This week, I spent the majority of my time on the Hill lobbying for the AVMA’s key issues. As externs, we are requested to meet with our state members, which in my case includes 2 senators and 3 representatives from West Virginia.
In preparation for the meetings I:
- Met with the assistant directors to discuss their portfolios;
- Read up on the issues that have been ranked as ‘active pursuit’ (defeat or passage);
- Prepared my materials for the meetings (handouts, key points, additional reading material, etc.);
- Identified who I should direct my issues to in the office. [Most of the time, you will not be meeting with the elected official, but you will be meeting with their legislative assistant. The legislative assistants divide the issues into different areas because there is no way that one person could handle the hundreds of issues that are brought to the legislator’s attention. I targeted LAs in education, agriculture and animal welfare.]
The bills that I discussed are below.
- S. 1121, The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act: This bill amends the Horse Protection Act to designate additional unlawful acts with regard to the practice of soring horses.
- S. 1200, Fairness to Pet Owners Act: This legislation states that veterinarians would be required to provide pet owners with a copy of their pet’s prescription, whether or not requested and prior to offering to fill or dispense the medication.
- S. 440, Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act: This legislation provides loan repayment to veterinarians who agree to practice in shortage situations across the country as designated by the USDA. This legislation would make the VMLRP loan repayment awards exempt from a federal withholding tax. Current awards are subjected to a 39% withholding tax.
- H.R. 1152, Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act: The bill would amend the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic Act to preserve the effectiveness of medically important antimicrobials used in the treatment of human and animal diseases. The AVMA would like to see this bill defeated because the judicious and responsible use of antimicrobials by veterinarians in food animals keeps them healthy, and healthy animals mean healthy food products for humans.
- H.R. 1285, The Elimination the Hidden Student Loan Tax Act: This legislation would end the practice of charging orientation fees on all Direct Loans for undergraduate students, graduate students and parents with a proposed implementation date of July 1, 2015.
- H.R. 649, The Student Loan Refinancing Act: The legislation would remove the current restriction on refinancing and allow anyone with a subsidized or unsubsidized federal Stafford loan or a federal direct PLUS loan, to refinance their student loans whenever borrowing rates are reduced.
As you can see, the issues are diverse but all have a direct effect on the veterinary profession. Lobbying is a fulfilling experience because I felt as though I was making an impact on key issues that would affect my future colleagues.
In honor of the United States Animal Health Association‘s annual meeting beginning this week, I will (hopefully) enlighten readers on topic of professional associations.
The AVMA is an organization that represents over 86,000 veterinarians, which is a highly specific membership. However, I have noticed in D.C. that this type of group is the norm – there is an association for every group/organization/member you can imagine. For example, last week I was at an event and met a lobbyist for a Confectioners Association. I inquired about the organizations clientele and was informed that this individual represents candy. I immediately envisioned employees dressed in brightly colored pants, boldly patterned blouses and bowties, and an endless supply of sugar-laced treats during meetings. I think it goes without saying that I asked if they had any openings. [Disclaimer: I was wrong regarding the work environment]
Joking aside, I have taken a particular interest during this internship to meet with the government relations divisions, scientific liaisons and regulatory affairs specialists from the various animal health organizations that are located in and around D.C. I entered into this internship assuming that I knew or have met with the majority of veterinarians working in public and private sector careers in Washington. I was mistaken. There are many more opportunities and professionals out there that I was unaware of when I started.
After my first meeting with an animal health group, I started to compare and contrast my previous experiences. I have worked with various Federal agencies over the past few years, and have become familiar the regulatory process. Federal agencies get their authority to issue regulations from laws enacted by Congress. Then, they follow a series of steps before a new rule is set in place (i.e. public comment, further research, etc.) There is a set process in rulemaking, and in most cases, it’s a long and arduous process.
