July 1, 2014

Take action for veterinary medicine in the Mile High City

By Stephanie Fisher
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The AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network (AVMA-CAN) is headed to Denver for the AVMA Annual Convention on July 26-28. We will be located in the AVMA Pavilion, booth #639, where we will be providing opportunities for AVMA members and other participants to voice their concerns about federal legislation directly to Congress through the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center.  We also developed the AVMA Sample Ballot, a quick and easy guide to help busy convention goers understand the current legislation impacting veterinary medicine, including:

If you’re not attending the AVMA Convention this year, you can still stay involved. Make sure you visit the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center online and track how your legislators are voting and how issues of concern are developing. In addition, visitors to the website can learn more about the AVMA’s legislative agenda and how they can help advance the veterinary profession in the 113th Congress.

The AVMA-CAN Facebook page is also a great way to stay up-to-date on legislation and see the latest videos, photos and articles on veterinary issues. AVMA-CAN encourages you, your colleagues and friends to join the page and help advance the profession of veterinary medicine.

June 24, 2014

The Safest Place on Earth

By Alex Blutinger
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Time seems to move at a faster pace in Washington, DC. Maybe it’s the pace of the city, the heat and humidity, or the countless things to do. Regardless, my time here is quickly coming to an end.
As a DC native, I have had the luxury of exploring and experiencing most of what DC has to offer; museums, monuments, the White House, etc… But, last week I went to a place that not even my parents have been to, and trust me when I say that they’ve seen it all! The Pentagon. And I don’t just mean a walk around the perimeter, or a visit to the 9/11 memorial (which we visited also), but a private tour of the entire facility. An employee and good friend of a fellow vet in the city graciously offered to show us the ropes. This building was a city within a city. Best buy, restaurants, cleaners, CVS, Banks, Footlocker, candy store, you name it, it was inside the building. We walked the halls and learned about the history and construction of the building itself and impetus for the location and pentagon shape of the building (apparently, the piece of land it was originally slated to be built on was pentagon shaped). We visited the hallways with encased war paraphernalia, and even saw Sadam Hussein’s gold-plated Assault Rifle. There was so much to learn about the pentagon, and so much we would/will never know about the operations and technologies. While walking in the center of the pentagon, through the courtyard, I couldn’t help but think, “I am likely in the safest place on earth at this moment.” It was an odd feeling, but a good one. We visited both 9/11 memorials, inside and outside the building, and they were really beautiful memorials. I must say, despite the frustrations of working in the government and the complaining that we do about our politics, I felt very proud walking through the Pentagon and visiting the memorials. Every country has their problems and in spite of ours, I wouldn’t want to live permanently anywhere else in the world. It was an empowering experience walking through the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, and one that definitely puts things into perspective.

Following the tour, we went down to the National Yacht Club for a dinner presentation. Dinner was served and cooked by a 100 year old woman who is as lucid as you or I – amazing! Dr. Mo Salman from the One Health academy spoke about surveillance for health events around the world. It was a very interesting presentation and reinforced the necessity to deal with each health event individually, accounting for the location, disease, and politics of the local government. The event was also a great networking opportunity to meet a fellow PennWe :) and other students doing fellowships in the area.

As I approach my last week at AVMA-GRD, I can’t help but wish all students had the opportunity to learn about what goes on outside the clinics. Many do, but most are not exposed to this area of veterinary medicine, which is arguably the most important field. I am hopeful that our generation will get involved in public policy work even as an aside to their clinical practice. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But, I’m optimistic.

June 19, 2014

Breakfast of Champions

By Alex Blutinger
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I had the honor of meeting Congressman and Veterinarian Kurt Schrader from Oregon at Breakfast yesterday morning. It was down by Union Station at the George Hotel at 830am, and it was already 90 degrees outside as I hopped on metro! That’s the one thing I don’t miss about DC – the hot and humid summer weather, and we’re just getting started…Anyway, the breakfast was casual and conversational. I had the opportunity to speak with Congressman Schrader for a few minutes and he said something to me that really struck a chord. He said that much of his success as a congressman has stemmed from his ability to read others – a skill which he has developed as a veterinarian. In our profession we need to master the art of reading body language, picking up non-verbal cues, and accurately assessing our patients without them uttering a word. Congressman Schrader uses these skills in his every day interactions with people, which allows him to get to the core of what people’s real interests and agendas are. He said that he has learned to really listen to people and talk with them rather than at them. It actually makes a lot of sense and I it was yet another example of “translational” medicine, though not in the typical sense of the word. It was a great breakfast which was followed, shortly after, by the “Walk on Washington”. Horses were brought to Union Square Park in front of the Capitol Building and people gathered in support of the “Prevent All Soring Tacticts (PAST)” Act. Despite the hot weather, it was a great event. Several Representatives spoke in support of the bill, which has enough support to pass with a vote on the House floor. Having horses there to demonstrate the show gaits made it that much more special.

