October 17, 2017

It’s not what you know…

By Matt Kuhn
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We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I can’t imagine a city where this phrase holds true more than Washington, D.C. I heard an adage related to this saying this past week that goes “It’s not what you know, but who you know, and not necessarily who you know, but who knows you.” It’s easy to have contacts, but harder to have relationships.

A significant portion of our time as Externs on the Hill is spent meeting with other veterinarians and scientists on The Hill and surrounding area. Building relationships with those whose path we hope to emulate is likely more important than learning the nuances to policy and legislation in DC. This past week I had several meetings with veterinarians whose names you have likely heard before if you read this blog regularly, and some who have not been mentioned before.

20171005_151031731_iOSDr. Sarah Babcock was the first veterinarian I was fortunate enough to meet. A fellow Spartan and also a lawyer, she has been involved with animal law and a relief veterinarian for a number of years. Much of her sage advice stemmed from how to make the transition from a university into city life and simply, how to live. It’s a silly thing to read, but so much of our time is spent thinking about how we may do our jobs, sometimes we forget about the other half of our lives and how we balance the two.

Next was Dr. Eric Deeble, a legislative assistant for Senator Gillibrand of New York. Eric emphasized the advantages to becoming involved in politics at a local level. To become comfortable being an extrovert and having discussions about politics with everyday people. After Eric was Dr. Rachel Cumberbatch who hails from the Animal Health Institute and had great advice as to how to grow writing skills, an asset in a city that lives and dies by the memo and white paper. Additionally, she was a valuable resource regarding talks, discussions, and presentations relating to science that are held around the city every day when you really start to look for them.

At the Department of Homeland Security, I met Roxann Motroni, a program manager for agricultural defense research. She, like me, comes from an educational background based in food animal medicine. Roxann had many pieces of advice on how to stay sharp as a veterinarian and where to find relief work with food animals around a city devoid of agriculture. Lastly, Dr. Elise Ackley now works with Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-partisan organization helping humans and animals around the world through policy. Elise expressed the bond that veterinarians share around DC and across the country. With relatively so few veterinarians in non-traditional careers, it become close-knit a very close-knit community.

Each meeting with a past AVMA Fellow had similar themes; ways to prepare for application to a fellowship program, advice for on working on The Hill, tips for living the ‘DC Life,’ and yet each one carried its own spin. Each fellow had little bits of advice that were unique with thoughts I had never considered before. Each offered insights to the nuances of politics and how legislation is carried out in Washington. Each meeting was invaluable and could not be replaced by any other. I think that is what makes building relationships so valuable in this city. The little differences we all carry with us are what make each person fit a different niche. Everyone I spoke with was a DVM, yet each had developed a very different approach to influencing policy and infusing science into politics. This is what makes this externship so valuable. No other experience in veterinary medicine opens you to meeting so many successful, non-traditional, veterinarians who are so willing to open up and invite you into their world. I truly hope each of them known how valuable their opinions are to the students they speak with.

Remember to follow @AVMACAN on twitter for updates about what you can do to influence policy and @MattKuhnDVM18 for more on my externship here in DC.

October 10, 2017

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

By Matt Kuhn

This past week I had the opportunity to see past Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle speak as a part of the Blue Ribbon Panel on BioDefense (BRPB). The BRPB began in 2014 as a privately funded, bipartisan, entity with panel members composted of former Representatives, Senators, and Governors among other high ranking federal positions. The goal of the panel was to evaluate the ability of the United States to prevent, detect, and respond to biological outbreaks, whether they be natural or by way of bio-terrorism. Their findings suggested that the United State is woefully unprepared to detect bio-threats in a timely manner nor to appropriately respond to such threats. Their conclusions reveal the underappreciated fragility of the American economy and nuanced ramifications faced by Americans due to foreign pathogens causing disease outbreaks.

