VHMA at 40: That Was Then, This Is Now (May 2021)

By VHMA Admin posted 05-26-2021 11:38


This month we spoke to Peter Ainslie (PA), CVPM, who served on the VHMA Board of Directors. Peter’s perspective on the growth and development helps to provide more details about VHMA’s rich history.

A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Peter managed, and eventually became part owner of, a multi-hospital group that he sold in 2018. He currently facilitates two Veterinary Study Groups, which he has been involved with for the past 15 years.



Question: How long have you been with VHMA?

Peter Ainslie, CVPM (PA): I joined in 1989.

Were you employed as a practice manager when you joined?
PA: In 1988, I started as a practice manager at a multi-hospital group and soon thereafter, joined VHMA.

As a new manager, what attracted you to the association?
PA: VHMA’s focus on the business of the veterinary practice distinguished it from other associations. The founding members dedicated their time and energy to establishing a unique organization that provided mentoring and a venue for members to learn and advance their skills. Advancing managers is at the heart of VHMA---evident in its formation, the creation of the CVPM program, and the many programs and resources managers can access to manage better.


What positions have you held?
Beginning in 2000, I served as treasurer, president, past president, as well as CVPM Board – Canadian Representative until 2019.

What did you value most about holding these leadership positions?

PA: Regardless of the role you play, the networking and friendships are unparalleled and benefit everyone who gets involved. I have great respect for the leaders I collaborated with on the board and value the lifelong friendships that developed as we bonded over our shared vision for the association.

Under your leadership, what were some of VHMA’s accomplishments?

PA: I became treasurer in 2000, 20 years after VHMA was formed. The association was breaking even financially, focusing on managing costs and building membership. I felt, along with the board, that we had the opportunity to invest as well as look at different potential areas to generate revenue.

The Business Alliance Program (BAP) formally developed in 2006 – 2007. From my initial start as treasurer, I worked directly with the industry to identify sponsorship and exhibit opportunities. Gerard Gervasi later assumed responsibility for facilitating and supporting relationships between VHMA and vendors.

Increasing meeting attendance was another goal. We examined the correlation between location and attendance. Consequently, we began securing locations that generated interest and increased registration.

Both efforts helped increase revenues.

Which locations were your favorites?
After attending over 40 VHMA meetings it is a difficult choice, but Sanibel, Key West, and Charleston top the list.

Who are VHMA’s heroes?

PA:  They are---in alphabetical order--- Jim Bacon, Tim Banker, Marty Bezner, Roger Cummings, Ralph Duke, Owen McCafferty, and Mark Opperman. They built a strong foundation and positioned VHMA for success.

During your term, the world was rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The impacts were far-reaching and affected daily life. Do you recall what impact these events had on the VHMA?

PA: 9/11, the global financial crisis of 2007, and the COVID-19 pandemic are stark reminders that the world is in flux. Leaders, managers, and owners should recognize that such significant events usher in sudden and significant changes. They must be prepared to adapt to large-scale and unanticipated developments.


The world has been battling the pandemic for more than a year. Would you care to share your thoughts on how VHMA and practices, in general, are reacting?

PA: This past year has been a time of uncertainty and change. The response from practices and managers to the restrictions and changes precipitated by COVID-19 has been swift and impressive, which speaks to their adaptability and resourcefulness.

VHMA quickly marshaled resources to help managers handle the pandemic and went virtual with meetings and education. These efforts allowed members to connect and access critical information.

In a post-pandemic world, what one VHMA resource you would encourage members to use?

PA: Attend an in-person VHMA meeting! The content, networking, and connections are great. Technology got us through the pandemic, but there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Those who joined VHMA during the pandemic should make in-person attendance a priority.

Any thoughts on the next big issue the VHMA and industry will face?

PA: The pandemic had a profound effect on veterinary practices, staff, and administrators. Veterinary staff were considered frontline workers and practices were open during quarantine. Staff who were susceptible to stress, depression, and compassion fatigue before the pandemic, were now inundated with a load of new stressors---increasing caseloads, insufficient staff, health and safety concerns, agitated clients, and more.  The result? Mental health and post-traumatic stress issues that will endure beyond the pandemic.

As business returns to usual, mental health complications caused by the pandemic should not be ignored. Strategies to address these issues are needed so that staff can return to their jobs.

Any suggestions for confronting mental health issues among staff?

PA: It is critical that managers make their own mental health and general well-being a priority. If you are not mentally, physically, and emotionally strong and centered, you will have difficulty helping others.

Agree or disagree…VHMA brings values to all veterinary staff?

PA: I genuinely believe that the success of a practice is correlated to the knowledge, experience, and leadership of the management team. With the vast management resources provided by VHMA, members enhance their skills and knowledge and exert a positive influence on all aspects of the practice.

Anyone you would like to acknowledge and why?

PA: All the VHMA boards that preceded me set the stage for VHMA’s success. They carefully and expertly built a solid foundation that allowed subsequent boards to grow and expand VHMA’s influence, resources, and offerings.

I would also like to acknowledge the pivotal role Christine Shupe, VHMA’s executive director, has played. She is the association’s backbone.

How many pounds of seafood do you need to host a VHMA Board dinner?
PA: In 2003 I hosted the board at my home in Halifax. To introduce my colleagues to Halifax’s finest, my wife and I prepared a dinner that included salmon, 50 pounds of lobster, and 30 pounds of mussels. My late father, Ross Ainslie, DVM, joined the festivities, which made it a memorable evening.

Would you like to share a VHMA memory?

PA:The board was out to dinner and someone thought it would be funny to tell the waitress that it was Tom MacDonald’s birthday. Actually, it was not, but he went along with it. He was made to stand while we sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ It started a tradition---when the board was out to dinner it was always Tom’s birthday!  I think Tom aged about 25 years while serving on the board!

Which word summarizes your years with VHMA?

PA: Growth!

Do you have advice for aspiring veterinary practice managers?

PA: Be adaptive, connect with colleagues and build a network, and continue to learn and change.

If you had to promote one VHMA resource, which would you recommend?



Thank you, Peter for taking us down Memory Lane!






1 comment



05-30-2021 14:17

Dear Peter and Peggy… I have talked about and, reminisced about, that dinner at your home in Halifax so many times over the years! What a great time! We were VHMA “family” gathered from across the US and Canada. Like a “family reunion”, we were catching up on all that had been happening in each other’s lives while we were apart. Though we did reach out to each other by phone at times between gatherings when we needed some experienced advice… or, if we just needed a sympathetic ear to share a challenge we might be struggling with, the times we were able to reunite face to face were so different. What fun times… where life-long friendships developed, wonderful memories were created and, where we learned so much from each other!
As a kid growing up in rural Kansas… if we couldn’t grow it, catch it, or shoot it; we couldn’t really afford to eat it. So… I knew a bit about catfish, sunfish, quail, chickens and, such… but when I sat down to what was to become the most memorable meal of my lifetime, I was totally out of my depth. I watched how everyone around the table was getting the shell and claws of those huge “crawdads” open to expose the meat and, tried to copy what they were doing. Fortunately, the young lady sitting next to me had noticed that I was having a bit of trouble and, took pity on me. She had my lobster completely open for me in less than a minute (she mentioned later that her dad ran lobster traps and, she had done this a few times!). The food that night was the most wonderful seafood I have ever eaten!
That food and the comradery of the evening will always remain one of my most cherished memories. As I have gotten older, memories like that have become more important than I could have imagined and, so many of them were made with friends at VHMA. Thanks for all the memories VHMA!