View of the capitol at night on my last night in DC
This past month has been a time of my life I will never forget. From visiting with Congressman Yoho, to sitting in the room during the Senate Farm Bill mark-up, to meeting with countless inspirational veterinarian’s… I have loved every minute of it! I learned so much and made some great friends along the way.
The AVMA-GRD externship is one that I wish every veterinary student could experience. All too often we graduate with surgery tables strapped to our backs. However, we forget that we are one of the luckiest professions in the world…you can do SO MUCH with a DVM. My experience in DC has opened an entire new world to me and I will forever be grateful for my experience this past month.
I spent my last evening in DC Friday night walking “the mall” and enjoying the beautiful sites. I was so sad to leave, but I am excited to share my experience with classmates and family. As I said in one of my earlier posts, in DC I have never felt so surrounded by people who were striving to make a difference in the world.
So as the lights went down on the city Friday night, I sadly said goodbye. Albeit temporary…I know I will be back to my DC someday!
The Lincoln memorial
The other day as I was waiting (for what seemed like forever) for the red line metro to arrive…I had an epiphany. I was standing there, people watching. There was an older woman standing next to me with a cart full of groceries waiting for the metro just like I was. Now I don’t know her exact story…but I really started to think. Many people grow up in the city. They have their own carts to fill with groceries. A multiple story grocery store isn’t an unusual thing to them. They never drive, taking the metro everywhere they go. They have a wide variety of entertainment and resources available to them on a daily basis. While these might seem like minuscule things, I realized that this woman has probably led a life that is extremely different to the way that I have grown up.
I grew up in a small town where our form of entertainment was going to the local WalMart and wandering around. The clearance aisle was the “hot spot.” I grew up where 30 miles means a 30 minute drive (not an hour metro ride). I grew up with 98% percent of my high school class (of only about 150 students) being Caucasian.
What hit me in that moment is that as Americans, we are an insanely diverse population. We are immigrants and natives, we are big city and small town, we are of a variety of religions, backgrounds, and cultures – but we are Americans.
This may seem obvious to some…but there is a reason I felt this was so important to talk about. We are all guilty of blaming what’s going on in Washington for why things are so hard in today’s times. What I realized is that elected officials have one of the most difficult jobs you could imagine – representing such a diverse America.
This externship has given me such priceless experience in that I was finally able to experience “the city”. It has helped me fully realize that we all come from extremely different backgrounds. These people in DC are trying to create that voice for Americans…and no wonder it is hardly ever unified! The one thing that unifies us is that we are so diverse. No matter how much we may fight each other sometimes, our diversity really makes me proud to be an American.
George Washington’s wheat mill at Mount Vernon
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Kathy Simmons, the chief veterinarian for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA). It is very rare to find a woman veterinarian who has been in the industry for as long as she has been. I look up to her courage in “boldly going where few women had gone before.”
One particular subject that we discussed may be old news to some…but I found it very interesting and decided that it would be nice to shine some more light on the issue.
There are fewer cattle in the United States now than there were in 1950.
As a soon-to-be veterinarian…this is quite alarming.
This brings me to one particular subject that Dr. Simmons and I discussed – the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) waiver that was submitted and denied last fall.
Here is a little background:
The RFS required U.S. ethanol production of 13.2 billion gallons in 2012, which utilized approximately 4.7 billion bushels of corn. In 2013, the RFS mandates that ethanol production increases to 13.9 billion gallons, which will use an estimated 4.9 billion bushels of corn. The RFS program was originally created as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Currently ethanol makes up about 10% of the U.S. fuel supply, with just over 13 billion gallons of ethanol per year being produced in the U.S.
Early in the summer of 2012, governors of nine states, along with 26 U.S. Senators and 156 U.S. House members, officially petitioned EPA to grant the RFS waiver. The main purpose being to feed America’s livestock during one of the worst droughts in America’s most recent history. In addition, the request for a RFS waiver was supported by a majority of livestock and poultry organizations across the U.S., including the NCBA. The NCBA estimated that the 2012 drought, and the resulting low profitability, would lead to liquidation of 500,000 beef cows and 50,000 dairy cows by 2013…which can very well be seen in today’s numbers.
In November of 2012, the EPA announced that it would be denying the request for the waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
I recently heard someone say that this “public policy” thing that I am doing seems like it would be very boring. That could not be further from the truth! This is a perfect example of how fascinating public policy can be. The RFS waiver put “agriculture against agriculture” or “farmer against farmer.” For really one of the first times in history, the livestock and grain industries disagreed. How crazy is that?
