As my externship with the AVMA GRD comes to a close, I have reflected on all that I have learned in this short month. Here are 2 key points. I definitely started off this externship looking for advice and answers on what my next steps should be upon graduation since the non-clinical opportunities within veterinary medicine always intrigued me but remained a nebulous option.
While this time helped solidify my general plan for immediately post-graduation (though things can always change…check back with me in a month), a resounding theme is that there is no single right path. Everyone we talked to has had a wide range of pathways and backgrounds that led them to their current position. Some practiced for years, some for a year or so and some not at all. They come from small animal, lab animal, equine, large animal and public health expertise. A lot have pursued advanced degrees such as MPH and PhDs, while many have not. Some found themselves in DC at the beginning of their veterinary career, some in the middle of veterinary career and some at the end. I am still astounded at the places we found veterinarians working. There are veterinarians working on the Hill as staffers to Senators and Congressman. Some working in academia, some for defense contractors, some run their own consulting companies. Veterinarians are in a wide range of federal agencies: Department of Homeland Security, FDA, USDA APHIS, NIH, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency etc. By staying open and jumping on opportunities throughout their careers, they all one way or the other found themselves in various positions that they had not imagined at the outset of their career.
My time here also accentuated the importance of networking and reaching out to people in your field of interest. You will never know who has a new insight, a unique opportunity or another person for you to talk to. As we wound our way through the numerous veterinarians, they often mentioned additional people to talk to . . . and so our network continued to grow. I also realized how many opportunities are available for veterinary students that I was oblivious to such as the Saul T. Wilson scholarship, Volunteer Scholars Programs at Department of Homeland Security and various NIH opportunities (beyond the Merial-NIH one that we hear a lot about at our school). There is also additional training and fellowships beyond graduation that I probably would not know of otherwise except visiting with the individual agencies. Everyone we talked to was very busy, but all took the time to sit down with us and share their stories, answered our numerous questions and offered advice and recommendations. With agencies, we initially contacted one person in an agency to set up a time to meet. At each place, our initial contact rounded up a group of their veterinary work colleagues for us to meet so that we did full day visits and tours that allowed us to gain a range of perspectives on each agency.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in D.C. with the AVMA GRD. I hope to find myself back in this great city soon enough and am excited for where my veterinary career will take me. I am bracing myself for the culture shock of returning to clinical rotations next week but with a new appreciation of how our veterinary training equips us with a broad toolset to help contribute in solving many of society’s most complex problems.
Believe it or not today is our last day at the AVMA GRD! Our time here has been nothing short of exciting, and the past 10-14 days have been no exception.
Before I sign off the blog, I thought I’d leave you with a few of the resources/opportunities that I have learned about along the way. I hope that they will come in handy to you!
Good luck on your own paths, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!
Veterinary Externships/Scholarship Opportunities
- Four week externship with the Department of Homeland Security
- USDA-APHIS gives scholarship money and training in exchange for a position as a Veterinary Medical Officer (VMO) after graduation.
- (current application cycle is closed)
- must be a 1st or 2nd year student to apply
- The US Army will pay for your tuition in exchange for 3 years of service.
- 1 week program hosted by the USDA to introduce students to foreign animal diseases and their impact on US agriculture.
- Must be a 2nd year student to apply
- 1 student is selected from every veterinary school
- 6-8 week rotation for 4th year veterinary students
Post-Graduate Fellowship Opportunities
- 1 year fellowship where you work as a Legislative Assistant in either the House or Senate
- 1-2 year Fellowship placement in either an Executive agency (FDA, EPA, USDA, DHS, DoD, etc.) or in a Congressional Office
- Must currently have a DVM/VMD to apply (cannot apply as a 4th year student)
- 2 year commitment to CDC
- Must have an MPH or equivalent degree
- 2 year epidemiology training fellowship
- Placed at the State/Local level
- Does not require an MPH
- A broad range of available research fellowships
- 3 month health policy fellowship
- 2 year appointment in a federal agency with a focus on leadership skill development
- PMF – STEM track also available
Job Searching Resources
- Your application site for all Federal positions
- 701 series – Veterinary Medical Officers
- 601 series – Health Science positions
- Search in other series as well! (Epidemiologist, Scientist, Biologist, etc)
- Local government job listings
- Specifically requires a DVM/VMD or an MPH
- Calls for veterinary enrollment every few years. Allows you to work for a designated federal agency as a Commissioned Corps Officer.
