I woke up in Chicago on Monday, July 4, and boarded a flight to Washington Reagan National. There was abundant activity in D.C. during the first week of my externship with the AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division (GRD). There was also no shortage of kindness:
On Monday afternoon, a friend showed me around Glover Park before heading to Columbia Heights to watch fireworks from another friend’s rooftop – thank you to Dr. Greg Matheson and AAVMC Executive Director Dr. Andy Maccabe for the hospitality.
First thing Tuesday was a warm welcome and orientation from GRD Program Manager and Policy Analyst Valerie Goddard; the other extern, Sam Scholz, is a classmate of mine, and coincidentally, we lobbied together during the 2015 AVMA Legislative Fly-in! So back we went to Capitol Hill to see if we could remember our way around. Only with the help of our home office – Illinois District 13 (where the UIUC College of Veterinary Medicine is located) Representative Rodney Davis – could we enter the House gallery to listen in on the afternoon’s hot topic: gun laws.
Wednesday began with a One Health Commission webinar about antimicrobial resistance involving humans, livestock, companion animals, and the environment. (Spoiler: our pets may play a bigger role than we once thought.) That afternoon, we went back to the Hill for a House hearing on Zika virus, and it was so popular that attendees were spilling into the hallway! But not to worry, Dr. Carolyn La Jeunesse came to the rescue. She’s a former AVMA fellow (2014-’15), and used her valuable time to share some experiences responding to infectious disease in foreign territories. She also showed us around town and put some people and places on our radar for the remainder of the month.
Following the theme of priming the externship, on Thursday we met with GRD Director Dr. Mark Lutschaunig and National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV) CEO Dr. Michael Gilsdorf. Not only did they have excellent advice regarding non-traditional career paths for veterinarians, but also they were incredibly generous with their personal networks. With their help, we’ve setup meetings with USDA, FDA, NIH, and Department of Homeland Security, to name only a few.
On Friday afternoon, we attended a House briefing on research and development of extended-release drugs presented by The Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. The speaker, Robert S. Langer, world-renowned bioengineer, was grateful for a veterinary presence in the audience, and thanked us for the work our profession does to promote ethical biomedical research. We also met with another AVMA 2014-’15 fellow, Dr. Elise Ackley, who now serves as Legislative Assistant for Connecticut House Representative Rosa DeLauro. She took precious time out of her busy afternoon to give us a tour of the Capitol and answer question after question about life on the Hill.
What stuck out the most from the first week, however, was the morning of Friday, July 8:
I woke up to news of Dallas shootings. I mourned.
During my commute, I pulled up to a busy red light where a beggar was asking stalled motorists for handouts. An old man offered food.
That old man was not solving world hunger, nor did he lecture the beggar on social mobility. He did, however, directly influence the beggar’s belief in humanity – they were beaming at each other throughout the exchange. The beggar was white, and the old man was black.
If I took anything away from the first week, it’s that kindness isn’t professional courtesy or perfunctory, and it extends beyond business hours. Examples of good people doing good things are everywhere, especially if you’re looking for them– just like Pokémon. Thank you to good friends, complete strangers, and everyone in between for the lesson.
This past week was spent getting acquainted in Washington DC as well as re-familiarizing myself with the legislative process. I arrived to DC, after only one delayed flight from O’Hare, and it was easy to settle in. Every so often, I would hear the localized explosions of illegal fireworks from folks celebrating America. Many tourists were in town to experience the Fourth of July and I hope they had a great time. I know I did. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was calling my name so on my second day in DC, I ubered there and easily spent a few hours scoping out the exhibits. Again, the museum is free but remember that security will check your bags! I wasn’t giving my undivided attention to the status of the line so I was delayed in putting my bag through the security scanner but that is a mistake that I will only make once! After my time at that museum, I passed by 20+ food trucks, and many more delicious smells, on Constitution Ave while I meandered over to the Washington Monument. I am grateful that I had the time to leisurely explore some of the sites before my externship started. If you didn’t know, my husband is home in Central Illinois for my duration in DC. As such, I am trying to include him in my experiences. Since this is the 21st century, he gets to be involved, too! After the Washington Monument, I called Ian on my way to the White House. He heard the hustle and bustle, including bag pipes, through the phone and he helped me find a good, “cheap” restaurant nearby. I have found that my relationships with friends and loved ones are what get me through vet school. This externship just presents another opportunity to strengthen those relationships.
