratt, then AVMA president, as our panelists—and moderated by Dr. Allen Cannedy. It was a virtual discussion on DEI challenges unique to academia and ways to create more inclusive education.

Our July session was “Implementing Competency-Based Veterinary Education” with Dr. Jennie Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Kristin Chaney, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

It was a pleasure working with these thought leaders, and both sessions had great discussion.

One of our fall topics was a session on veterinary economics and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, with Bridgette Bain, PhD, associate director of analytics at the AVMA, and Dr. Tony Bartels, the Veterinary Information Network Foundation’s educational debt expert. We also are having a series on wellness with Jen Brandt, PhD, AVMA’s director of member well-being, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, and Makenzie Peterson, director for well-being at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

And on-demand viewing is available for all our presentations after the event on the AVMA Online Educator Community for all community members unable to attend the live sessions.

Q. How successful is your office’s new focus on academia?

A. This new focus is essential for our profession. We always say that students are our future colleagues, but without the educators, they would not have the skills to be successful. Our educators have unique experience. Many of our concerns are the same—work-life balance, debt, and well-being, for example—but the academic environment has its own challenges and opportunities. AVMA can help. This is just the beginning. I look forward to continuing to build this relationship and to see what more is to come with future vice presidents.

Q. What about your work with veterinary students?

A. Despite the shift to focus on faculty, I still work closely with the students. The vice president continues to be the liaison to the Student AVMA, participating in the SAVMA House of Delegate meetings and supporting the students however else is needed. This year, I also served on a SAVMA task force. And in January, we hosted a panel of 2020 veterinary graduates from various disciplines to talk to the class of 2021. It was a very interactive discussion covering topics such as interviewing, your first job, and mentorship, and we hope to make this an annual event.

Along with our Student Initiatives Team, I continued to meet with several SAVMA chapters throughout the year as well, and I was so impressed with the students’ resilience. They have been using their Achieving, Leading, and Learning for Students program funds for innovative events such as virtual yoga, virtual cooking classes, book clubs, and many other ways to stay connected.

Q. What would you say are the top concerns for veterinary students?

A. Educational debt and mental health are definitely still top student concerns. However, preparedness for graduation despite COVID-19 restrictions was the bigger concern over the past year. As a practice owner who regularly works with students and new graduates, I am confident that they are ready. Every year, these students are getting smarter and smarter, and with the help of our amazing educators, they are so well prepared.

Q. You’ve served as AVMA VP for about a year and a half. If you could go back, what advice would you give to Dr. Sandra Faeh Butler, the VP candidate?

A. When I decided to run for this office, never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate a year like we have just experienced. I anticipated travel and face-to-face contact, shaking hands, and giving hugs. Taking on a new position is always an adjustment, but taking on a new role with a new charge—during a pandemic—was very challenging to say the least. It was a bit nerve-wracking to be honest. Could we connect via Zoom? Would it be enough? But I shouldn’t have worried. The pandemic actually enabled me to connect with more individuals than ever before. In-person meetings are essential, but there is no reason that Zoom meetings can’t continue as a complement to maintain those connections.

Q. What have you learned about veterinary students and academia in your time as vice president?

A. They are all amazing individuals—and so much smarter than I was as a student! I have learned so much from working with them. It amazes me every day the wonderful people I call colleagues and friends. I am truly blessed to be a part of this inspiring profession.

Anyone interested in joining the AVMA Online Educator Community can sign up.

Related JAVMA content:

Veterinary colleges continue to prepare students to enter profession

SAVMA hosts panel connecting new veterinarians with 2021 graduates

AVMA hosts new online community for veterinary faculty members

AVMA, AAVMC announce diversity, equity, inclusion commission