Canadian veterinarian Walt Ingwersen was recently elected as president of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Here, he describes the route his career has taken and why he became involved in the WSAVA
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I GRADUATED from Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in 1982 with a particular interest in companion animals. My first job was a great learning experience, but the more complex and interesting cases were always referred for specialist care and this led me back to OVC to undertake an internship and residency in small animal internal medicine, followed by a postgraduate doctor of veterinary science degree and board certification by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. A few years later and back in practice, I was chief of veterinary internal medicine at a multiperson, general/specialty veterinary clinic on the east side of Toronto and was appointed hospital director five years later in 1993.
By 1998, I was getting restless, so I opted for a change of direction, becoming the first Canadian to edit the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a scientific journal with a circulation of approximately 14,000 worldwide. I also started offering consultancy services, both to the animal health industry and to private practitioners in the areas of clinical pathology and internal medicine. From this, I moved into industry. My roles included helping to launch a pet insurance company in North America and developing and popularising the international standard microchip in North America. This helped to ensure that, regardless of manufacturer, chip or reader used, an animal could still be identified through its unique microchip code and it is one of my proudest achievements. Several years later, a consultative opportunity with Boehringer Ingelheim Canada emerged and I now work for the company full time in a technical services role.
I've been involved in volunteer-based veterinary medicine for most of my career. I became president of the Ontario Veterinary Management Association in 1994 and sat on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's (CVMA's) Microchip Committee. This led me to involvement with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), which works to enhance the clinical care of companion animals globally and now represents around 200,000 veterinarians through 101 member associations. Our activities include creating global guidelines that set standards for veterinary care, and providing continuing education and other educational resources for our member associations, particularly those in which companion animal veterinary care is still emerging.
I joined the WSAVA's executive board in 2008 and was, until I assumed the presidency, chair of its Global Pain Council (GPC) (www.wsava.org/educational/global-pain-council). Keeping our patients pain-free is one of our most important responsibilities as veterinarians and it's something I feel a particular passion about. It is, after all, one of the greatest opportunities we have to make a positive impact on our patients and, ultimately, on their owners, too. The problem is that there is a wide variation globally in pain assessment, management and treatment. While access to pain treatment modalities may vary from country to country, the ability to diagnose pain should not, so the GPC has worked to address this, first through the creation of its Global Pain Guidelines and, more recently, through developing a global toolkit of downloadable resources for practices. We are also campaigning to ensure ready access for veterinarians to appropriate medicinal products wherever they are working. Our work in this area includes our campaign to secure the future of ketamine as an essential medicine. If you haven't yet signed our online petition at www.change.org/p/ketamine-is-an-essential-medicine-and-should-not-be-re-scheduled, please help your colleagues and animals worldwide by doing so.
In September 2016, during the WSAVA World Congress in Cartagena, Colombia, I was honoured to accept the presidency of the WSAVA for a two-year term. The commitment and passion shown by our volunteers – veterinarians from every corner of the world – never ceases to amaze me and, with their help, we will continue to drive up standards of veterinary care globally during my term. For instance, we have recently announced plans for new WSAVA guidelines for dentistry, an often-neglected topic, and also WSAVA guidelines for animal welfare, an increasingly important issue around the world.
My personal focus as president is to strengthen our engagement with all of our members and to help build a global veterinary community of active and supportive peers. With so many languages and differing levels of education and access to technology among our members, this is no mean feat, but we are a global family and I want every member of a WSAVA member association to know they are a WSAVA member, and to make use of the wealth of veterinary resources and expertise we can offer.
As well as being one of our founder members, the BSAVA has a long association with the WSAVA. Four of our past-presidents are from the UK; we have held four world congresses in association with BSAVA and we are grateful for its help with funding to support our Continuing Education Committee's work in Africa. Many BSAVA members have held leadership positions within the WSAVA and we are lucky to have two current committee chairs from the UK – Michael Day, of the University of Bristol, heads up both our One Health Committee and our Vaccination Guidelines Group, while Zoe Belshaw, of the University of Nottingham, has recently been appointed chair of our Continuing Education Committee. They are wonderful ambassadors for the profession in the UK. We are keen to achieve a higher level of member engagement among all of our member associations. If you would like to know more about how you could be involved, contact Susan Dawson, the BSAVA president, or Professor Day. They will be happy to talk to you about our work and to share their experiences.
In September 2017, WSAVA's World Congress will be in Copenhagen (September. 25 to 28) The theme is hereditary disease – a topical subject in the UK as elsewhere – with many lectures focused on the importance of responsible breeding. In addition to the scientific programme and masterclasses, the congress offers plenty of opportunities to relax with colleagues and friends from around the world. If you've not been to WSAVA congress before, do try it while it is ‘local’. It's a congress like no other and the international vibe and spirit of togetherness is really quite unique. I hope to meet you there.
When I'm not doing my day job or fulfilling WSAVA presidential duties, I enjoy the outdoor life in a small town called Dundas in Ontario, nestled between the shores of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment (a recognised UNESCO biosphere reserve), with lots of hiking and biking surrounded by wonderful vistas and waterfalls. But my passion is veterinary medicine and it is an honour and privilege to be a member of such a dynamic association. Even better, it's fun and I'm looking forward to an action-packed two years.
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