This issue is one of many that has a profound effect on the veterinary industry. As veterinarians we must realize how important it is to become involved. While I may have learned the true cost of biofuel….what I really learned is the value of being involved.
The Digital Age… has brought about a radical change in the way we share information with the world today. From 24 hours news cycles, to instant information on the web, and updates sent to your phone, we are in a constant state of information overload. If you do not know about a certain topic related to politics, you can easily access the information within seconds on the web or change the TV channel to one of the up to the minute news channels to get a better understanding of what is happening. The Digital Age is definitely one of the greatest advances we have made in civilization to date, but as with any advance, flaws are soon to follow.
To many times we are starting to hear people say phrases such as this, “Well, that is not what it said on the internet site I read, so you have no idea what you are talking about.” Another often heard phrase is, “Well, it must be true! This website is at the top of the tops for this type of research”. Do you notice the problem? There seems to be some sort of complacency in society today. We cannot assume that all internet sites are “credible” websites, or reports and commentary on respected news channels are actually the truth. Not a single person can honestly say they have not fallen into this complacency. I know. I have.
If you haven’t figured it out already, this is a very big problem. Why? With so many websites and so much information streaming in from the news, false information is bound to cross the eyes and ears of anyone who is paying attention. This is not to say that mistakes do not happen when reporting information. They do, but there is plenty of information that is presented inaccurately that is never corrected. College students also need to remember that not everything your professors say is always correct! So what can we do?
Maybe we should choose the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson to follow.
“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” -Thomas Jefferson
In this society where there is a relentless amount of information tossed at us, we must question and look up the facts. The only person you can rely on to tell you the truth sometimes is yourself. So, read the articles, look up the information that is being presented from the myriad of sources, look up the sources also so that you become reliably and validly informed. We, ourselves, must become the centers for our understanding of the information presented. Only we can make the final judgments about the situations, the events, and the information that is presented to us. So always remember….” Question with boldness…..”
Pictured is myself and Congressman Ted Yoho, a veterinarian from Florida
It has been a week since I have posted anything and let me tell you…it has been a BUSY week! I have met Congressman Yoho who is a veterinarian representing the state of Florida, as well as the two Illinois Senators, Durbin and Kirk! I have met with Dr. Sarah Lister who is a veterinarian who works with the Congressional Research Service. Yesterday I was honored to spend some time Dr. Timothy Cordes (a fellow Illini!) with the National Veterinary Accreditation Program, as well as two other senior veterinary members of APHIS. That list only names a few of the amazing people I have met this week!
One thing that I have learned from hearing everyone’s stories is that you must “collect the flint” before you can set the world on fire.
What does this mean?? Well, many of the veterinarians I have been honored to meet here in DC have been DVM’s (Or VMD’s for those U Penn grads) for 25+ years. They have been in varieties of private and public practices, gone through internships and residencies to obtain board certifications, and truly have experienced all facets of the veterinary industry.
In exactly one year from this upcoming Sunday I will be graduating from veterinary school and beginning a new chapter in my life. As a new graduate, I know I will be anxious to “set the world on fire” and will want to be on the forefront of changes that occur in our profession. My classmates and I will be graduating at a time when the profession is rapidly changing. Being the sometimes impatient, Type A personality that I am (aren’t we all that way as vet students?), I know that I will want to get to the forefront right away.
However, what I have ultimately learned over this past week is that I must take my time to fully experience our wonderful profession. These amazing and well-respected veterinarians did not get to where they are overnight. While I can look up to them now and aspire to be like them…I know that I must get experience and collect the flint first. Then perhaps I can “set the world on fire.”
In the early hours of the morning before the sun even touches the reflecting pool, or burns brightly on Lincoln’s statue, I find myself rising for another day in the Capitol City. While the dew is still on the grass, I slowly, but sure surly, prepare for my day. Turning on some music, or an Adam Carolla podcast, I prepare for my hour-long journey into the city. As I board the buses and the trains to take me into the city, I bide my time by reading Unbroken, Chesty, and Sloppy Seconds. Feeling the train rock back and forth and whistle, I can only wonder what the day has in store. How long will I be at the externship today? Are we going to be on the Hill? I forgot my lunch; where am I going to eat?