My first commute to the AVMA-GRD was typical of the heat wave that is consuming DC at the moment. It was 8 am and already 80F. Luckily, I was previously advised to wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. I heeded the advice and was glad that I did. Our orientation went well and we started emailing meeting requests to a plethora of Departments, organizations, and individuals. Congress is only in session the first two weeks of the externship so next week will be filled with lobbying meetings to advocate for our profession.
We had the opportunity to meet with some past AVMA Fellows and they told us about their career paths and also suggested other people to try to meet up with while we’re here. I have had invaluable experiences and it’s only been one week. The people that you meet every day may be the ones to help you succeed in the future.
Every day we get an email from Valerie about all the meetings, hearings, and briefings that are scheduled for the next few days. Early in the week we tried to attend a meeting regarding the Zika virus at the last minute but it was so well attended that it was standing room only, in the hallway. We decided against trying to hear while standing in the hallway and instead focused on another upcoming Zika meeting next week. It really pays to be early on the Hill. The early bird definitely gets the worm, or the refreshments provided to attendees. Another meeting that we successfully attended had Dr. Robert Langer from MIT presenting on the “Bioengineering the Future.” He discussed extended release GI formulations to increase the compliance of human patients taking their oral medications. He mentioned that they have been tested in dog and pig models with no negative side effects and it’s expected to human clinical trials within the next 18 months. After his presentation, I asked if they have considered this product for the veterinary field since it was already tested on animals and would make people happy who don’t need to pill their angry cat daily. Luckily, they do plan on entering the animal health market! I was pleased to hear that since this is an excellent example of the One Health ideology.
For this upcoming week, I am planning on writing some smaller blog entries instead of one big one! Stay tuned to hear about the Zika Virus meeting, our meeting with Representative Schrader and Representative Yoho, and our future lobbying efforts! The great thing about vet med is that I can castrate bull calves in Central Illinois and then spend the next 4 weeks in business professional in Washington, DC.
As my time here comes to a close, I continue to ponder how all avenues of veterinary medicine are connected—whether you are interested in practice, working in the government, research, academia, or industry. Challenges we will face in our careers are microcosms of a bigger interrelated picture. Cases may not be on the scale of one-on-one client interactions for all of us, but cases such as high pathogenic avian influenza, and the complexities surrounding the spread of disease within a species is another type of case example.
Veterinary schools are taking notice of this case based mentality. Multiple articles have been published discussing problem based learning (PBL) and how it may enhance classroom learning in veterinary education. One article published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education compared learning styles in two different cohorts, and found that students taught via a collaborative, case-based model spent more of their time focusing on deep learning and understanding case content. Another article examined literature on PBL and suggested that it be used as an enhancement to traditional methods. At Western University’s Veterinary Medicine Program, which had its inaugural class in 2003, one of their founding principles is student-centered learning.
In meeting with Dr. Bernadette Dunham at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, she shared with us case studies that have been created by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) in collaboration with the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) on a wide range of one health topics. These cases highlight that animal disease and human health are closely connected, and as veterinarians we are at the precipice of that interaction.
In addition to learning about case based learning strategies, we were also able to explore areas of research that have human health implications. Whether you are working in private practice or in a government position, we will all be dealing with different types of cases in our careers. Attached is a photo of us suited up with Dr. Tom Thomas, a National Institutes of Health veterinarian and U.S. Public Health Service Captain, after touring a facility.
Thanks to the GRD for a wonderful experience!