20171004_021346738_iOSThe AVMA, alongside several veterinary and agricultural-trade organizations, have recognized this insufficiency in American agri-defense for many years and have recently bolstered their pressure on the federal government to establish a national animal vaccine bank with a priority on Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)  to protect American livestock. Speaking purely from a monetary standpoint, creating a vaccine bank is more than worth the expense. Consider this: the current ask of the federal government is 750 million dollars for the establishment of the vaccine bank and coordination of vaccine production. Compare that to the 34.5 billion dollars the United Kingdom economy lost due to the islands FMD outbreak back in 2001. If an outbreak in the UK can disrupt an economy to that scale, it is hard to put in perspective what could happen to the US.

Despite this strong argument, there is many more aspects to this discussion than purely maintaining economic stability. As I mentioned previously, there are many nuances to a disease outbreak that are hard to account for. As a veterinary student having worked with those in the agricultural sector for many years, the concern that I have from an outbreak is not the cost to the American economy, but the direct impact on animals and those that care for them. Without the ability to manage disease outbreaks with vaccination, we are left with depopulation; the approach taken by the UK in 2001 and found to be devastating.

When managed depopulation is carried out, farmers are forced to go against everything they’ve ever learned and worked for. While they may be compensated to a certain extent by the federal government for losses, the reimbursement will never make up for the true costs of such an undertaking, such as years of on farm genetic selection, young and growing stock’s future potential, and an abrupt cessation of likely their only income for a long period of time. This significant loss of livelihood would be the end of the road for many of our countries small family farms. And more difficult even than this, many of these caregivers must face the reality of euthanizing their animals, their life’s work. Farmers and ranchers put their heart and soul into their animals. They are their lifeblood and such action would take an incalculable emotional tole.

As negotiations over the 2018 Farm Bill continue, it is ever important that our nation’s decision makers fully understand the consequences of potential bio-threats facing our country today. In Tom Daschle’s closing remarks, he pressed for the need for leadership in Washington. Leadership willing to stand up for bio-defense and for the protection of our people and animals. The AVMA and those representing beef and pork industries have certainly taken a leading role in this regard, now it is time for congress to listen. As Benjamin Franking said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

October 4, 2017

The Name Game

By Matt Kuhn

It’s fairly standard procedure to begin each new rotation during clinics with a little round robin of names, future interests, and probably a fun fact or two with your rotation mates and new clinicians. I’ll start off this rotation with all of you in lieu of my peers.

My name is Matt Kuhn. When I grow up, I want to work in public policy focusing on advancing science based legislation and regulation. I have a four-year-old pit bull who is a blood donor and has now donated almost two gallons to the university hospital. And it took me 24 years of life to finally see the movie Hocus Pocus.
And unlike most students who’s follow up questions revolve around their fun facts, I consistently get the question, “you want to go into what?”

From day one of veterinary school, students are told about various non-traditional careers for veterinarians and yet we become so entrenched in clinical medicine that many students, veterinarians, and the public never think about the other opportunities open to veterinarians. The skill set we acquire during our didactic and clinical years makes veterinarians a jack of all trades, able to quickly adapt to any number of careers. We are educated not only in medicine, but basic biology, epidemiology, research principles, and food safety, all with a one health perspective. We are taught to be leaders, yet work well within a team. In talking with clients and peers, we learn to speak to a broad range of audiences, allowing anyone, from scientist to laymen, to follow the conversation. Some of these skills can simply be taught, but many of them are the soft skills. Skills that can only be gained with experience and practice. Skills that are very sought after in a city that runs on communication and influence.

This opens the door for veterinarians to fill positions in almost every sector of government from the obvious, in the USDA or FDA, to more unknown roles, such as those in the Department of Defense or White House. While veterinarians working in government do so across the United States, there is a reliable need for them on The Hill. Now, more than ever, we need to bring science back into policy. Decisions need to be made based upon peer-reviewed research and widely accepted basic understandings of science. Specific to veterinary medicine, those with a non-science background need to be informed of the threats facing our country and its food supply and how legislation they pass (or don’t pass) can impact veterinarians both large and small, as well as farmers, ranchers, and pet owners.

