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!
Washington was abuzz last week with the arrival of Pope Francis. In anticipation of the 50,000+ visitors expected in the city for the papal festivities, many DC employees teleworked mid-week from the comfort of their homes and pajamas. Heather and I, however, decided to brave the crowds. We secured tickets to watch the Pope’s address to Congress from the Capitol, compliments of my fantastic Congresswoman (thank you, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman!)
We found ourselves among hundreds of people from across the nation on the Capitol West Lawn on Thursday morning. It was powerful to hear the crowd applaud in unison when the Pope discussed issues like the importance of diversity, protection of immigrant/Native rights, and conservation of natural resources. After speaking to Congress, Pope Francis even appeared outside the Capitol to address his lawn audience in person! It was a historic moment and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The remainder of the week included meeting veterinarians from several different federal agencies, as well as a morning of back-to-back Hill visits with Representatives from CA, NJ, and MI, advocating for the VMLRP Enhancement Act. One of our most exciting visits on the Hill, however, was with Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR,) a veterinarian currently serving in Congress. Congressman Schrader is a co-chair of the Veterinary Medicine Caucus, which provides a forum to keep members of Congress informed about issues relevant to veterinary medicine.
While researching the Veterinary Medicine Caucus, I was happy to see that the group has active representation from both parties; it’s in fact co-chaired by a Democrat (Rep. Schrader) and a Republican (Rep. Yoho,) both DVMs! When I asked Congressman Schrader about his experience working with colleagues “across the aisle,” he explained that his background as a veterinarian has had a large impact on his ability to collaborate effectively. As a former small animal/equine practitioner, he often put himself in his clients’ shoes to communicate health concerns and treatment plans, and these skills have translated to bipartisan communication in Congress as well. Just another example of how the veterinary skillset is so widely applicable!
There’s a common theme in these two stories: I was inspired by both the Pope and Congressman Schrader in their dedication to advocate for change beyond party lines. Bipartisan partnership is important to the work of the AVMA GRD, as many of the bills we’ve been pursuing need cosponsors from both sides to move forward. As Congress deals with unexpected leadership changes and the end of the fiscal year, here’s to hoping for effective collaboration!
Fortunately, there is plenty of great farming and food production happening across the United States, and while the White House doesn’t keep farm animals on the South Lawn anymore, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does keep the President and the executive staff in-the-know on food and farming related issues. We had the opportunity to visit and spend a day learning about the many roles veterinarians serve within the department. Here are some of the things we learned:
#1 – The USDA is part of the Executive Branch.
In contrast with my previous post about the Legislative Branch, agencies, like the USDA are in the Executive Branch. The President of the United States heads up the Executive Branch and is advised by The Cabinet, which includes the vice president and the heads of 15 executive agencies.
#2 – The USDA is the largest federal employer of veterinarians in the United States.
Most veterinarians working for the federal government are employed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), with the next largest group by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Federal veterinarians work in other departments within the USDA as well as other federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
#3 - The USDA logo depicts what they represent.
The USDA logo is a graphic representation of the land – the foundation of all agriculture. The symbol’s colors, dark green and blue, represent the essential elements of earth, air, and water.
#4 – The APHIS “shield” logo reflects their mission to protect and promote.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s mission is to protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, thus the variation in the logo, the same rolling fields with a modified “shield” shape.
#5 – The Deputy Administrator of Veterinary Services is the US delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
The OIE is based in Paris and is the standard setting body for international trade in animals. APHIS is divided into multiple program areas, but the one most veterinary students (at least those of us with a One Health interest) are familiar with is Veterinary Services. That program area is further divided (stay with me!) into 4 units:
- Surveillance, Preparedness and Response (SPRS)
- National Import Export Services (NIES)
- Science, Technology and Analysis (STAS)
- Program Support Services (PSS)
We spent most of our visit meeting with veterinarians within those units. Dr. Gary Egrie, a Farm Animal Welfare Coordinator with APHIS, set up a wonderful day for us that allowed us to meet a variety of people, a bit like speed-dating. We also sat in on an informational session about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and the recent outbreak. On our way back to the metro we had the opportunity to meet Dr. Matt Doyle, a Veterinary Medical Officer with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We made a brief stop back on Capitol Hill to pick up tickets to see the Pope from the west lawn of the capitol; Radhika was fortunate to receive tickets through a lottery system from her Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. It just so happen that the Congresswoman was in the office when we stopped in so we got to meet her in person and thank her for the opportunity to see the Pope!