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Oh, and how could I forget, earlier this week the US soccer team beat Ghana in their first game of the World Cup :)

June 19, 2014

To Practice or Not to Practice?

By Tayler Foshee
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I have never considered myself a “traditional” veterinary student. I like policy, disease outbreaks and anything else that gets little attention in school. A career in the federal government sounds like a dream. I’ve always loved animals and science but I saw myself applying those skills in a different way than most of my classmates. I felt pretty secure in this decision until recently.

I have met so many veterinarians with such eclectic backgrounds. All of them are so smart and successful. One of the many things that they taught was that I have a big decision to make. I have to decide whether or not I would like to practice before entering into a career that will most likely not require clinical skills. Never have I really given it thought and I don’t know if I ever would have if these amazing people hadn’t taken time out their day to talk with me about my future. I’m going to share some of this knowledge with you in hopes that it will help you as it did me.

The response to whether or not to practice is as variable as the people I have asked. Very few of the people that I have spoken with are completely on one camp or the other. Most are right down the middle. Here are the few tips that are consistent from vet to vet:

  • If there is any desire to practice, do it before going into another career. Adapting clinical skills is easier when all the knowledge from veterinary school is fresh.
  • If you are unhappy, don’t be afraid to make a career change. Life is too short to do something you hate.
  • You know yourself better than anyone. If you know that you don’t want to practice, then don’t. If you’re unsure, then maybe giving practice a shot is a good idea.
  • There are no wrong decisions. No matter what career path taken, it is advancing your knowledge and making you a better professional.

I honestly don’t know if I will practice or not quite yet. At first, I was worried that this meant I had lost my ambition. I quickly realized that I have become the person I want to be when I grow up. I am an adventurer. I am almost done with the veterinary school escapade and I will move onto the next exciting and unknown voyage. As a student, I have always felt rushed to make a decision about my future. I am done doing that. I want to meander. I want to explore all that I can accomplish.

May my future always be this unpredictable! Anything else would be boring.

June 18, 2014

How Others See Our Profession

By Alex Blutinger
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The past week has been one of the of the most enlightening experiences of my veterinary education and career. I have visited with numerous staff members from congressional offices and lobbied on behalf of several bills that will greatly help our veterinary profession. All of my visits have been overwhelmingly positive and all the staffers are very receptive to our mission and the bills we are trying to push through Congress. In particular the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Enhancement Act has been well received. This act puts food animal veterinarians in under-served areas of the country in exchange for up to $25,000 to help relieve their loan burden. The caveat is that this annual amount is taxed at 39%! Our goal is to make this program tax exempt so that more veterinarians can receive this award and we can ultimately mitigate the food animal/public health veterinary shortage in our country. The Bill currently has a lot of support from Senators and Congressman, but them more co-sponsors we get, the more likely it is to get floor time and pass.

Through the past week of lobbying and meeting with staff members, I have started to realize something very disturbing. People do not understand the critical role that veterinarians play in their every day lives! Even arguably the most education individuals on the Hill do not see the importance of our profession as it relates to their health and well-being. From every meal to every ailment, the role that veterinarians have played to ensure that we stay healthy and able to perform our daily duties get completely overlooked. We are undervalued in society. The truth is, I can’t blame them for not completely understanding our role. I never though of it this way until I became interested in veterinary medicine, and even started veterinary school. But it goes to show that our efforts need to be directed at educating the public, and this is certainly a good place to start.

Unfortunately, most people see our profession as cats and dogs. And that is an equally important role to fulfill as a veterinarian, but that certainly does not define our profession. I had the pleasure of attending some very interesting hearings regarding our Biowatch program and the Iran Nuclear Deal and I also attended an interesting seminar on 50 years of global health at CSIS.