Over the next six weeks, I will be meeting with a number of individuals who have taken on non-traditional careers as veterinarians as well as others actively involved as non-veterinary scientists on The Hill. I am elated to be able to hear their stories and share their experiences; to learn from their mistakes and emulate their successes. I hope that you can follow along with me and not only learn about careers open to veterinary studentsFirst Post Pic but what you can do right now to influence legislation both nationally and in your own state. Make sure to follow @AVMACAN on twitter for updates on legislative priorities and me @MattKuhnDVM18 for updates on my externship, animal health, and upcoming blog posts.

October 3, 2017

The Hill Has Ayes

By Derecka Alexander

My first experience with Robert’s Rules of Order was when I was a citizen at the American Legion Auxiliary’s Louisiana Girls State program. That was a great introduction but no where near the level our Congress People work through markups on the hill.

A markup is the process by which a U.S. congressional committee debates, amends, and rewrites proposed legislation. Markups are open to the public, however, depending on how popular the bill is, you might want to get there way sooner than when the doors open. The first markup I attended was for the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Bill. The other extern Jacob and I stood in line for over thirty minutes waiting to get in. I usually don’t do waiting in lines, especially when I have on heels, but I knew this learning experience was not the time for me to be boujee. Lesson learned.

The next markup session I attended was for 7 bills in review by the House Natural Resources Committee. Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah,  had no problem enforcing Robert’s Rules in a swift manner. Other markups were scheduled to happen right after and some markup meetings overlapped other ones. So much important legislation, like the healthcare bills, were being discussed and amended in preparation for the day they hit the floor for voting. Trying to keep up with the discussions, the ayes versus the nays and the constant request for roll call votes was more than I expected and kind of gave me an adrenaline rush. Then towards the end of this markup, I finally understood why the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America group was present at the full committee markup for a committee concerned with natural resources issues. It went down during discussions around the SHARE Act. I’m not here to sway people to the left or right, however, I do find it strange for legislation removing silencers from the National Firearms Act to be important to the heritage of American sportsmen and women.

My Hill meeting with Mr. Peter Hunter from Representative Cedric Richmond’s staff will hopefully lead to an aye for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. Mr. Hunter and I discussed why this bill is needed and how important it is to agriculture states like Louisiana. He said it’s straightforward legislation that is requesting the same kind of treatment other health professionals working in underserved areas get. Definitely expecting that co-sponsorship and a big AYE from Representative Richmond!

I really enjoyed meeting a couple of members of Congress who also practiced veterinary medicine! Dr. Kurt Schrader is a representative for the state of Oregon who wears the coolest cowboy boots everyday to work. Florida Representative Dr. Ted Yoho is definitely a U of F Gators fan and didn’t hold back his southern hospitality when he offered Jacob and me a couple of small bottles of Tropicana Florida orange juice.

Being on the hill and experiencing the process of law making was a great experience. Washington D.C. is home to many vets who play major roles in developing and implementing legislation. The profession has only a few who take on the challenge of traveling down the non-traditional path. For those who do, the reward of working for the greater good of this country is something they cherish. I am looking forward to my future experiences and to continuing to break down barriers while showing the world what veterinarians have to offer.

The Hill Has Ayes 4 The Hill Has Ayes 3 The Hill Has Ayes 2 The Hill Has Ayes 1

October 3, 2017

Louisianians Love LunchMEATings

By Derecka Alexander
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Around DC

The Carving Room is where lunch meetings turn into lunch MEATings. Today, I met Dr. Will McCauley and Dr. Rachel Cumberbatch, two veterinarians following the unbeaten path with their current employer the Animal Health Institute (AHI). I was under the impression that AHI is a consulting firm, and I was wrong. AHI is a non-profit membership organization that represents companies with an interest in veterinary health. It’s considered a trade association and participates in public relations activities, with a focus on collaboration between clients and the governmental agencies regulating their clients’ activities.