The private sector doesn’t operate in the same manner as the public sector. Private and public sector groups may have similar missions and work together on certain issues, but they accomplish objectives differently. For example, private associations can draft policy and take stances on issues but they are not a regulatory body. Meaning, they don’t have rule-making authority, but they can offer guidance. In many cases the guidelines are followed closely by an association’s membership. For instance, the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals.
Another major difference between the two groups is that Federal government employees are not allowed to lobby for legislation. Conversely, lobbying Congress on bills that are important to their specific membership is a vital role of an association. This becomes important because private groups have the ability to influence members of congress to either pass to oppose legislation that can later turn into a law and lead to future regulations.
Finally, with policy there will always be politics, especially in a place like D.C. The organizations and the federal regulators will not always agree on issues. Also, organizations can’t always be supportive of each other, even if they have similar missions, (i.e. protecting animal health) because they first must represent their members and stakeholders. That sounds like an obvious statement, however, the difference in opinion is a major driving factor behind policy making and politics.
This posting may seem like I am going off on a tangent and doesn’t pertain to future or current veterinarians. However, some organizations that I have met with have veterinarians on staff. The responsibilities vary based on the type and scope of organization, but tasks include:
- lobbying congress on legislation;
- conducting research on new legislation that is being proposed by Congress;
- providing consultation on scientific issues.
My advice for future externs is to try to gain experience in an unfamiliar sector in order to compare it to your previous experience. If you’re interested in associations, check out the Animal Agriculture Alliance and take a look at their members.
Veterinarians are highly respected for their expertise in Washington, especially as those in leadership positions take notice of the One Health Approach to medicine and science.
This weekend I took some well needed leisure time (i.e. Netflix, brunch) interspersed with working on my VIRMP application (stressful!). The weekend also included getting some fresh air. One of my developing hobbies at home is kayaking. Luckily, there are a few businesses on the water such as Boating in DC. They offer kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, kayaking lessons, and a variety of tours.
Where I’m from there are only two seasons: hot and lukewarm, with a distinct lack of fall leaf colors. Imagine my surprise at arriving in Virginia in October! Boating in DC even offers a Fall Foliage tour that takes people up the tidal Potomac River from Georgetown.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is how COLD it was. The high was 57 degrees for the weekend, with the water temperature similar. I layered up as best I could and set off with my best Disney Pocahontas impression.
Despite the temperature, it was a beautiful day. We traveled about 2.5 miles upstream from Key Bridge (name after Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner) to Fletcher’s Cove. On the way back downstream, you could see the Washington Monument towering above the trees. The occasional waterfall was hidden amongst the trees and rocky outcroppings on the west side.My message to you, future externs: Go outside! Yes, DC is a bustling city you can brunch in to your heart’s desire. You can network yourself at festive PAC events (a future post). But don’t forget to explore the great outdoors while you’re here.
You read that correctly. The FAO and the United Nations have declared 2016 as “The International Year of the Pulses“, which aims to raise public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition. Pulses are annual leguminous crops. The term ‘pulse’ is limited to crops that harvested solely for dry grain (i.e. lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas) and are rich in protein, minerals, vitamins and dietary fiber.
Why am I talking to you about legumes and pulses? Because it illustrates the diverse topics that are discussed on the Hill and how those who are interested can use their scientific/veterinary expertise to get involved. Sarah and I (along with many young, house staffers) attended a seminar hosted by the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (C-FAR) at the Longworth House Office Building (see pic below).
The seminar was entitled ‘Can Staple Food Crops Reduce the Incidence of Chronic Disease in Humans’ and was presented by Dr. Mark Brick, a plant breeder and geneticist from CSU. His research has shown that human consumption of pulse crops (beans) can reduce the risk of cancer (colon and mammary), type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The message of the lecture was that agriculture needs to become an instrument of public health to save lives through dietary intervention. He feels that one way to accomplish this is through genetically selecting beans for nutritional properties.
Again, the reason that I bring this up is because the C-FAR meeting is an example of a gathering that brings together individuals involved in agriculture, policy, conservation, health, science (etc. etc.) to discuss relevant topics. Veterinarians should to be involved in these discussions. The goal with my posts is to show readers the scope of what is out there and how easy it is to become involved if that is what you want to do.
