September 17, 2014

Ebola and veterinarians

By Samantha McDonnel
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Senate Hearings

Yesterday I attended a senate hearing on Ebola and the recent outbreak in Liberia which, in an apparently rare move, was jointly held by an appropriations subcommittee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It was my first hearing, and was much more formal than the briefings I’ve been to (and, incidentally, did NOT include free food). Witnesses included folks from CDC, NIH, BARDA, and others.

My view of the Ebola Senate hearing

My view of the Ebola Senate hearing

As you likely know, ebola is zoonotic, but mostly transferable between humans and other primates, not domestic animals. It is therefore not a pathogen of primary veterinary concern, nor do we learn a lot about it in school. Even so, many of the questions asked of the panel by the senators would be easily answered by someone with a basic medical background (which of course the senators don’t have and shouldn’t be blamed for not knowing).

For example, they repeatedly asked Dr. Fauci from NIAID (national institute for allergy and infectious disease) whether ebola could mutate into a virus capable of spreading by the respiratory/aerosol route. Being a filovirus, we know that it is unenveloped, relatively fragile, and extremely unlikely to rapidly mutate to totally change its mode of transmission (just like rabies won’t suddenly become fecal-oral transmission). Obvious to us (even though it isn’t a ‘veterinary’ virus), but not someone without that kind of background. Made me think again about the value of having veterinarians, with their broad background and translatable skill-set, on the hill and in government.

September 17, 2014

Calling all veterinary students

By Stephanie Fisher
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Calling all veterinary students—the application for the 2015 AVMA Governmental Relations Student Externship Program in Washington, D.C., is now online.

The externship program pairs talented veterinary students with AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division (GRD) for an intense, four-week immersion program that introduces them to the breadth of public policy issues facing the profession while providing hands-on lobbying experience with legislators and staffers on Capitol Hill.

The deadline to apply is October 17. More information available here: https://www.avma.org/GRDexterns

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September 11, 2014

Pride in our Nation and Profession

By Samantha McDonnel
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The flags are flying low around the capital city today as we all remember what happened 13 years ago today.  I was a freshman in high school, but of course I remember it like it was yesterday.  I’m certain that most of you reading this do as well.  A lot has happened since then, but I know most of us pause each September 11th to remember the sorrow, but also to take pride in the strength of our nation.  Regardless of which corner of this country you come from, and how much frustration you might have with our congress at the moment, we are all very lucky who call ourselves American.

On a similar note, I am feeling a great deal of pride for our profession this week, as it has been my first week at AVMA on a month-long externship in DC.  Already I have met DC veterinarians working in congress, federal administrations, private practice, industry, biomedical research, and, of course, political advocacy.  Issues as varied as FMD vaccine strategy, illegal wildlife trafficking, horse welfare, student loan repayment, EPA water jurisdiction, and veterinary school accreditation have been discussed, debated, and decided upon.  I have been particularly impressed with the religiously nonpartisan nature of the work of the AVMA.  And in general, I am feeling proud to be a part of this incredibly diverse profession.  As we take a moment to look back today, I am grateful for so many reasons, and certainly looking forward to the coming weeks at AVMA.

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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.