Both Dr. McCauley and Dr. Cumberbatch started out their veterinary careers in private practice. After five years, Dr. McCauley decided he wanted a change and was led to AHI where he serves as the Director of Regulatory Affairs and Veterinary Biologics. Dr. Cumberbatch was a AAAS Science Policy Fellow for the EPA and a AAAS/AVMA Congressional Fellow for Senator Al Franken’s office. She’s now the Regulatory Affairs Manager for AHI where she integrates clinical expertise and policy experience to protect the health of humans, animals and the environment. These vets work together with other teams at AHI uniting stakeholders in the pet, agriculture, veterinary and public health communities with the common goal of addressing issues at the center of human and animal health.

I asked them about what skills they thought are helpful for jobs like the ones they have. They stressed that their work is based mainly on the use of soft skills rather than the technical stuff vets work so hard on mastering before graduation. The work they do has a heavy focus on the regulatory side of the Legislative branch. They spend a large portion of their time monitoring CFRs and communicating changes to clients via memos. Much like how a vet has to break down complicated cases to pet owners, the vets at AHI have to soup the issues important to their clients and translate that information to team members and clients who may not have a strong science background. For them, the balancing of key interests is crucial; so, negotiation skills definitely help them serve as liaisons between regulatory bodies like FDA or USDA and stakeholders. There’s a lot of human to human interaction taking place when you’re working in the middle of manufacturers of veterinary health products and the governmental agencies that regulate them.

I think what the vets do at AHI is super cool! I would never have heard any of my professors talk about doing this kind of work. Listening to them talk about their super cool jobs had me wonder about how a vet can position his/herself into getting this kind of job. Then Dr. Cumberbatch talked to me about creating good elevator speeches. She said that if I can’t translate what I want to do at a job for a boss or a family member to understand, then I’ll miss out on amazing career opportunities.

I would like to thank Dr. Cumberbatch and Dr. McCauley for introducing me to a cool lunch spot. Good food mixed with great throwback 90’s hip hop/pop music is always a good time. Y’all know this Louisiana girl loves good food and music! I’m so grateful that the vets in D.C. take time out of their busy schedules to talk to vet students like me who are searching for a “that something different” kind of career in veterinary medicine.



October 3, 2017

The Jive Inside the Hive

By Derecka Alexander

One Health is not a brand new concept, but it is still going through some growing pains as the concept gains some traction in the mainstream. Under the One Health umbrella, different disciplines work together to figure out how to maintain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment. At the One Health Academy in D.C., health professionals interested in One Health dialogue and social engagement meet monthly to discuss issues. I took the opportunity to attend this month’s meeting that featured Dr. Terry Kane, DVM, MS, who talked about the wonderful world of bees.

Confession: I am afraid of bees! I’ve never been stung, but I am too melodramatic about suffering the same consequence the character Thomas J sufferers in the movie My Girl.

Dr. Kane went from private practitioner at a feline veterinary hospital to AVMA Congressional Fellow to currently working as the “A2Bee” vet. Reporters around the country have media outlets talking about how the pollinators of this country are in trouble. It was nice to hear the veterinary perspective on this.

That night, I learned that beekeeping has been in practice for millennia. The Egyptians are recorded as the first beekeepers (shout out to the Motherland, Africa). Scientists know that pollination is essential for an ecosystem’s survival. Farmers rely on pollinators for over 100 different kinds of crops. A threat to bees can lead to a threat to our nation’s food supply and have major effects on a multi-million dollar industry!

Dance is considered a universal language that transcends different cultures and animal species. Despite my fear, I found myself slipping into a space where I envisioned bees busily buzzing around in a synchronized manner. I let my guard down and allowed my love for animals to grow through the connection of dance. Bees dance y’all!

Dr. Kane talked about how uncoded bits of RNA produced by plants are picked up by bees and are used to create their waggle dance. Bees have an internal GPS that allows for them to create coordinates through the form of dance. This waggle dance communicates to the other bees where the flowers are. Researchers are using computer analysis techniques to uncode the waggle dance and figure out where these flowers are, too. All of this is done in hopes of understanding and treating the colony collapse disorder, which is a global issue.

Important research like this is needed to help vets understand how to treat bees on a bee farm. It’s great knowing that there are veterinary schools currently incorporating the latest bee information into curricula to help prepare the vets of tomorrow. I don’t think any veterinarian everThe Jive Inside the Hive- Bee Talk of BEEcoming a vet for bees. This profession never ceases to amaze me.