If any of this interests you, you want to become involved with policy, or you want to explore different options then continue reading…
Policy and Government Opportunities post-graduation:
- The AAAS Fellowship Program which provides opportunities to learn first-hand about policymaking while contributing their knowledge and analytical skills in the federal policy realm. This fellowship is a very common starting point for young health professionals in D.C.
- The AVMA Fellowship Program (in conjunction with the AAAS Fellowship): Fellows serve for one year in D.C. as scientific advisors to members of Congress, and play pivotal roles in shaping and influencing key legislation ($79,000 salary!).
- The Epidemic Intelligence Service offered through the CDC supports over 100 public health investigations each year in the U.S. and worldwide. Health professionals learn to apply epidemiology to solve public health problems through a 2-year, on-the-job training and service fellowship. This is more public health-related, but I know many professionals in policy careers that got their start via EIS.
- The United States Public Health Service: Officers work on the front lines of public health – fighting disease, conducting research, and caring for patients in underserved communities and serve in 15 careers in a wide range of specialties within Federal agencies. The tricky aspect regarding the USPHS is that you must find a job FIRST, and then apply. Nonetheless, it’s a good option if uniformed service interests you.
- The FDA’s Commissioner’s Fellowship Program: Fellows combine rigorous graduate-level coursework with the development of a regulatory science research project and explore specific aspects of FDA regulatory science.
- The NIH has a few different fellowships available; however, a fellowship related to policy is offered by the Department of Bioethics where fellows have the opportunity to learn many aspects of bioethics. Fellows participate in the activities and the intellectual life of the department, and study ethical issues related to conduct of research, clinical practice, genetics, and health policy.
Being active in social media and professional groups centered on health and the veterinary profession is another way to stay up-to-date on positions that are available or different areas to explore. You don’t necessarily have to join FaceBook if that isn’t your thing, but I highly suggest creating a Linkedin Account. There, you can post your work experience, join and follow groups of professional interest, and network with individuals in your field (or desired field). A few groups that I follow: Am Assoc of Public Health Vets, Am Public Health Association, One Health Initiative, Uncommon Veterinarians, and the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. Individuals are posting job opportunities every week.
There is so much out there, and I am sure that I missed some, but keep your eyes (and mind) open to new possibilities!
Did you know that you can sit in on court hearings for the Supreme Court of the United States? Of the 10,000 or so petitions filed every year with the court, only 100 are granted official review by the Justices. Termed oral arguments, they are an opportunity for the attorneys of each side of a case to make a presentation to the Court and answer questions posed by the Justices. Read more about oral arguments here.
By good fortune, I had availability in my schedule for Tuesday, October 13th to attempt entry into an oral argument. The cases? Montgomery v. Louisiana and Hurst v. Florida. Both involved the legality of prison sentences, including sentencing of juveniles to life without parole and the death penalty, respectively.
Visitors have the option of attending a full case (60 minutes) or a 3-5 minute window of the oral argument. Those interested in attending an oral argument line up on the front plaza to the building. Depending on the case, people may camp out days in advance (as with Obergefell vs Hodges) to secure a spot, or pay someone to stand for them. Seating is highly limited, so even an early morning arrival does not guarantee anything. With a decent probability of rain, I arrived at 8:30 for a 10 AM “start” time.
No one appeared phased by the potential rain. The line had cascaded down from the front plaza and was wrapping around the 1st St NE sidewalk past the news cameras. Yikes! I claimed my spot and prepared to wait.
At 10:15, only 15 of 200+ people had been allowed entry to witness the full 60-minute argument. The rest of us continued to wait in line(s), now split into a committed 60-minute group and the 3-5 minute viewing group. After over an hour of waiting in the 60-minute line, I weighed the odds of getting in (slim) and switched to the 3-5 minute. Call me an opportunist, but I was determined to at least see the inside of the building. After 3 1/2 hours of standing in line, I was the last group to gain entry. Success!