My time in Washington D.C. has been nothing short of phenomenal. Of course living in a city like D.C. can be tough, especially when you’re like me and grew up in rural southeast Indiana but I wouldn’t change it for the world! No other opportunity like this exists for veterinary students. I spent the month meeting with Congressmen and their staff on Capitol Hill, attending meetings on critical public health issues like antimicrobial resistance, and talking about careers with veterinarians from different agencies and diverse backgrounds. Some of these folks went into private practice after they graduated for a period of time while others went straight into the military, public service or governmental careers. There was one prominent theme that emerged from all of these meetings, though – no matter what you choose to do after graduation, the so called “soft skills” you learn in veterinary school can take you literally anywhere (and I do mean literally anywhere!).
Vet school teaches you to problem-solve using critical thinking skills. You learn to look at an animal with a certain presenting problem, put the pieces together, and come up with a differential list and possible treatments. This same analytical process will be utilized no matter where you end up after graduation, whether it is in private practice or public service.
Communication, Education, and Working Toward a Common Goal:
Being able to communicate effectively is by far one of the most important “soft-skills” a veterinarian can possess. Let’s say a client brings their dog in and it presents with signs of diabetes mellitus. You run the necessary tests and sure enough, your suspicion is confirmed. This client does not have any family members or friends with the disease so they don’t know what this means for their beloved pet. Your job as a veterinarian is to effectively communicate the diagnosis and educate them on the next steps. You must also be able to convey to them that you are working together toward a common goal – to treat their pet and make sure it continues to live a happy, healthy life. If you choose to work in the federal government or in a congressional office, the same concepts apply. You will be working with people from different educational backgrounds and agencies. Each will have different interests and in order to be successful in achieving a common goal, being able to effectively communicate your point of view is critical.
Leadership and Community Involvement:
As a veterinarian, you are considered a trustworthy and reputable member of your community no matter where you live and work. If you work in private practice, your clients trust you to do what is in the best interest of their pet. If you work in public service and government, people who are not in veterinary-related fields typically trust your opinion on issues ranging from public health to food safety because of your educational background. If you can, I highly recommend getting involved with your community throughout your career. No matter where you end up after graduation, never lose sight of how people view and respect our profession. Be a leader and do what you can to make a difference.
Empathy, Compassion, and Sensitivity:
Compassion fatigue and mental wellness are extremely important topics that are at the forefront of our profession. Whether you end up in private practice or in a public service position, compassion and empathy go a long way. It is absolutely okay to hug a client who just lost the dog that was a part of their family for 16 years. It is absolutely okay to check in on a colleague in your office who seems to be having a tough day. It is absolutely okay to take time for yourself when your day did not go as planned. Be compassionate, sensitive and empathetic – not just to others, but to yourself as well.
I refer to the above items as “soft-skills” but in reality, they are some of the most important things we can take away from our four years in veterinary school. If you can master these skills, you can do anything!
This externship has been a whirlwind, but incredible, experience. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with close to 100 people involved with government and organized veterinary medicine during my time here in D.C. Here are a few things I’ve learned about working in government as a veterinarian:
“Pros” – These are just a few things people have mentioned that excited them about the opportunity to work in government.
- You have the opportunity to truly make an impact on a larger scale. The work you do has the potential to effect the veterinary profession as a whole.
- Working with different agencies is common. For example, if you work for USDA APHIS, you may collaborate with others from agencies such as FDA or Department of Homeland Security.
- The benefits are fantastic! There’s even a chance you’ll be eligible for a certain amount of loan forgiveness.
- There are a lot of ways to “move up the ladder.” Being a veterinarian allows you to do MANY different jobs within the federal government. Once you’re in, you have the opportunity to take your career almost anywhere you want to go.
“Cons” – These are things that someone should consider before deciding if they would be a good fit for working in the federal government.
- You have to be (or learn to be) patient. Things take time in the government. You can’t necessarily expect to make a change immediately. As one of the veterinarians we met with stated, “It’s not always about winning the battle. Sometimes it’s about winning the war.”
- If you are looking for career progression, it’s very likely you will end up in D.C. or the surrounding area. This, of course, depends on the agency and your personal or career goals, but many of their main offices are located here.