October 3, 2017

SOAP-ing on the Hill

By Jacob Froehlich, PhD

Every veterinary student knows the acronym “SOAP.” Subjective. Objective. Assessment. Plan. You don’t receive a DVM without writing at least 500 SOAPS (and that number is probably generously low).

Soap1 soap2During one of my meetings with the three veterinarians in Congress – Rep Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-OR-5), Rep Ted Yoho, DVM (R-FL-3), and Rep Ralph Abraham. DVM. MD (R-LA-5) – the Congressman remarked that the SOAP can be applied to Congress and the legislative process. First, when confronting any patient or problem, one needs to first subjectively characterize that patient or problem. Is the patient a three year old castrated male Doberman Pinscher? Is he bright, alert, and responsive? Is the problem that the United States must currently shares its food-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank with Mexico and Canada? As you continue reading, note that I will be using FMD and the need for a vaccine bank to illustrate the SOAP process of thinking here.

Subjective: Shared foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank appears inadequate to quickly respond to any future FMD outbreak.

The objective portion of the SOAP is next. Here, the facts are stated. What is the patient’s heart rate? What is the patient’s temperature?  How many vaccines are available? What is the response time for FMD vaccine deployment in the event of an outbreak in the United States?

O1. FMD vaccines available: 14 strains, with a few million doses each.
O2. Location: Plum Island, NY.
O3. Vaccine manufacturing finished overseas. 
O4. Deployment time: approximately 4 days

Now, with any patient or problem, one must make assessments in order to formulate a plan.

A1. FMD not reported in USA since 1929. 
A2. FMD vaccine bank shared between USA, Mexico, and Canada.
A3. Inadequate number of doses, strains available: rule out (r/o) international North American sharing v. poor federal funding v. no apparent need 
A4. Poor response, vaccine deployment time: r/o overseas manufacturing v. international North American sharing v. antiquated disease 

Based on one’s assessment, the patient’s problem list (or, in this case, the issue’s problem list) is then used to formulate a plan. In my example of foot-and-mouth disease prevention and outbreak response, there are currently 60 strains of FMD and 24 known vaccines to provide immunological coverage for those strains. While FMD has not been identified in the United States since 1929, it’s impact on animal health, welfare, and production would be catastrophic, should it reappear after finding its way back into the country. Hundreds of thousands of animals would be slaughtered and burned, and US exports of animal products would slam closed overnight, wreaking financial havoc on ranchers’ bottom lines and our economy as a whole.

Lastly, as foreshadowed above, a plan is made to address the various assessments and rule-outs associated with those assessments in order to make a positive impact on the patient’s health or the issue at hand.

P1. Request that Congress create a foreign animal disease (including FMD) vaccine bank for exclusive United States use.
P2. Request that Congress direct the vaccine bank to expand the vaccine strains on hand and the numbers of those vaccines available for use. 
P3. Request that Congress fund this vaccine bank adequately in the next Farm Bill.

As you can see from this very simple (but important) example, subjectively and objectively characterizing a problem, assessing that problem, and generating a plan for that problem is not too far removed the process veterinarians use every single day to treat animal patients. As I am sure the Congressmen which whom I met would agree, perhaps Congress would function more efficiently and in a more bipartisan manner if they – the 435 Representatives, 6 Delegates and Resident Commissioner, and 100 Senators – were required to write SOAPs for every problem they faced, just like every veterinary student and veterinarian does for every one of their patients.

Thank you, Congressmen Schrader and Yoho, for taking time out of your very busy days to meet with Derecka and me!

October 3, 2017

701 meets 0701

By Jacob Froehlich, PhD

You’ve probably heard the quote “it’s the little things.” Even in the Nation’s not-so-small capital of Washington, D.C., that phrase has rung true with me over the last month. As I prepare to depart D.C., trading in my suit and tie for coveralls and stethoscope, I’d like to thank several Washingtonians, Virginians, and Marylanders for their “it’s the little things” moments over the last month.