The highlight of last week was definitely the Bark Ball, for me and my date! Chiara had an amazing time and insisted we wear the same colors! No one could have prepared me for this event. Over 1000 people and 500 dogs, at perhaps one of the most formal events I have attended. It was an amazing evening and I feel fortunate to have been in DC and invited to the event.

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June 16, 2014

Bark Ball 2014!

By Tayler Foshee
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I have been having so much fun in DC! On Saturday, I went to the DC Bark Ball. This is an event that has been going on for 27 years and it raises money for the DC Humane Society. As you could have guessed, everyone is dressed in their most formal attire. The surprise is that dogs are allowed to attend! There were over 1,000 canines enjoying the evening festivities. It was a truly unique experience. My partner in crime, Alex, even brought his beautiful dog so I got the much needed dog therapy that I had been craving. I had such a spectacular time! I feel so lucky.

 

What a wonderful group of gals! Had so much fun with them at the Bark Ball.

What a wonderful group of gals! Had so much fun with them at the Bark Ball.

 

June 10, 2014

DVM: A World of Possibilities

By Tayler Foshee
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I am learning so much about how far my DVM can take me. I have always known that I would be a nontraditional veterinarian. I’ve been worried that I might be limited in my options for this reason. This externship has taught me that I couldn’t be more wrong.

This week, I went to the Department of State and spoke with DVM and AAAS Fellow, Dr. Erin Casey. She is really getting the most out of her degree. Before becoming a fellow, Dr. Casey worked in private practice so she has experience in both camps of veterinary medicine. Her work at the Department of State sounds fascinating. She is making a real impact on the world. She is a Program Officer with the Cooperative Threat Reduction Biosecurity Engagement Program. The name alone sounds pretty awesome! Her office works mainly with biosecurity and disease surveillance. If you want more information about her fellowship, she recently did an interview for the AVMA Advocate. She was kind enough to show Alex and I the Department of State and we even got to eat in the executive dining room.

If meeting with Dr. Casey wasn’t enough of reason to feel like my career opportunities are endless, I also got to speak with Dr. Michael Gilsdorf, the Executive Vice President for National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV). He worked with APHIS for many years before coming to work for NAFV. He spoke about all the different careers veterinarians currently have within the federal government. USDA/APHIS, FSIS, CDC, NIH, and USAID are just a few of the areas where veterinarians are working.

There is a lot of talk about how the market is flooded with veterinarians. Maybe in certain areas there are too many of us but there are many other areas that need us! The list of places that see the value of veterinarians is growing everyday. This time in our profession is exciting. I have never been more proud to be apart of such an eclectic and resourceful group.

June 8, 2014

Student Loan Debt

By Tayler Foshee
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One of the many opportunities I have as an extern is to attend hearings within the Senate and House of Representatives. Most hearings are open to the public and I encourage you to go to one that interests you if you are in D.C.

On Wednesday, I attended a Senate hearing over student loan debt. I even wrote an article for the AVMA Advocate over the hearing. This has been a topic that has been exhausted within veterinary schools. I thought I wouldn’t have anything new to learn. The overarching theme always being, “we will owe a lot of money when we graduate.” I was surprised by how much I didn’t know.

  1. Student loan debt is affecting the economy. Young graduates are a major source of economic activity. The enormous amount of loan debt makes it near to impossible for anyone to buy a house or car. The National Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association have expressed concern for the future housing market. They are urging Congress to come up with a solution to this crucial problem.
  2. The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 has not been reauthorized this year. For those unfamiliar with HEA, it is responsible for a vast majority of federal student aid. Most of us would not be able to go to school without HEA. It is not the end of the world if it is not reauthorized this legislative session. It just means everything will stay pretty much the same until the next legislative session. The fact that it has not been reauthorized does mean that Congress is divided about many aspects of student loans.
  3. There are many new piece of legislation being promoted. Many of them will never be made into law but it does mean that students and young professionals are important to elected officials. So important that every member of Congress is clamoring to be on at least one piece of legislation that promotes easing the financial burden of students.

I am one of the many who have struggled to make it through school. I am honestly scared for the loan payments that await me after graduation. It is good to know that I’m not alone and that Congress is giving serious consideration to the topic. It is hard to get anything done in Congress today. There are so many varying opinions and compromise has become a bad word. I urge you to contact your legislators and explain to them your story with student debt. You never know what type of effect you might have. You may be the push that they need to cosign a bill or vote in favor of legislation that  helps ease the student loan burden.