- You can join the Corps as a veterinarian on active duty or in the reserves. Army veterinarians do everything from auditing food suppliers to caring for military working dogs and everything in between.
- Student membership is free and they will send you a monthly newsletter with information about the field.
- Student membership is free – they have great resources for job searching and there is a scholarship available for their annual conference.
My friend was in town this past weekend so we went on a tour . . . of monumental proportions. We started off the day with a delicious if not the healthiest brunch. Case in point, we ordered biscuits as an appetizer. We then hopped on bikes (there are stations all throughout the city) and cruised down to the monuments. Traffic in DC is pretty horrendous, and so biking, walking or metroing is often the faster and easier choice. The National Park Service, the in-house experts, offers free walking tours of the monuments where they stuff your head with tons of fun facts on the monuments, their symbolism and a solid dose of good ol’ American history. The guides’ excitement and knowledge of the monuments are infectious and the tours fly by as you notice and learn about things that other people stroll right past. Even though the monuments were bustling, we essentially ended with semi-private tours of all the monuments which allowed me to pepper our guides with all sorts of questions. Regardless of the question, nothing stumped them!
Our first two-hour walking tour was the monuments around the Reflecting Pool: the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and National World War II Memorial. Learning that I was a veterinary student, our guide pointed out the animals in all of the monuments as we went along. There are three dogs honored in three different memorials: the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National WWII Memorial and the FDR Memorial (which we saw on the next tour). I, of course, took pictures of all three. After a solid two-hour tour, we hoofed it over the MLK Jr. Memorial to embark on our second two-hour walking tour of the Memorials of the Tidal Basin: MLK Jr. Memorial, FDR Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Dog in the World War II Memorial
We wrapped up the day with dinner in Old Town Alexandria with some other friends. Alexandria is a picturesque and very historic town a short metro ride away from downtown DC. We grabbed some drinks on the water before sitting down for tapas since it was just warm enough to eat outside and enjoy the night air. We wisely opted for the tasting menu at the tapas place for dinner to prevent the delicate negotiation process that is often required when ordering tapas in a large group. With our fill of delicious Spanish foods, sangria and friendly political discussion, we closed out the night at a local bar for a drink. With two heated presidential primaries underway, there is an endless supply of conversation topics for those not of faint political heart. Tired from our strenuous day of touristing, we merrily and wearily rolled into bed to rest our tired feet and full stomachs.
I can’t believe how quickly the time is passing here in DC! They say that the government moves slow, but that is not true of the AVMA Externs! Last week, Katie and I did the following:
- Met with 5 Congressional offices to discuss HR 3095, The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act and HR 1282, The Horse Transportation Safety Act (These bills were discussed in past blog posts if you want to know more)
- Met with 9 federal veterinarians who were kind enough to share their years of wisdom
- Went to a PAC event for Rep. Frank Lucas at the Republican National Committee office
- Attended a House Subcommittee Markup on agricultural appropriations
- Attended a reception for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and
- Joined the One Health Academy for a dinner discussion on the Zika virus outbreak
While my feet were certainly ready for a break by the end of the week, the combination of experiences left me motivated, energized, and most surprisingly, calmer. As an almost fourth-year student, I recently have been having some (okay, a lot of) anxiety over my first step after graduation – a feeling I am sure that many of you can relate to.