Before coming to D.C., I had often searched for veterinary jobs on the well-known USAJOBS.GOV website. I quickly noticed that putting “veterinary” or “veterinarian” or “VMO (veterinary medical officer)” in the search bar yielded differing results. I was worried that I was missing jobs because I wasn’t entering the right search terms. It turns out that all I really needed was the “code” for veterinarian in the federal government: 0701. This 701 (the area code for North Dakota telephone numbers) boy just needed that 0701, and I was set! Thank you to Dr Patricia Brown of the NIH for giving me this “it’s the little things” tip.

As I worked in basic aquaculture research before deciding to enroll in veterinary school, I have often thought about marrying my veterinary degree to my interest in growing-up fish and other seafood species. While veterinary medicine in the realm of fishes, bivalves, and crustaceans has been sincerely lacking, I must thank Dr Caird Rexroad of USDA-ARS for his “it’s the little things” tip-off to two companies (in Maine of all places, just up the road from my home in Massachusetts) that are investing heavily in aquaculture health! With just four words, new doors were opened to me.

To the United States Capitol Police at the south entrance to Cannon House Office building: thank you for making walking through the metal detector a tad more fun with our discussion of brachycephalic airway syndrome in bulldogs. That’s right – I had a discussion about BAS with two members of the fine USCP! I very much appreciate this “it’s the little things” moment.

Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL-3), your “it’s the little things” offer of some Florida orange juice at the beginning of our meeting was just what I needed after running around D.C. in the rather warm weather in a suit. Good ol’ OJ never tasted so good!

To Sen Edward Markey (D-MA)’s staffer who wrote me such a thoughtful email following my meeting with him, I must say it is the best feeling in the world, despite however “it’s the little things” it may feel, to know that a staffer has taken such an interest in the plight of veterinary students and their ever-growing debt.

I often like to take walks after dinner. I can tell you that no walk in my 30 year history of walks can compete with my stroll following dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Walking just one block from the restaurant, I was able to witness the White House at night. When I posted that photograph to Instagram, I wrote “no caption needed,” and, boy, was that ever true. An after-dinner breath of fresh air puts winds in your sails when you pass by the White House, in all its ambiance, on that jaunt. Truly, “it’s the little things.”701

Lastly, but most definitely not least, I must thank the AVMA Governmental Relations Staff (GRD) for their incredible support, expertise, and hospitality over the last month. Without you all – Gina, Mark, Lauren, Jamae, Cat, Ashley, Kent, and Patty – this extraordinary 30 days would not have been possible. I cannot even begin to enumerate the “little things” you all have done for me during my September stay in Washington, D.C.

As I close my last blog post as an AVMA veterinary student extern, I’d like to share a quote written by one of the members of the GRD staff in a book I received as a going-away gift.

What you leave behind is not what is engrave in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. – Pericles 

I know I left a very limited physical mark on this town. I cannot compete with the stone monuments, the Roman column buildings, and aura of history that make Washington, D.C., the city that it is. the But the reverse is not true. This metropolis, with its Congressional staffers, Members of Congress, executive branch veterinarians and scientists, and NGO DVM/VMDs and professionals, has left a very real mark on me. Being in Washington, D.C., one can easily get lost in the hubbub of this city. However, it was the “little things” that made me feel welcome and a very real part of this American experience, that led me to believe that my story and my aspirations were woven into the tapestry that makes Washington, D.C., a city like no other.

Washington, D.C., and AVMA – thank you.

September 28, 2017


By Jacob Froehlich, PhD

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.  - Former Secretary of Defense Donald H Rumsfeld

I carry this quote with me on a daily basis for a very simple reason: to remind myself to seek the “we don’t know what we don’t know” as often as I can. The unknown unknowns, as the Secretary termed them, are where, I believe, we can really grow, we can really solve problems, and we can really bring about change. That is why, during my month long stint in the District of Columbia with the American Veterinary Medical Association, I have sought to meet with organizations and individuals who are likely to share vastly different outlooks, perspectives, opinions, and thoughts than my own.