When the day is over after walking many miles, and riding many trains, I begin the trek back home. Hopping on the Blue Line to Franconia-Springfield, to catch two buses back to Lorton, I keep my head buried in the books. Occasionally, I will talk to the random few passengers, or stop off at the King Street metro in Alexandria to walk historic King Street and grab a bite to eat or have coffee on the waterfront. Watching the sunset while sitting next to the Potomac is something that no one should miss. Finally, when I do arrive back home, I find a movie on television, talk to some friends on the Internet, and find my way to bed to repeat the same trek in the morning.
Now, why would I write about such mundane acts that so many people around the Washington-Metro area go through each and every day? I mean, really, it is not that exciting, just reading about someone’s daily travel routine. So why? Why write about this?
On this daily trek, I pass by hallowed grounds. Though one cannot see them from the trains, the presence surrounds us. Those who pass these grounds everyday may turn a blind eye and forget their importance. In this sacred land rest the bodies of those brave men and women who fought for their country, some giving their lives to keep this nation free. You can almost hear those distant voices singing the themes of each branch of the armed services. “From the Halls of Montezuma….”, “Anchors away my boys…”, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…” “Over hill, over dales we will hit the dusty trails…”. It sends a chill down your spine when you think that without these men and women resting in Arlington, we might not be making our daily commutes.
The powerful sense of honor and pride of country that emanates from this cemetery is indescribable. No one can deny it. We will always be indebted to those who served and protected this great nation. It is hard to find the words to truly express how grateful I am for their service and sacrifice. If I could, I would shake the hand of every single service member and tell him or her how much their contributions to our country truly mean to me. Since I can’t do that, I simply want to say to every single man and woman, who served this country to keep our nation free,
Picture of the United States Capitol’s “Rotunda” taken during a tour given by one of the AVMA fellows
Today, Spencer and I had the opportunity to sit down with two of the AVMA fellows (Dr. Don Hoenig and Dr. Kaylee Myhre) as well as Dr. Terry S. Wollen who works for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It has been an amazing day so far with one central theme:
Success does not happen via a straight line.
I have to credit Dr. Myhre for saying this point during our meeting this morning. As more of a “non-traditional” veterinary student, this phrase helps me sleep easier at night.
Dr. Hoenig, Dr. Myrhre, and Dr. Wollen all have led very “non-traditional” veterinary careers. Dr. Hoenig was a state veterinarian for Maine for many years and upon retiring, decided to apply for the AVMA fellowship and is currently a fellow for Senator Collins’ office. Dr. Myrhre went into veterinary school wanting to become an equine veterinarian and then fell in love with global health care. She is currently an AAAS Science and Engineering Fellow and works with Homeland Security. Dr. Wollen worked as a practitioner for three years and then went to work for Bayer for twenty years before deciding to get involved with Heifer International, which led to his current position with USAID.
The point that I am trying to reiterate is that there is no set path after graduating veterinary school. Up until this point, I have felt that my “life plan” has been fairly simple – get into veterinary school, then get out of veterinary school. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve had the opportunity to do many awesome things along the way. However, there seems to be this giant cliff that I will be jumping off of in May of 2014. Once I graduate, what I do with my life becomes less obvious than what I have done thus far.
Dr. Wollen made a great point when we were talking to him this afternoon. There are two things that you always must do when making those difficult decisions:
1) Use your given skills
2) Follow your heart
I have received a lot of fantastic advice today and am so grateful for the opportunities that this externship has given me thus far. I plan on doing exactly what Dr. Wollen advised – use my given skills and follow my heart to where I am going after graduation. Because, as Dr. Myhre said, success doesn’t happen via a straight line.
In the culture of the American today, nothing is more divisive than the political landscape. Even the previous sentence sounds cliché. Sadly though, we all know this cliché is true. Nothing divides the nation more into two demographics than politics. Our country has successfully split itself into two major parties, with some minor ones here and there. These political parties have provided avenues for vitriolic, slanderous, and despicable language to be hurled from one American to another. It seems that one party is always complaining that the other is insensitive and uses venomous speech, when in reality both parties are to blame. Yes, here is looking at you, Republicans and Democrats…
Sometimes we must look to the past for guidance and sound advice. George Washington truly captured what would happen to the political scene if partisan politics were to come to America… (forewarning: this is a long quote).