SCOTUS is notoriously strict on security. There are two separate checkpoints for scanning you and your bag. At the top of the stairs, you must deposit all items in a locker. No electronics, no sunglasses, no nametags, no reading materials. Only a pen, pad of paper, and your locker key may enter the Courtroom. HELPFUL HINT: make sure you have a quarter with you.
At last, entry into the courtroom! A la Legally Blonde, I half-expected someone to exclaim “There’s like a judge and everything…and jury people!” They quickly shuffled us into the smallest, squeakiest wooden chairs imaginable at the very back of the Courtroom, shielded by large red curtains. Fortunately I had a prime front corner seat that allowed me a better view. I was so busy staring that I didn’t register what the attorney and Justice Sotomayor were saying. In the blink of an eye, we were escorted back out into the Great Hall. My 3 minutes were up.
I retrieved my belongings from the locker and had the opportunity to walk down that huge marble staircase to the front plaza. After four hours of standing and three minutes of excitement, I took the metro back to work.
See more photos of SCOTUS here.
I cannot believe that I am already starting my second week with the GRD. I think that time passes more quickly in D.C. than any other place. As you can imagine with any new experience, the first week was full of introductions, orientations and many (MANY!) meetings. Sarah and I have ventured to the Hill to attend committee and subcommittee meetings on a variety of topics. Topics in the House and Senate range from Volkswagen emissions to invasive species regulations and everything in between. While topics varied, what I have discovered is that the the veterinary medicine education provides us with such a broad medical and scientific background that you could attend most meetings regarding Health, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, or Technology and be able to keep up with the discussion. Now, I am not sure many vets or future vets want to attend these types of committee meetings, nonetheless, you could if you desired.
Onto the topic of networking (and anyone who knows me is aware this is one of my favorites activities). D.C. is the greatest place on Earth for those who enjoy attending events, meeting new people and learning about the thousands of career opportunities that are available to you. So far, my biggest issue with the externship is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to meet with and attend of the events that I want to while I am here. It seems that every day a new and exciting event pops up in my inbox, social media page or during my searches.
To recap a few of my activities, I was able to attend an AVMAPAC luncheon for Senator Moran (R-KS) with another lobbyist from the AVMA GRD. While the majority of those in attendance were not from the veterinary field, his daughter is a veterinary student and he stated that he has a great deal of respect for the profession. This encounter, along with others, has made me realize that the connection to veterinary medicine stretches farther than one might image. Everyone has a story about their personal pet, a friend who is a vet, or simply loves animals. As a profession, we have the potential to create a deep and long-lasting impact on society and how they care for their pets.
I was also able to attend a career transition workshop, presented by my school (VA-MD CVM) on the College Park, MD Campus. Our Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine hosted a two day workshop available to graduate veterinarians in all professional career stages wishing to explore career alternatives and the process of career transition. Topics included career opportunities, career assessment, interviewing, and job searches. The first day was full of distinguished speakers discussing how they transitioned from private practice into their current positions with academia, the government (USDA, DHS, FDA, etc.) or industry (Banfield corporation, Merial, etc.) Veterinarians traveled across the country to attend this event, and registration had to be capped due to interest. I was honored that VMCVM’s CPCVM is instrumental in helping veterinarians pursue their dream career, whatever it may be. For those interested in attending next year’s workshop contact Dr. Valerie Ragan at email@example.com, and she will be happy to notify you when the next workshop will be held.
Aside from attending events of interest and learning about the AVMA GRD legislative agenda, Sarah and I are also setting up meetings with the many vets and non-vets that are working in our areas of focus. Upcoming events on our agenda: tour of the Smithsonian Zoo, visit and tour of NIH facilities, One Health conferences, and much more! Stay tuned…
Yesterday, was my first day with the AVMA Governmental Relations Division (GRD), an externship that I have been anticipating for months! My idea for my first blog post is to provide readers with a brief introduction to the GRD, what the office is tasked with accomplishing and what we are expected to do as externs.