Until next time!
While veterinary medicine has been in the spotlight for its lack of diversity, statements that have been made “sound harshly negative, yet in reality, they have served to energize diversity initiatives at our nation’s schools of veterinary medicine,” according to a recent article published in Insight Into Diversity.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Lisa Greenhill, MPA, Ed.D., in D.C. this week to talk about initiatives the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is working on to promote diversity. In addition, we discussed the current climate of diversity, or lack thereof, in veterinary schools. Related to gender, she shared with me that although women far exceed the number of men attending veterinary school, those same statistics are not represented in faculty—as fewer woman, than men, are in the pipeline for tenure positions, for example.
What is needed to integrate diversity training into our professional degree? Should there be prerequisites that focus on psychology and sociology? Are elective classes in veterinary school a good strategy? All of these questions were discussed in our meeting and one great resource that she shared is a podcast series that she has pioneered “Diversity and Inclusion on Air,” which is also available through Apple iTunes. In the series, they explore some of the challenges with inclusion in the veterinary curricula and have experts weigh in on the subject.
One of the things I learned in our meeting was the term code switching, which describes using different types of language depending on what group you are in. Not only did we talk about it as it relates to racial groups but also related to groups of different interests. It’s akin to speaking another language. Veterinarians are essential to the One Health movement because of our expertise regarding different species and our public health training. However, as Lisa mentioned, veterinarians often fail to use One Health language that is commonly understood across disciplines; by using different language around these issues—or actively, consciously code switching—perhaps veterinarians could be even more involved in One Health initiatives.
The resources Lisa is developing are critical for increased understanding of diversity among the veterinary community. Hopefully by including more diversity training in veterinary schools, we can improve our ability to serve broader human populations and their animals.
Other students have also had the opportunity to speak with Lisa about diversity, like this previous extern blog post published in April 2015. Look to it as well for further information.
As veterinary students, we are acutely aware of the student debt issue. One of the goals of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division is to help students with this issue by supporting certain legislative issues that benefit us and help us combat student debt. Below are just a few of the bills that the AVMA supports:
1. Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment (VMLRP) Enhancement Act (H.R. 3095/S. 440)
- VMLRP gives funding to veterinarians who practice in areas of need or where there is a shortage of veterinary services. These areas are determined by the USDA. These loan repayment stipends unfortunately are currently not exempt from federal witholding tax and the goal of this bill is to eliminate that 39% tax. The goal of H.R. 3095/S. 440 is to eliminate this tax, allowing more awards to be given out.
2. Student Loan Refinancing Act (H.R. 649)
- Currently veterinary students (and other health professionals) are only able to refinance their loans once. This legislation would remove that restriction and allow you to refinance your loans anytime you found a lower interest rate, just as you would with a home mortgage.
3. Eliminating the Hidden Student Loan Tax Act (H.R. 1285)
- Did you know that you are paying an origination fee on all Direct Loans? This legislation would eliminate that origination fee for students.
These are only a few of the pieces of legislation that the AVMA GRD is working on in relation to veterinary medicine. Check out the Congressional Activities page for more!
If you are interested in getting a real hands-on experience in these areas, I highly recommend applying for both the annual AVMA Legislative Fly-In (held next April) and the AVMA GRD Student Externship. Both allow you to dive right into the world of veterinary public policy!
Until next time!
This week the AVMA Board of Directors (BOD) came to the GRD office for their board meeting. Jessica and I had the privilege of sitting in on meetings discussing important issues that affect veterinarians and veterinary students. In addition, we attended Hill Visits with various members of Congress.
I spent Tuesday with Dr. Ted Cohn, AVMA Immediate Past President, and his lovely wife Becky. They were a joy to be around and together we met Representative Ken Buck and Senator Cory Gardner. We discussed with their offices the Marketplace Fairness Act and Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. As I have been in DC before for the AVMA Fly-In, the Hill Visits were very similar—reiterating how accessible Congress is. However, having the expertise of members of the BOD added another element of depth to the conversations. I felt that the offices respected having different generations of veterinarians before them supporting the same cause.