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.” — George Washington, September 19, 1796
Hopefully, you take time to digest what Washington is saying this quote. In short, Washington said political parties suck. They have a way of causing family members not speak to one another, tearing colleagues apart during the campaign seasons, and turning all- around good people diabolic in nature. They also incite hate among parties and the working of political advantage when one party has power over another. Or, like today, it seems both parties are poised to tear each other’s throats and leave the American people in a standstill, waiting for bills and legislation to be passed.
So what does this have to do with veterinary medicine? Where do political parties even play a role? It is hard to imagine that political division could harm the veterinary profession. Sadly, it actually does. How does this happen and to what organization in the realm of veterinary medicine?
For the past couple of days, Spencer and I were honored to go to the spring meeting of the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee (referred to as the LAC). Quite frankly…it has been an exhausting past couple of days. However, I am so thrilled to have been here to listen in on their conversations!
The purpose of the LAC is to assist the AVMA Executive Board in formulating and implementing AVMA legislative policy and AVMA positions on federal regulatory proposals. This committee is made up of representatives from many organizations including the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Animal Hospital Association, American Society of Lab Animal Practitioners, and even a SAVMA delegate just to name a few.
I have been honored to be able to listen to the discussion as the LAC votes on pertinent issues. The LAC decides if the AVMA will be in Active pursuit of passage, Active pursuit of defeat, in support, or non support of each issue. The categories help determine the priorities of the AVMA-GRD office when they go out to advocate for the profession.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion among veterinary students concerning the rise in debt load, as well as the bleak situation that is faced with the veterinary student employment rate decreasing each year. These facts lend to a decreased morale among the student body. In many cases, whether it be schools or various organizations, it seems that students are looking for someone to blame.
As a student, it is easy to blame those who seem to be “running the show.” This is perhaps because students feel disconnected from schools and organizations and feel as if their voice is not heard.
But that is simply not true.
If I had to pick one thing that I have learned over the past week and a half of my externship (and it is difficult to pick just one), I would have to say that I have gained perspective on how extensive AVMA’s advocacy truly is. As I sat in on the LAC meeting, I was able to see evidence of that advocacy. So what does the AVMA do for you? They advocate for your cause!
And those causes includes many student issues, including the VMLRP (veterinary medicine loan repayment program) which I mentioned in my previous blog.
As current veterinary students, we are facing a challenging time in our profession with many issues that are immediately relevant to our lives. I am here to let you know that your voice is being heard. It is important for us to stop blaming others for these challenges, and rather, support the work that is being done for our cause. This all starts by gaining a better understanding of what organizations like the AVMA are doing for you.
Every single day billions of words come pouring out of mouths of people all over the world. From meaningless babble, words of sympathy, or expressions of excitement and joy, the words we choose and the phrases we form dictate the person that people see. We see so much in the news today about how the power of our words have been used to bully, slander, and harm those around us. With all of this, it seems that we forget the true power and value of our voice.
The first congress of the United States of America realized the power that our voices hold. They immortalized the importance of our voices in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which became part of the Bill of Rights after the remaining eleven amendments were added. These men knew that the people of the newly founded United States should be allowed the freedom of expression, even about the politics the congress was debating. With this type of freedom, we would be able to express our pleasure or displeasure to our congressmen and women. If our elected officials do or do not listen to us we have the right to vote them in or out of office.
As time has passed, a growing sentiment seems to be that our congressmen and women no longer care about what we have to say… and who’s to say that sentiment is wrong. With many politicians seeming to be only caring about pleasing their high power donors, the regular person feels disenfranchised. I hear more people saying, “What does it matter if I do not speak up, they never listen anyway.” This breaks my heart because it leads to complete apathy. This attitude needs to stop immediately, because WE THE PEOPLE hold the power in the United States.
In these ever changing times we must never doubt the power of our voice. We have many different ways to express” our voice.” In the digital age we now have 24 hour access to e-mail. We can easily fill inboxes with our concerns to our congressmen and women. You can also give them a call. Telephones still exist in offices!!! You can even write a letter to them. There are plenty of ways to make you voice heard. Never give up. Continue to write, call, and e-mail, and make your voice heard. Get your friends involved in calling and writing too! If you are truly passionate about an issue do not stand by and let it drift away. It is our privilege and duty to try rather than to stand idly by and say nothing.
YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT! THEY DO LISTEN, though it may not seem like it. If you feel like your elected officials are not listening….. Vote them out.