Do I need to go into private practice or can I immediately enter the public sector? If I practice, is large or small animal medicine more valuable? Do I need to know which agency I want to work for? Should I pursue an MPH? Wait, what’s the difference between an MPH, a Masters in Epidemiology, and an MPVM, and which should I get? Is there a right answer to any of these questions??? Spoiler alert: no, there isn’t.
So, in honor of my newly discovered clarity, I wanted to share with you some of the big take home messages that I gathered this week.
1. If you have any inkling to practice, do it right out of school.
This is one that I have personally struggled with. I haven’t had much interest in practicing medicine for a while, so I frequently ask veterinarians in the public sector whether or not I need to. The answers I receive are usually a mixed bag. Some say that you shouldn’t force yourself to do something that you don’t have an interest in, and others say that the clinical skill set is important for establishing credibility and solidifying your diagnostic problem solving tools. While this advice may be varied, the one thing that everyone can agree on is that if you have any interest in practicing, you are better off doing it right out of school than you are later on. As a new grad, your clinical knowledge is fresh, and you are poised to take advantage of it and build on it. Even if you do not go back to practicing medicine down the line, your experience is certainly not going to hurt you.
2. Your degree will get you a seat at the table, but check it at the door.
Don’t get me wrong – you have worked HARD for those letters after your name, and you should be proud of them. However, in the federal playing field, your degree does not define you. Your degree qualifies you for positions and helps with your pay grade, but your skill set and leadership qualities are what will establish yourself among your colleagues. This is important especially when trying to navigate the job search. Don’t let the DVM or VMD limit your scope – thinking about what skills you bring to the table opens up your job options.
3. Technical skill is great, but emotional intelligence is key.
I asked the vets that I met what they look for in new hires. By and large, they emphasized the importance of the so-called “soft skills”. These include being able to make an elevator pitch, knowing and speaking to your audience, and having self-awareness. You can always learn on the job how to use a computer program, about how Zika virus is spread, and why the protocol calls for a modified-live instead of a killed vaccine. In contrast, the skills that comprise your emotional intelligence are much harder for an employer to teach, and are much more valuable at the starting gate.
4. Keep your networks live.
As the age-old adage says, it is not always about what you know but about who you know. Being a part of such a tight knit community can be a huge advantage. Remember that whole six-degrees of separation thing? I’m pretty sure that in vet med, we could get down to 2, maaaybe 3 degrees between everyone. This means every person you meet could be a helpful resource for you in the future (and vice versa). That being said, here are a few tips on keeping your networks alive and active:
- Come prepared with questions: you will have a much better discussion if you have a few specific topics that you want to touch on.
- Use your social media networks: The digital age makes it super easy to keep in touch with the people you meet. Make a LinkedIn profile, keep it up to date, and be sure to add contacts as you meet them. It is a great way for you to keep track of your connections and will allow them to see what you have been up to since your last meeting.
- Bring enough business cards: You never know when and where you might meet someone that you want to follow up with. Make sure that you have business cards handy, especially in a city like DC, where there is no shortage of interesting people.
- Send follow-up emails: Sending an email thanking someone for their time takes just a second, but is an important gesture in solidifying your relationship. This is also a great place for you to follow up on any discussions you had and to ask any questions you think of. Keep the line of communication open for the future.
5. It’s okay to be excited by many career paths and positions.
As a person who is excited by everything, this has been the hardest one for me to come to terms with. I am so desperately trying to find a set path for me to follow, but I am realizing that there isn’t one, and that’s a good thing! The happiest and most successful veterinarians I have met have been the ones that have allowed their paths to change. Keeping your mind open to the different possibilities not only brings you unexpected opportunities, but it makes you less likely to be disappointed if your original plan did not work out. There are so many incredible ways to make change as a veterinarian. So, embrace your excitement, explore new opportunities, and dare to be different – you never know where your career will take you!
