• The San Juan Daily Star

New Veterinary Assn. president champions diversity, economic relief

Dr. José Arce, left, is the first Puerto Rican to serve as president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the profession’s largest organization with more than 98,000 members.

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With the purpose of achieving equity within the veterinary field, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) President Dr. José Arce said Sunday that he will use his recently obtained seat to continue advocating for diversity and economic relief programs for both incoming and entry-level professionals.

Arce, who is the first Puerto Rican to serve as president of the profession’s largest organization, which has more than 98,000 members “that come from all spectrums of the veterinary profession,” said in an exclusive interview with the STAR that he’ll work toward those goals so that the field can have more experts who can continue working on pertinent issues such as responsible pet ownership and humane treatment of animals.

“Everybody thinks of the typical veterinarian as someone who just sees pets and other animals for their health,” Arce said, noting that veterinarians can go from caring for small animals to being involved in the development of breakthrough vaccines.

Arce also said his priorities come from experiences that caught his attention when he joined the Student Chapter of the AVMA in 1993.

The veterinarian with 28 years of field experience said he was granted an internship in small animal medicine, surgery and emergency treatment at Rowley Memorial Animal Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts back when he was a doctorate student at Louisiana State University.

However, beyond learning about his duties as an animal health expert, the AVMA president said he noticed a lack of Hispanic and black veterinarians both in the field and in academia.

Therefore, through the association’s Commission for a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Veterinary Profession, which was founded in November 2020, Arce now seeks “to mimic what the population of the U.S. looks like.”

The commission, which also involves the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), explores the chances for increasing diversity, equity and inclusion among veterinarians, veterinary school applicants and enrollees, interns, residents and board-certified specialists by encouraging and assisting veterinary medical associations and animal health companies.

“This is something that I’ve been working on and been passionate about for many, many years,” Arce said.

Moreover, Arce told the newspaper that the organization is currently educating members of the U.S. Congress on the struggles new veterinarians face when “graduating with huge student loans, especially those who work outside the U.S. states.”

“Student loan interest rates go around 9%, and that’s a lot for students who have such a huge debt,” he said. “I know students who are graduating with half a million dollars ($500,000) in student loans, and that’s crazy.”

The AVMA advocates for bills in Congress that seek to reduce or eliminate interest rates on such loans regardless of academic preparation. The association also pushes for bills that allow economic relief for small businesses, promote scientific research, and solve public health issues.

“Some of them [newly licensed veterinarians] want to come back to Puerto Rico, especially in areas where the salaries are not the same as in some of the powerful states,” Arce said. “When they come back to Puerto Rico, the average salary might be $60,000 or even less for a starting-level job.”

“It’s hard enough to start out with such big stressors, it’s hard enough to practice veterinary medicine, deal with our patients, and have that economic pressure on top of seeking to build a family, get a house, get a car, whatever you want to do as a recent graduate,” he added.

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