Q&A with AVMA president Dr. Lori Teller

Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline), CVJ, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Photos courtesy Lori Teller
Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline), CVJ, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Photos courtesy Lori Teller

Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline), CVJ, began her year-long term as the American Medical Veterinary Association (AVMA) president in August. Veterinary Practice News had the opportunity to learn more about her goals for the AVMA, the power of moms, and her take on some of the issues facing the industry.

VPN: Talk a bit about how you came to this role and why serving in a leadership capacity is important/fulfilling for you

LT: I’ve always been involved in leadership in some capacity since I was in high school. It’s a great way to develop relationships with people who share a common passion. Also, by serving as a leader, I have the opportunity to enhance some wonderful programs created by those who came before me, as well as the ability to promote change in areas that need a boost. I’m not much of a whiner (my son will tell you that is my biggest pet peeve), so if I’m not happy about something, I work to make it better. Effecting change is challenging, but the best way to do it is by being actively engaged, building relationships, and getting into a leadership position.

I started out working with my local VMA (Harris County), culminating in the role of president, and then got involved in the Texas VMA, also serving as president of that organization. I was a member of the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee, and then eventually represented Texas in the AVMA House of Delegates before being elected to the AVMA Board of Directors. Throughout my leadership experiences, I have been very lucky to meet and collaborate with some of the sharpest people in veterinary medicine.

VPN: You have mentioned showcasing the benefits of being a veterinarian as part of your focus. The industry does have its challenges from the salary/high suicide rates/lack of work-life balance. What are some positive areas most in need of better showcasing?  

LT: As veterinarians, we have the tremendous privilege of taking care of animals, whether they are companion animals, working animals, or food animals. We protect them and keep them healthy. In doing so, we also play a role in protecting the public and keeping people healthy. We have the tremendous joy—and responsibility—of helping our patients from birth to death. We can allow them to go with peace and dignity.

Some days we are truly saving lives, other days we are stomping out pestilence; at times, we are the ones just holding it all together, so others do not have to. As veterinarians, we are doing great things every day, and no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, we are having a positive impact on someone.

VPN: Large animal is an area in potential crisis for enough future veterinarians. Do you have a take on that segment of vets specifically?  

LT: Large animal veterinarians are essential in helping maintain healthy animals and a safe and abundant food supply. Knowing this, the AVMA champions the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which offers up to $25,000 a year for educational loan repayment in exchange for service in a USDA-designated underserved rural area. In Congress, the AVMA works with lawmakers to ensure this program is funded each year; however, an expansion of this program would allow more veterinarians to participate in the VMLRP. The AVMA-endorsed VMLRP Enhancement Act would end federal taxation on VMLRP awards, thus freeing up funds already allotted and allowing the program to reach more communities in need of veterinary services. This would make the tax treatment of the awards the same as for the analogous program for physicians.

One recent topic of conversation at the July meeting of the House of Delegates was about the appropriate expectations for emergency care in rural areas.

VPN: It sounds like you want the AVMA and yourself to be very approachable. Do you think there is work to do to be more “practical” and less “ivory tower”?

LT: I think it is very important for people to understand the AVMA is made up of people. There are hundreds of active volunteers from across the profession serving on the committees and councils that contribute to our policies and positions on a number of issues that impact the profession. The vast majority of the board of directors is still actively employed in the profession, whether in practice, academia, or industry. We are in the trenches and experiencing the same joys and frustrations as our colleagues.

The AVMA is not an obscure wizard hiding behind a curtain or a tower in the clouds sending down random proclamations. It is a member-driven organization made up of caring and engaged volunteers and staff, and our work is accomplished by the blood, sweat, and tears of these folks. Virtually everything we do is very practical. Most veterinarians are not even aware of all that the AVMA does—although if we did not do it, they would notice. One example is how the AVMA brought leadership and advocacy to a variety of concerns during the COVID pandemic. We do the same kinds of things every day, it is just that much of that same work isn’t quite so visible in situations where there is no obvious “emergency” that everyone is focused on, and yet this work is vital to our profession.

VPN: This past election got a lot of recognition for being the first time the candidates for this role were all women. Between that, and you being a founding board member of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI), can you talk about women in the industry and what you would like to see happen next?

LT: When I attended veterinary school, we had an even mix of men and women in our class. In 2009, the AVMA reported there were more female than male veterinarians. Dr. Mary Beth Leininger became the first female president of the AVMA in 1996, and Dr. Shirley Johnston became the first female dean of a veterinary school in 1998. Dr. Bonnie Beaver became the second female president of the AVMA in 2004, and Dr. René Carlson was the third in 2011. So, we’ve elected a female as president once per decade. With the conclusion of the most recent election, Dr. Rena Carlson will succeed me next year, and we will have at least two female presidents this decade.

It is so critical, as a profession, we reflect the diversity of our clients and communities, and that includes women in leadership roles. When I was elected as president in July, I gave a speech to the AVMA House of Delegates. I talked about being the AVMA’s first “mom” president, and how moms are the best multitaskers on the planet. As president of the AVMA and its first mom, I will work hard to build bridges, increase our collaborative efforts, and continue to focus on improving veterinary medicine for all of us. But I promise you, when someone threatens our profession, have no fear, because Mama Bear is here. I want all veterinarians to thrive and love this profession.

WVLDI was founded by women and men who recognized women do not always approach leadership roles the same way men do, and many women may not have had the same opportunities to learn leadership skills as our male colleagues. WVLDI is a place for women to gain these skills and network with others. It is important to note at all times, WVLDI has been open to both male and female colleagues because we benefit from learning from each other. I’d like to get to the point where the gender of our leaders is a moot point. We still have a ways to go.

VPN: Properly utilizing staff members has been an ongoing issue—from the title issue to appropriate tasks to their education. What do you think it would take to finally make that a nonissue?  

LT: AVMA has been working hard with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and state veterinary medical associations to support efforts at title recognition and protection in the legislative and regulatory arenas. While regulatory protection is important, education—for the entire veterinary team—to ensure everyone is aware of and recognizes the knowledge and skills these people bring to the table. Stories of tangible practice successes resulting from their appropriate integration are probably the best way to improve utilization, respect, and remuneration of these critical members of the veterinary practice team. We will be presenting the results of some of our research regarding the mobilization and utilization of technicians later this year.

VPN: The last word: Anything else you would like readers to know? 

LT: If I had to do it all over again, hands down, I would still choose to be a veterinarian. I would also again choose to be a wife, a mom, a reader, a gym rat, a travel lover, and so many other things. I encourage everyone to recognize that we are complex and complicated beings and to embrace the things that bring us together as veterinarians and set us apart as unique individuals.


Current position: Clinical associate professor of telehealth at Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

Education: Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, 1990

“Mama Bear” status: One son, now grown, but took the time and energy (because of special needs) of five kids when he was younger. For all the moms, especially those with kids who are particularly challenging, you will get through this and end up with a beautiful person on the other side. Caterpillars do become butterflies.

Current pets: Two Labradors, Tucker and Gracie; and an orange tabby, Goose.

Did you know?: I am not a runner. In fact, I strongly dislike running. I’m also a breast cancer survivor. So, after my diagnosis, I challenged myself to run in the Race for the Cure. Two years after surgery, I came in third place overall for survivors. I was pumped! I still dislike running, and that was the beginning and end of my racing career.

Favorite quote: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”—William James

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