Since March 2020, Marie Bucko DVMx’21 has served as president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA). The national organization, comprised of 37 student chapters and more than 17,000 student members, aims to support all veterinary students in improving their lives, education, and career.
Bucko entered her presidency “in unknown waters,” just as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.
“When I started my term as president in March alongside COVID, to say that we hit the ground running is an understatement,” Bucko said during a speech to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates in July. “I quickly bonded with the AVMA Board of Directors with our weekly, and many times twice weekly, COVID calls, while my officer team and I rushed to wrap our head around the best way to educate our student body in what was happening.”
As Bucko and other national officers embarked on their work in an entirely virtual format, they committed to a shared value statement: together we overcome, united we rise.
And rise they did. In the past year, in collaboration with AVMA (the group’s parent organization), SAVMA provided financial support to 250 student chapter-hosted events with more than 26,000 participants through the Achieving, Leading, Learning for Students program. They initiated an effort to help students identify and match their interests to internship and externship opportunities, which have been limited and complicated by COVID-19, and encouraged the American Association of Veterinary State Boards to provide flexibility for Class of 2020 graduates, who had to navigate taking their licensing examinations amidst the pandemic.
The group also began new One Health-inspired partnerships with peer organizations, including the American Medical Student Association; launched a SAVMA smartphone app to provide a real-time information hub for students; and implemented a social media campaign with practical tools related to wellbeing and inclusion.
As Bucko nears the end of her presidency, the Brodhead, Wisconsin native shares more about the experience and her hopes for the future.
On Call: Broadly speaking, what are your duties as SAVMA president?
Bucko: This role is multi-dimensional. I lead our executive board and student delegates from each school to help optimize the best educational experience and support for students through grants, externships,
leadership opportunities, and student exchanges with other veterinary programs. I also am an invited guest to sit on the AVMA Board of Directors to represent our student body. Essentially, my role, with my officer team, is to help this national organization create an environment to foster communication, support our students, and see what we can do to make our veterinary students’ experience a little bit better.
What tenets have guided you through your term as president?
My leadership style is adaptive, collaborative, and mission-driven. I try to identify the end and common goals, empower my team, use lots of positive reinforcement, and be flexible on the process and insistent on the outcome.
My ultimate goal, from the UW School of Veterinary Medicine to SAVMA, has been to empower the officers and students I work with so they can be the best version of themselves. That looks different for each person for what they deem success, so adaptivity is key.
What were some of your and SAVMA’s top priorities?
A lot of our actions are driven by what our students need support in. Right now, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront.
On the national level, we want to make sure we can give students tools and resources to talk about race, disabilities, geographic diversities, and what that looks like for each school, because each of them is so different. It’s been important for us to empower students to talk about what can we provide. We’ve put out on social media and to our delegates tangible ways students can support diversity, equity, and inclusion. We also are putting together a DEI assessment on how schools and chapters can evaluate internally their student body, to have an honest and safe discussion about how we can make our student environment more inclusive.
Another priority is our students with disabilities. We have quite a few students in veterinary schools who have hearing disabilities or impairments. So, when things are now virtual, and on top of everyone wearing masks, they face challenges. It’s important for us to be able to bring this to schools and SAVMA chapters to say what are ways we can help our fellow classmates, noticing there are some gaps and discrepancies.
Before veterinary medical school, you worked at the FDA in Washington, D.C. Can you describe that experience?
I served the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program as a science policy analyst. I was the point person for the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, helping to prepare staff and agency leadership for Congressional briefings, leading the program’s Congressional Appropriation response efforts, coordinating industry meetings, and leading National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System communications across the USDA, CDC, and FDA. During this time, I received my master of science in food safety from Michigan State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
As you approach graduation, what are your goals as a veterinarian and for veterinary medicine?
I’d like to keep my options open, but a common goal exists: to advocate for our profession. Whether that looks like returning to D.C. to work on policy to give a voice to veterinary medicine and American agriculture or working in a rural setting through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to help fill the need of rural veterinarians, I’m happy to serve our profession however.
Practice ownership is on the horizon in hopes to provide a practice culture that embraces mixed animal medicine and work-life balance for each employee.