As you can see from the picture, the GRD is housed in a beautiful multi-level painted brownstone. The office is located steps from the Redline train in Dupont Circle. I cannot over emphasize how easily one can make it to the office, which in D.C., is a huge bonus for a hurried commuter.
The staff consists of one director, Dr. Mark Lutschaunig and three assistant directors. Each assistant director is tasked with following different issues affecting the profession (which you can see below). The GRD is also made up of administrative staff and managers for communications, the Political Action Committee, and the programs that AVMA oversees ( i.e. the GRD externship).
|Dr. Elise Ackley
|Dr. Ashley Morgan
It is the responsibility of the AVMA GRD to, “actively promote the AVMA’s federal legislative and regulatory priorities, monitor legislative developments, keep members updated on activities, influence congressional lawmakers and policymakers working for federal agencies and liaisons with strategic partners”. In summary: The AVMA GRD is the profession’s voice on The Hill.
So, what am I and fellow externmate, Sarah Genzer, tasked with over the upcoming weeks? Well, a few of our responsibilities include:
- Understanding key federal issues, agencies and the players responsible for regulations and legislation;
- Following the issues that are important to the AVMA and that are being tracked by the GRD (i.e. H.R. 3268/1121, The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S.1200 Fairness to Pet Owners Act) as they pass through the House and the Senate;
- Attend relevant meetings/panel hearings; and
- Meet with Congressmen/women to discuss the key issues.
While we have certain goals that we are expected to accomplish, we have also been informed that we are to make this experience what we want and envision. For example, network in areas that will be most helpful to your personal career. Judging by the letters that were left in the office from previous externs, students took full advantage of the vast opportunities for veterinary professionals in the D.C. Metro Area.
For any veterinary student interested in policy or simply gaining a better appreciation for the large scope of veterinary medicine, this is the externship for you! Sarah and I will be blogging about our experiences over the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned and ‘Welcome to Washington…’
As is the way with all good things, my time as an AVMA GRD Extern has come to an end. This has been a phenomenal opportunity, I have learned a great deal, and met many fascinating people. At the risk of sounding like a college football pregame show, here’s a summary of my experience by the numbers:
- Veterinarians Met: > 50
- Members of Congress Met: 8
- Issues Lobbied: 5
- Federal Agencies Visited: 4
- Hello Cupcakes Eaten: 4
- Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ!) Visits: 4
- Metro Rides: Many
As a veterinary student in the middle of my clinical rotations, this has been an unusual and highly valuable rotation. I spent much of my time in DC just telling people about veterinary school: how many years, how much debt, the depth and breadth of our education, and the diversity of our skill set. In the same way we learn medicine in a hands-on way, this has been hands-on communications and leadership training. I’ve developed skills I will take with me into practice and use to better serve my clients. If you’re a veterinary student you should apply!
Veterinary students are typically highly motivated and our program is challenging. With our schedule, it can be difficult to add just one more thing. Whether that’s a little time each week to read journal articles, brush up on your second language, or catch a little news. But I would argue that we should do it. Decisions are made every day whether you’re in the room or not. Veterinarians need to be in the room and at the table talking about a near-endless list of issues, from antimicrobial resistance, to the rising cost of higher education, to animal welfare.
One small thing you can do is vote. Monday, October 5, for many states (including Michigan!), is the last day to register to vote in the general election November 3. You don’t have to take my word for it, your vote matters!
So with that, it’s goodbye until next time DC! Thanks for everything!
Tuesday night: The Animal Health Institute (AHI) hosted its annual Celebrity Pet Night on Capitol Hill. AHI represents companies who produce medicines for both pet and production animals, advocating for research and animal health issues. The celebrity guests of honor were Frosty, who plays “Larry” on Modern Family, and Jagger, star of the military working dog movie, “Max.” It was a fun event where Heather and I had the chance to mingle again with many of the DC veterinarians we’ve met with over the last couple weeks.