Take tackling the ever-growing problem of veterinary student loan debt. The obvious experts on this issue work for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). It is their very job to know this issue, brainstorm solutions, and confront this debt head on. But what if I told you that I had a very fruitful and eye-opening discussion with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA)? That’s right, the association which represents beef producers across the United States. What I took away from that meeting with a vastly different perspective, one from outside the hallowed halls of academia and one that has really changed my ideas about how we can solve the debt, as we veterinary students put it.

Take humane slaughter. One would likely predict that I would meet with an animal welfare group, but I also met with the veterinarians who work with abattoirs on a daily basis. To ensure that food animals – whether you are a carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, or strict vegan – are treated humanely prior to and during slaughter, we really need to understand the concept of humane slaughter from all sides, across the spectrum, and from vastly different perspectives. It does the animals little good if all of the stakeholders in humane slaughter do not speak with each other.


After my meeting with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, I was presented with a star-spangled cattle lapel pin. Now, if you know me, you can appreciate that I love cows and I am dedicated to the future of this nation, so the pin suits me well. However, I wear the pin now for an additional reason: sometimes, you find answers to questions in places you never thought probable or possible.

Every time I


fix my tie or fluff my suit coat collar, I hope it reminds me to continue to seek out perspectives – different, diverse, and dive

rgent perspectives.

September 28, 2017

Searching For Something Different

By Derecka Alexander
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Government Agencies

Derecka 3“Stay true to yourself and keep your mind open”

This is the advice Dr. Erin Casey gave me as we talked about her path to veterinary medicine. Like me, Dr. Casey went through vet school knowing she wanted to work in something other than clinical practice and research, but wasn’t quite sure what that different thing would be. It’s very hard to understand how to search for something different when majority of the options presented to you are internships and/or private practice.


As an undergraduate, Dr. Casey performed research that focused on the study of salamanders. This experience opened the door to her first research job. She liked what she was doing and didn’t mind the perks of traveling, however,  she quickly realized she would need another degree to advance her career. Dr. Casey said she liked what she could do with a DVM compared to PhD. She understood how pursuing a DVM would provide her with the diagnostic experience employers want, as well as the clinical experience that draws upon understanding how to use technical skills to cater a treatment plan to a particular patient.


Although vet school was competitive and stressful for her, she never stopped searching for a veterinary career tailored to her liking. Dr. Casey told me how the AVMA GRD externship opened up her eyes to that different thing she was looking for. She really enjoyed going to the One Health meetings and networking with different vets in the D.C. area.


Staying true to herself, she decided to apply for the AAAS Fellowship and landed a position as a veterinarian for the Department of State. Dr. Casey spent almost two years working in the executive branch and enjoyed it, especially when opportunities like traveling to West Africa for the Ebola outbreak were presented to her #publichealthvet. For almost two years, Dr. Casey enjoyed her job and had the chance to travel to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. However, the bureaucracy of government can put a damper on any government employee’s parade.


As her fellowship was coming to an end, Dr. Casey stayed on the non-traditional path and opted for a job that provided her with more autonomy than the bureaucracy of federal work. Currently, she works as a field veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim. Her job duties include educating vets in her region on products and regulations pertinent to veterinary practice. Her everyday duties vary from day to day and keeps her interested versus the usual twenty minutes spent working up a patient while educating a client throughout an eight hour workday.


Although it was a brief phone call, I really enjoyed getting to know Dr. Casey. It was nice to know that there are vets out there who entered vet school feeling like me, longing for something different. The AAAS program provided Dr. Casey with a lot of networking opportunities and helped her make an easy transition from government work to corporate life. Education, networking, and staying true to herself is what led Dr. Casey to the vet med career she has now.  It’s fascinating knowing that she is very happy about her decisions and open to what the future has in store. Since I think Dr. Casey is cool, I would like to conclude with a quote from the Notorious B.I.G. “Stay far from timid/ Only make moves when your heart’s in it/ And live in the phrase ‘sky’s the limit’.”