Tomorrow is the big day, we’re excited for this once in a life time opportunity, but a little concerned about travelling around tomorrow, wish us luck!
Heather and I are winding up a busy week as we hit the halfway point for our externships today. The last few days have been full of meetings, receptions, and more meetings!
On Wednesday morning, I headed over to the Center for Global Development for a seminar on international development priorities in Sub-Saharan Africa. The audience was filled with a variety of backgrounds, from policy experts to medical professionals: truly a One Health event!
Afterwards, Heather and I headed to the Hill for a meet-and-greet with powerhouse Senator Barbara Boxer of California (see Heather’s previous post for why we need more strong female leaders like her!) After saying our hellos, we rented a zipcar and raced over to Annapolis for the Mid-Atlantic Zoonotic and Vector Borne Disease Inter-Agency Workgroup (MAZV.) We had the chance to meet the State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Katherine Feldman, who presented recent data on rabies and lyme disease in Maryland.
From there it was back to DC to a reception for Congressman David Valadao, also from California. We chatted with him about his dairy farm (he’s still a dairy farmer while serving in Congress!) and his support for the veterinary profession. From there, we walked over to the Senate for the Reception for Medical Research, where we had the privilege of listening to speeches from health advocates like Dr. Francis Collins (Director of the NIH) and Senators Dick Durbin, Jerry Moran, and Amy Klobuchar. A busy day to say the least!
Thursday saw us spending a full day with the Department of Homeland Security, whose veterinarians work on important issues like biodefense research and emergency preparedness. We even got to travel with our host, Dr. Marvin Meinders, to the FEMA Headquarters for a meeting on animal disaster response! Afterwards, we hopped on the metro again and headed to a reception for Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont, to again thank him for his support of our profession.
And finally Friday included breakfast with the National Pork Producers Council and catching up on our plans for the coming week! It’s been a busy few days, but in the best possible way: packed with amazing opportunities for learning, networking, and advocating for veterinary medicine.
Of course, we’ve made time to enjoy the wonderful city of DC in our free time as well! The highlight of my week included walking around the National Mall and its monuments at night – in my opinion, the most beautiful way to see them.
We’re off to a busy start this week, and in honor of our first solo hill visit I thought I’d talk about one of our goals for the externship – to meet with the Senators and Representatives from our home states.
I know it’s been a while, so if you don’t remember the 3 branches of government, or you enjoy a superfluous musical number, here’s a refresher!
The Legislative branch is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
So there are 535 total members of Congress. Not-So-Fun Fact: only 104 of those are women. Which works well because only 20% of the population of the US is female, oh wait…
The great thing about this system is that all 535 members are elected, so, yes, your vote does matter! If you’re not sure who represents you, here’s a handy tool to help you find out.
Yesterday, Radhika and I met with a staffer from Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office. Senator Stabenow, along with Senator Gary Peters, represent the state of Michigan in the Senate. Senator Stabenow has been very supportive of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Enhancement Act and we discussed the Higher Education Act as it applies to veterinarians.
We also had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Eric Deeble, a veterinarian (and former AVMA extern!) working for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. It is great to meet veterinarians using their education to make effect change in the world of policy. He shared his thoughts with us on how a diagnostic-approach to problem solving makes veterinarians effective staffers.
Lots of incredible veterinarians in DC to meet this week, stay tuned!