Wednesday: Keeping with the theme of pharmaceuticals, we attended a joint public meeting hosted by the FDA, USDA, and CDC on On-Farm Antimicrobial Use Data Collection. As you may be aware, FDA has recently been taking action to promote the judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food animals. The strategy is two-part: (1) phasing out the use of medically important antimicrobials for growth promotion and other non-therapeutic purposes and (2) bringing therapeutic use of these antimicrobials under the oversight of licensed veterinarians.
While effective in theory, assessing whether these guidelines having any impact on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in practice requires data collection – hence the purpose of this meeting. The event was attended by government agency representatives, veterinary organizations like AASV (swine practitioners) and AABP (bovine practitioners,) and producer groups, who all offered their opinions on how best to collect timely and comprehensive data moving forward. For anyone interested in public health/agriculture/policy, AMR is an important issue to stay informed about, and it will be interesting to see how these ideas are implemented moving forward.
Thursday: Heather and I visited the Defense Health Headquarters in northern Virginia. Our host, Dr. Kristina McElroy, who is a Veterinary Public Health Officer and Army reservist, set up meetings with 7 different Army veterinarians who told us about their current positions and paths to the Army. Not only did I learn about the complexities of caring for military working dogs, but I was also surprised to learn about how Army veterinarians are also involved in international policy negotiation, food protection, and laboratory capacity building.
Other highlights of the last week: We met a veterinarian who previously worked for the World Bank, got a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Zoo’s veterinary hospital, and tuned in to a fascinating webinar on “Ebola and the Food System.” Straight through to our last day in DC, it’s been an exciting ride!
For any veterinary students considering applying to this externship: do it! This month has been one of the highlights of my veterinary education and I wouldn’t hesitate a second in recommending it. Until next time, DC!
The AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) convenes to discuss new legislation that impacts animal health and welfare and the veterinary profession. Veterinarians from across the country discuss the issues affecting their clients and patients, and help determine the AVMA’s legislative agenda. The veterinarians I met at the LAC were of diverse backgrounds and practice styles. They were an intense
and enthusiastic group, and were really at their best when they disagreed, championing the issues that mattered most to them.
As part of their visit to DC, LAC members met with their congressional offices to advocate for the veterinary profession. The veterinarians from Michigan and California received some unexpected but hopefully not unwelcome company from Radhika and me.
One message we have been hearing from veterinarians on this externship is that the diagnostic process we use every day is a valuable tool for evaluating policy – we’re problem solvers! That is why it is so important to get involved in the political process, especially on the issues that matter most to you. Here are a few tips for staying involved:
Your complete source for federal legislative information. Congress works in two-year sessions tied to the elections. Each session is actually called a Congress and begins in the January of the year following an election. We are currently in the 114th Congress which began on Jan 6, 2015. On this site you can search for House and Senate bills, follow Floor proceedings, and track committee activities.
Nonpartisan Voter Information
These sites offer information about candidates running for public office.
As scientists, we’re used to relying on peer-reviewed articles in reputable journals for our information. For debate on policy issues, a reputable news site is a great way to hear what candidates and stake-holders are discussing. While much has been said about which sources to trust, as long as you’re reading multiple sources you should be well informed. A feed-reader or Google Alerts is a great way to filter content.
Biased but Useful
Additionally, going straight to the horse’s mouth and looking up a Congressperson’s or Candidate’s website can be very helpful. Obviously they’ll be self-promoting, but they frequently list their positions on a variety of topics and quickly let you know if you’re compatible. Also check out advocacy groups (like the AVMA!) for their take on the issues, following organizations you’re interested in on Facebook or Twitter is a quick way to stay updated.
A personal plea, especially to my classmates, remember that you are a scientist and that is always useful. If you can pass a pharmacology final you can interpret a guidance document, I promise! My profession is my passion and I know it’s yours too! The information is out there, read about what interests you, and get involved!