Perhaps it was the moment when a younger René Plasencia was driving to graduate school in Arizona on a last-minute decision—with nothing but his dog and a backpack of clothes—that served as a lifetime of catalysts that led him to becoming the Florida Veterinary Medical Association’s (FVMA) newest executive director.
But it is tough to pinpoint an exact moment of inspiration for this self-described hippie whose mantra centers on finding happiness in a career dedicated to serving others.
In Plasencia’s first week at the FVMA, “life is too short not to be happy” is the phrase his staff has heard the most, as it is the one that guides much of his ideas and principles as he seeks to propel veterinary medicine in Florida into the future.
“Happiness is a state of mind,” Plasencia says. “Things can happen around you, but how it affects you is always under your control.”
Plasencia joins the FVMA just before it hosts its first in-person conference since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States in 2020. The rest of his first year will be filled with similar firsts, as he is the FVMA’s only new executive director in the last thirteen years.
“I like to learn a lot before I do anything,” Plasencia says. “Things have been going very well, but you see how you can do things a little bit differently and you bring your own experience into every situation.”
Plasencia’s experiences are highlighted by a 17-year career in teaching social studies and coaching cross country and track and field at Colonial High School in Orlando, Fla., serving as the district regional manager and executive director for Florida Virtual School and as a member of the Florida House of Representatives.
“I have a lot of experience in education and the growth of organizations,” Plasencia says. “I’m trying to see what we’ve done well and how we can build on that and create an environment in which everyone is happy.”
Plasencia says he wants to do that by listening to members and working with additional partners who can help the FVMA realize solutions to members’ needs.
Such a willingness to listen comes after years of saying “yes” when afforded unique opportunities.
“I don’t like walls,” Plasencia says. “I don’t like when people pin you into categories.”
Such statements are a callback to Plasencia’s college days, where fond memories as a cross country and track and field athlete and a passion for learning at the University of Central Florida (UCF) led Plasencia to graduate school. But even when Plasencia has a plan, like attending Louisiana’s Northwestern State University, he never seems to say no to other ideas.
“I already filled out the paperwork, I had a job,” Plasencia says of his plan to attend Northwestern.
Then he got a phone call from UCF’s former associate athletic director, who offered him a graduate assistant position at Northern Arizona State University. With only a moment’s notice, Plasencia changed his mind and chose the opportunity that would provide him with greater fulfillment.
His creativity and willingness to listen underlies almost every statement and decision he makes; he says he wants to implement that same philosophy when working with the FVMA’s staff.
“You are only as good as your staff,” Plasencia says. “To be able to come into an association and have a successful staff in place is a huge benefit to anyone who is taking over an organization. I think members should know the FVMA has an awesome staff.”
He says he intends to operate the FVMA by working closely with its staff and placing an emphasis on the wellness of those the association serves.
“Even when I was in elementary school, middle school—I always just wanted to help people. No matter what your occupation is, you can have a profound impact on someone’s life,” Plasencia says.
When he is not working, Plasencia enjoys spending time with his wife, daughters and rescued dogs. From pulling over a van of kids on the way to soccer practice to save a stray, to adopting a college friend’s dalmatian not allowed to live in the original owner’s dorm, Plasencia’s dedication to animals mirrors the same philosophies he applies with people.
His intense dedication to animal care, which is central to veterinary professionals, serves to further drive the FVMA’s mission of advancing the veterinary medical profession, promoting animal health and well-being and protecting public health.
“My life would have been different had it not been for dedicated veterinarians who sincerely cared about myself and my dogs,” Plasencia says. “I see the FVMA as an extension of whatever role we can play in supporting the practice of veterinary medicine and the veterinary professionals who make it possible for us to spend the most amount of time with the four-legged family members we love.”