In 2009, after several years of off-and-on debate, the American Association of Retired Veterinarians decided to change its name. It became the American Association of Senior Veterinarians (AASrV), a name leaders believed not only better described its members but one that would help the organization take on a larger role in both members’ lives and the veterinary world at large.
Instead of serving as primarily a social organization, the refocused AASrV seeks to establish more of a voice in professional matters. Instead of just holding luncheons or receptions, it would offer informative newsletters and specialized programs geared toward veterinarians who want to remain active mentally, physically and, for some, professionally.
“I sense there are a lot of veterinarians at the same stage of life that I am: We want to slow down, but we don’t really want to disconnect completely from matters of veterinary medicine,” says AASrV board member Bob Ranier, DVM, who retired several years ago from Pfizer, where he worked in development and research.
“We think this can be the ideal organization to help them” maintain that connection.
With a board that includes many longtime leaders, including former American Veterinary Medical Association president Everett Macomber, DVM, and former AVMA executive Bruce Little, DVM, the group continues to remake itself.
Last year, the group launched its website. Members also revised their mission and bylaws, started a membership drive and, in late 2009, achieved official nonprofit status, which officers believe will pave the way for some goals, including membership in the AVMA’s House of Delegates.
“We’re like the AARP for AVMA,” says Bob Dietl, DVM, a Minnesotan who sold his practice in 2010 but continues to do clinical and practice management work. “As we broaden our base, we are going to offer more information and activities that would be appealing to retirees and near retirees, but we’re also going to seek to be more involved in policy (discussion) and other professional issues.”
Changes and Updates
The idea of an association expressly for older veterinarians was discussed as far back as the 1950s, when an idea was floated to create a resort in Florida, complete with golf course. But that idea, and a later concept involving veterinarian-only vacation condos, never got much traction, according to accounts on the AASrV website.
However, in 1987, after AVMA helped sponsor a mailing to 7,500 of its members, the organization finally came to life, holding its first general meeting at an AVMA convention.
Membership quickly climbed to more than 600, and with spouses attending, some early events piggybacked onto AVMA conventions attracted more than 1,000 people, Ranier says.
“They organized cruises, went to Vermont and even took a trip to China,” says Dr. Roger Batchelder, DVM, who joined that first year and served as its treasurer for more than two decades. “I think people mostly joined for the social aspects of it.”
The group almost disbanded in the mid-’90s after an early founder grew disappointed that it hadn’t grown more, says Batchelder, a retired New York private-practice veterinarian, who last summer attended the 65th reunion of his veterinary class at Cornell University.
Other members voted to keep the group afloat, and it evolved into more of a general association, no longer organizing trips or cruises.
Then, around 2008, as several new officers and board members were elected, the group changed course again, says Bert Mitchell, DVM, the current AASrV president.
For several years, the group had debated whether to add “senior” to the name to reflect a feeling that more veterinarians were not retiring at traditional ages. Recent data seems to support this suspicion: At the close of 2010, 16 percent of all working U.S. veterinarians were age 60 or older, according to AVMA statistics. That’s up from 14.2 percent just two years earlier.
In 2008, the name change became official. Though most members still are at least semi-retired, and almost all are over 60, the new name is more palatable to younger veterinarians and those who may view retirement differently than earlier generations, members say. Many hesitate to label themselves as retired, because even after they sell practices, many continue to consult, volunteer or work part time.
“Veterinarians don’t really retire; they always find something else to do,” says Dr. Little, who has launched several side businesses since retiring.
He joined the AASrV board year, just as he was ramping down his participation in other professional associations, because he felt it provided a good way to associate with peers while also expanding the role of older veterinarians within the profession.
The group still holds just two general membership meetings a year—one afternoon-long event at the annual AVMA convention and one at another large convention, usually either the North American Veterinary Conference or the Western Veterinary Conference. But to reflect the interests and needs of the board and newer members, more speakers have been added to address concerns important to older veterinarians, such as healthy aging practices, financial management and supplemental insurance.
The group’s nonprofit designation makes it easier for it to do things like donate to veterinary-related charitable causes or to voice opinions on veterinary issues and policies before professional and government groups, Mitchell says.
To really have an impact on policy, however, the group needs a seat in the AVMA’s House of Delegates, Mitchell says. That would require a membership of more than 800, a significant increase over the roughly 300 members it has had for the past few years.
Recruitment has been somewhat difficult, in part because it’s a never-ending process. Unlike other professional groups, in which members may remain active for 30 or more years, AASrV members often stay active only a few years.
But board members believe that seat would prove a great recruiting tool.
“Right now, we’re kind of sitting in the stands, but if we get into the House of Delegates, we can get in the ballgame,” Dr. Dietl says. “(Older) veterinarians have a lot of experience, a lot of expertise that is valuable, and we want to provide a way to impart our observations and continue to have a voice in the profession that we all still love.”