Dr. Cohn, Becky, and I also had time between visits to go to the Library of Congress. If you haven’t been—it is a must see! The intricate mosaic ceiling coupled with the attention to detail in the sculptures of influential historical figures surrounding the library made it very awe-inspiring.
A few days spent gleaning expertise from members of the AVMA BOD combined with the opportunity to meet with members of Congress, makes this externship all that more impactful.
Starting the GRD externship this week has made me feel a bit like the metro—there are so many different opportunities and navigating can sometimes be challenging! It has been full of fun though including meetings, stops along the metro, hearings, lunch and dinner presentations, and great networking opportunities. The time seems to be flying by.
One highlight of interest from this week was a lunch seminar entitled “Do you really know where your food comes from?” Traceability is a hot topic, especially in agriculture, because of the intersection of privacy and a need to protect public health. The presenter, Tejas Bhatt from the Institute of Food Traceability, was an engaging lecturer and had interesting slides on where the ingredients on your pizza, for example, come from. Where is the cheese from? Was it processed at a plant owned by the farm? What about the meat? The tomatoes? The spices in the tomato sauce? Some of these questions highlight the complexities surrounding traceability. This seminar is just one example of the wide array of topics to be learned about on the Hill.
Later in the afternoon we were fortunate to meet with Dr. Eric Deeble, a veterinarian, past AVMA Fellow, and now a legislative assistant for Senator Kristen Gillibrand. He gave us what felt like a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol Visitor Center and Senate buildings. We even got to ride on the Capitol subway which is the cutest little cart-like transport.
Stay tuned for more adventures thanks to this wonderful opportunity with the AVMA GRD office!
As a girl from a small town who has never lived in a big city, moving to D.C. for a month was a bit intimidating and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned during my first week of the GRD externship:
- Bring a purse or bag large enough to carry some things with you during the day. You’ll be visiting many different places each day so having a larger bag to carry a notebook, pens, wallet, a light sweater, water bottle, a snack or two, etc. makes your days a bit easier.
- You will be walking a lot between buildings at the Capitol, walking to and from Metro stops, and going on tours during your time here. I can’t stress it enough – bring comfortable shoes! If you plan to wear heels or flats that are a little less than comfortable, I recommend bringing a pair of shoes you can wear to walk between meetings that are easy to toss in your bag. It isn’t uncommon to put in 5+ miles a day of walking. Wearing shoes that aren’t comfortable results in not-so-comfortable blisters (speaking from experience here).
- If you can have some business cards printed before your trip, I highly recommend it! It is very common to exchange business cards within a few minutes of meeting someone so it’s great to have something to hand them when they give you their card. It also gives them something to remember you by if you email them at a later date.
- Your cell phone, equipped with both the D.C. Metro Map and Google Maps, will be your best friend. Not only can it help you find your way, but it can help you find a coffee shop to stop at on the way there (also speaking from experience)!
- If it is at all possible for you to live in the city, I would! I’m living in the Eastern Market area. Not only am I able to walk to the Capitol in the mornings (less than a 20 minute walk and great exercise!), but there are a lot of little shops and restaurants very close by. I’ve not used my car since I arrived last weekend because I’m able to walk almost anywhere, including the Metro stops.
- Keep track of the different offices and people you meet with during your time here in a notebook or Word document. It isn’t uncommon to meet with 5-10 (sometimes even more) people on one visit and by the end of the day, it can be a bit of a blur. It’s a great way to keep track of all you’ve done!
- Attend a OneHealth Academy event. It’s a FANTASTIC way to network and hear about a topic on OneHealth.
- Two words: District Taco. It’s a MUST visit!
- Most of all … ENJOY your time in the city! You’re only here for 4 weeks and trust me it will fly by! Take in as many of the sights and sounds as you can. Don’t hesitate to grab dinner and a drink on a restaurant patio one night during the week, even if you go alone. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on all you’ve learned or to simply sit and people watch.
Until next time!