This past Friday wrapped up Week One of my externship with the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. Heading into it, a month seemed liked a long time since most externships are 2 weeks. I was clearly mistaken – it is flying by! I am very lucky to be externing with my good friend, Meghana. We are both third year veterinary students at the University of Pennsylvania. Both of us want to explore the wide world of veterinary medicine including but also beyond clinical practice since there is so much one can do with a veterinary degree. D.C. is definitely the place to do just that!
We started off with a staff meeting, orientation and tour of the office. We sat down with the Assistant Directors and Director to brief us on the top legislative issues for us to concentrate on as we visit various Congressional offices. Our month will be split among meeting with Congressional offices on relevant legislative issues, Congressional hearings, PAC events and meeting the vast array of veterinarians working in and around the federal government. We quickly got to work perusing a list of veterinarians in the area and realized there are far too many to meet with all of them in one month. We picked out our top leads, divvied them up and went to work setting up meetings. Luckily, everyone has been very accommodating and our schedules for the next few weeks have pretty much filled up. I had no idea that there are so many vets working for the various agencies throughout the federal government.
We also attended two Senate hearings. One was about the USDA Rural Development Programs and their economic impacts. This hearing was very pertinent since a lot of our profession is small businesses in rural areas all throughout this country. The next day we went to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for an update on the West Africa Ebola Epidemic. This proved to be particularly interesting since just that morning it was reported that funding may be re-allocated from the Ebola outbreak response to the Zika outbreak response. Based on the hearing, there is still a lot of work to be done on the Ebola response and to learn from this crisis in order to prevent the next disease outbreak. Partnering with private companies that knew the countries well, getting community health care workers into the very rural and remote areas and the U.S.’s leadership in the international response were all crucial to containing the Ebola epidemic. They mentioned the importance of the animal reservoir in perpetuating this disease outbreak– which of course made our One Health ears perk up and hearts sing!
We wrapped up with the week with meeting the lovely AAAS fellows. The AAAS Fellowship is a program that places scientists in various federal agencies throughout the government – including veterinarians each year! We went to lunch with some AAAS fellows who work on the Hill in various officers advising on a range of topics. They come from all scientific backgrounds and paths to where they are today. We of course picked the brain of the two veterinarian fellows. They imparted some great advice and perspectives as Meghana and I are increasingly thinking about next steps for when we graduate. In between the meetings, we even got a quick tour of the Capitol and rode the underground train that connects the House side and Senate sides of the Hill.
Overall, a great first week and this second week is already full steam ahead.
Well, it has taken me awhile to get my first blog post done, but to be fair it has been a busy first week here at the GRD! Before I update you on our exciting adventures in Washington, D.C., let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I am a third year student at Penn Vet in Philadelphia, and I entered first year knowing that I, personally had little to no interest in clinical practice and was starting to become intrigued by this “new” thing called One Health. I started learning about food animal medicine for the first time (who knew a girl from the suburbs could love cows so much!), and then my world really changed when I became a SAVMA Delegate. I was fortunate enough to learn about organized vet med, the importance of advocacy, and the amazing things that veterinarians were accomplishing in government agencies and programs. Without going into too much detail, I got hooked, and I haven’t really looked back so much as I took off running towards my interests in all things “non-traditional” (I am not a fan of this term, by the way).
Fast forward a few years, and I am finally in D.C. getting to participate in the AVMA Government Relations Division externship. My goal for my time here is really quite simple: to immerse myself in the public sector as much as I possibly can in order to figure out where I might be a good fit in the future. My good friend/classmate/co-extern, Katie and I have already sat in on several Senate Committee hearings, spoken to Hill staffers about issues important to vet students (more on that later this week), picked the brains of the wonderful AVMA Congressional Fellows, and walked through a number of DC’s amazing museums and monuments. All of these experiences are helping me to narrow down/reconcile my interests in food security, aquatics, public health, and policy into a career path that I can pursue after graduation. There is such a wealth of knowledge in this city and its people – I am really looking forward to everything I see, do, and learn this month.
Until next time!
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.