At the end of last week, Heather and I had the opportunity to grab coffee with two amazing veterinarians: Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou and Dr. Karen Alroy. Dr. Alroy graduated from veterinary school a few years ago and Dr. Pappaioanou’s veterinary career has spanned several decades, but both had valuable insights to offer on charting non-traditional courses with veterinary degrees. I thought I’d share some of their advice here for other aspiring movers and shakers.
Dr. Pappaioanou currently serves as the CDC liaison to the FDA for Food Safety, working to ensure effective communication between the two agencies. She has previously worked for multiple different organizations (CDC headquarters, AAVMC, and others) and interestingly has worked on a lot of diseases that aren’t zoonotic, like malaria and HIV. Here’s some of what she had to share:
- Don’t rule out jobs because they don’t have “veterinarian” in the title. Dr. Pappaioanou told us that few of the positions she’s filled have been specifically targeted to DVMs. With a little additional training, a veterinarian who is able discuss herd vaccination strategies and breeding management with dairymen can also use those same skills to impact issues like polio immunization and family planning. If you’re interested in a job, sell your veterinary skill set and its wide range of applications.
- Don’t become stagnant! The most innovative contributions come from people who are passionate about their work, so if you find yourself seeking a new challenge, it’s ok to branch out to find a project that you’re excited about. Dr. Pappaioanou has been able to transition between many different roles throughout the course of her career – it can be done!
Dr. Alroy works for the National Science Foundation (NSF,) having just finished up a AAAS fellowship in the NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity Program. Here is the key lesson I took from our conversation:
- Take advantage of new opportunities. We chatted about Dr. Alroy’s broad range of experiences, from field work in Peru to a small animal emergency internship to policy to wildlife rehab, and how they’ve all uniquely prepared her for the type of One Health work she’s interested in doing in the future. Similar to Dr. Pappaianou’s advice, take the opportunity to branch out of your comfort zone and find new interests.
All in all, the takeaway message for me from both meetings was that veterinarians can find endless ways to make an impact on the world around us; it just takes a little creativity, risk-taking, and perseverance to carve the path forward. Heather and I are excited to keep meeting new mentors and expanding our horizons this week!
I’m thrilled to be back in Washington, D.C. and looking forward to the next 4 weeks with the AVMA! As a frequent visitor to the city, I get by fairly well without my car, although having grown up near the Motor City I do miss it! Even with the help of the Metro, Google Maps, and Uber I still get lost sometimes.
Yesterday, I spent some time studying the map so I would feel more comfortable venturing out on foot. Turns out DC is built on a quadrant system: Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest, with the US Capitol Building at the center. East/West streets are named alphabetically; North/South streets are named numerically.
In theory, navigation should be straight-forward, but last night I got turned around trying to walk from one quadrant to another. First Street SW and First Street SE stumped me, so I did what any self-respecting city navigator would do: Called an Uber. To complicate the system, there are also traffic circles connected by diagonal streets named for other states. For example, Dupont Circle is near the AVMA office and is where Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire Avenues intersect. These streets more or less divide the city into neighborhoods.
Thanks to veterinary school, looking at this map makes me think of the structure of the liver, specifically the liver acinus model we learned in histology.
Conveniently, getting to Capitol Hill from Dupont Circle is pretty straightforward. Radhika and I followed Dr. Ashley Morgan and Dr. Elise Ackley of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division to two meetings in the Senate offices. The AVMA GRD focuses on issues that influence animal and human health by advocating for veterinarians. The two topics discussed were the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which the AVMA supports, and the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which the AVMA opposes. I think veterinary school actually prepares you well for working in DC. In the clinic, a patient comes in with a disease that you quickly need to learn everything about and then explain your findings to the owner. On the hill, a bill is introduced, you learn everything you can about the topic, and then explain your position to legislative staff. I am looking forward to discussing these and other issues with the legislative staff from my home state in the weeks to come. Next up our first meetings with federal veterinarians!