AAHA CEO Departing in June


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Dr. Michael Cavanaugh will serve through June 2020, while AAHA will conduct a search for a new CEO throughout spring 2020.

AAHA announced in February that current CEO Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP (C/F) Emeritus, will serve through the end of AAHA’s fiscal year, June 30, 2020, and then “will move on to pursue other opportunities.”

Since joining AAHA in 2010, Dr. Cavanaugh has overseen many new programs and initiatives, including AAHA Advantage, AAHA’s Healthy Workplace Culture Initiative, and AAHA Learning, according to a release. In 2012, Cavanaugh assisted the board of directors with an overhaul of AAHA’s governance model, including reducing the size of the board, updating term limits for directors and officers, and revising the selection process for board members and officers.

Cavanaugh helped transform AAHA’s yearly conference from a large expo to a curated continuing education and networking event renamed Connexity, for the “intersection between connection and community,” the release said. During his tenure, AAHA increased its social media following, raised pet owner awareness about the value of accreditation, and started a thriving private Facebook group exclusively for AAHA-accredited members.

He also led the charge to improve AAHA’s educational offerings for the whole veterinary team – from the Indispensable Associate program to the Veterinary Management Series (VMS) for practice managers, to executive-level programs such as the Veterinary Management Institute (VMI) and “Adventure CE” for veterinary professionals to complete education requirements while relaxing on a ski getaway or summer pack trip including horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.

In the release, AAHA said its board of directors and executive team will conduct a search for a new CEO throughout spring 2020. “This is an exciting time for the association as we evolve our strategy,” said Guylaine Charette, DMV, president of the board. “Dr. Cavanaugh has had an invaluable impact on this association and our members, and we are thankful for his contributions. As we look to the future, there are new opportunities for our great association, and together we can lead AAHA into a new chapter.”

Photo of Mike Cavanaugh

Looking back, and ahead

Veterinary Advantage asked Dr. Cavanaugh about his tenure at AAHA, how the veterinary landscape has changed, and challenges that remain for the industry.

Veterinary Advantage: What are you most proud of during your tenure at AAHA?

Dr. Cavanaugh: I am most proud of what we’ve accomplished related to culture. Our board and staff now work very effectively together and the board’s composition is truly representative of our membership. The culture at headquarters is much less risk-averse. We are willing to try new things even though they sometimes fail – and we learn a lot from that. Also, AAHA’s Healthy Workplace Culture Initiative is designed to help our members and others in the profession create healthy, supportive environments, which is important since this is where their team members spend much of their time.

Veterinary Advantage: How has the landscape of veterinary medicine changed during your time at AAHA?

Dr. Cavanaugh: Over the last 10 years, it has been crazy to watch the significance and impact of social media. It’s fun seeing our members learn how to use social media to their advantage. Technology has progressed so rapidly that it’s challenging even for huge companies with vast resources to keep up. Small businesses must be very creative and savvy to avoid being left behind.

Consolidation in our industry has also been fascinating to observe. Every week there seems to be a new company popping up and buying practices. I see a difference between groups who are building legacy companies that we’ll still see thriving in 25 years, and what I call “flippers” who are throwing practices together with private equity in hopes someone else buys them in a few years.

Finally, the advent of telehealth, or what we call “connected care” is transforming day-to-day veterinary practice. There is a long way to go and today that segment of our industry seems like the Wild West, but it will mature and improve the lives of many veterinary teams, pets, and their people.

Veterinary Advantage: What are some of the biggest challenges veterinary professionals must navigate in today’s environment?

Dr. Cavanaugh:

  • Having four generations employed under one roof in many cases.
  • Pricing goods and services in a manner that allows all members of the practice team to earn a living wage,
    while still providing great veterinary care that pet owners can afford.
  • What to do about the many pets who never see a veterinarian. How do we improve access to quality veterinary care for those who have transportation, language, monetary, or other challenges that keep them from bringing their pets to the veterinarian?
  • How to keep the passion and fun alive in a wonderful and extremely challenging profession. We all have to work together to support one another. Every one struggles in some manner, and I am very pleased the stigma associated with mental health challenges is slowly dissipating as colleagues talk about their struggles and seek help.
  • How to educate enough veterinarians and veterinary technicians to fulfill the current needs in a way that we no longer have to have the student debt conversation. We have so many smart people in our profession, I am confident we’ll get this figured out at some point. The challenge is that debt adds many complicating factors to our professional ecosystem.

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/themacx