June 5, 2014

There’s No Place Like Home

By Alex Blutinger
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There is something about coming back to Washington, DC that is hard to articulate.  It’s an intangible feeling, a certain energy that permeates the city and overcomes you the moment you step in to Union Station. Having grown up in Washington DC proper, you would think that over the years of countless trips home from college or vet school to see my family, one would eventually be desensitized to the energy that DC emanates.  Well, this trip home was no different from the others and it’s quite clear why some coin DC “The most powerful city in the world.”

Arguably, the best part of coming home is seeing my English Golden, Chiara. My parents have accepted the fact that they come second to her in the order of greetings when I walk through my front door.  This greeting usually takes about 10-15 minutes of us rolling on the floor and making animal noises to help her release her excitement that has pent-up since my last visit.

half-asleep, I had a brief moment of panic getting ready for work the first morning, when I realized I hadn’t packed my scrubs or stethoscope.  That certainly woke me up quickly.  When I arrived at the office in DuPont Circle, I realized I had walked by this building over 100 times never realizing it was the AVMA-GRD.  I met Taylor, my partner in crime, in the office and we both realized we had known each other from past SAVMA events.  It was nice to see a familiar face.  We had a great day sitting in on a few briefings with Gina Luke, one of the assistant directors at the AVMA-GRD.  We had the pleasure of sitting down with the presenters prior to the briefing to discuss more intimately the topics and their implications.  We were talking to some of the lead researchers in their field.  The people we were meeting on day one set the pace for what was lining up to be a incredible month of networking.

The next day was the most eventful as we sat in on an exec board meeting to review the issues that the board members would be presenting to their state representatives.  I had the pleasure of accompanying Dr. John de Jong, to the offices of various Massachusetts congressmen.  We met with the staff members in each case, but all were very receptive.  Dr. de Jong did an excellent job and even gave me the opportunity to add a personal touch as a soon-to-be-graduate (well, not too soon).  I can honestly say that it was one of the more invaluable experiences I have had, and definitely made me realize the importance of being involved in veterinary policy.

The rest of the night was spent at dinner with the AVMA exec board and a few familiar faces from past SAVMA events, Ricci and Elise from Texas and LSU, respectively.  The “youngsters” topped off the night at “Sign of the Whale” for a few drinks, and a brave exec member joined the festivities, and certainly held his own!

It’s only day 4 and already my expectations have been exceeded.  I originally thought to myself how unfortunate it would be missing a full month of clinics and how far behind I would be when returning to school, but already I realize that this is more valuable and eye-opening than any rotation I could have. I am excited for what’s to come.  It’s good to be home.

June 5, 2014

An Exciting Beginning

By Tayler Foshee

These first few days in D.C. have been a whirlwind! So much has been going on and I can’t imagine what else is in store. On Monday, Alex and I got to meet the amazing staff at the AVMA GRD. It is so exciting to hear about how hard they are working to ensure the future of our profession. Shortly after meeting everyone and getting a quick tour, Gina Luke, one of the assistant directors at the AVMA GRD, whisked us away towards the Hill. We had the pleasure of sitting in a briefing about emerging diseases in the swine industry and nutritional advantages of milk.

On Tuesday, the day started by meeting the AVMA Executive Board and brushing up on important veterinary legislation. Then it was off to the Hill again, this time to meet with our state House Representatives and Senators to inform them about legislation affecting our state and profession. Most of the time, you meet with the staff of the elected official but I got lucky. I actually got to sit down with Senator Inhoffe (R-OK) in his private office! Imagine a veterinary student bending the ear of a government official. I was elated. Then, I realized that I am important to him. An active voice is a powerful thing and a senior Senator knows that better than anyone.

I have learned a lot in the past couple of days. I learned how to hail a cab and how to use the metro. I learned that big cities aren’t so scary when you have great people showing you the ropes (Thanks, Stephanie and Alex!). Finally, I learned that there is nothing more invigorating than advocating for something that is dear to my heart. To know that I might have gotten the greatest profession in the world one step closer to solving its problems is so satisfying. I can’t believe this is only the beginning!