It has been another incredible week here in DC! We happened to schedule our time here perfectly to enjoy Pet Night on Capitol Hill where I got to meet Spumoni and Zamboni. I mean, come on!
We visited the USDA and met 14 veterinarians that all play an important role in keeping our food safe to eat and our food animals protected from disease. And we even enjoyed champagne in the Library of Congress after an awards ceremony for federally funded scientific research that has changed our world.
But it was a conversation we had back in the office that has stayed with me most.
Dr. Lisa Greenhill, Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at AAVMC, was generous enough to meet with us and discuss diversity (or maybe more appropriately, lack thereof) and why it is important to the veterinary profession.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in this field but I was moved by my conversation with Dr. Greenhill and wanted to share what I learned, knowing that in an hour we could not even scratch the surface of this incredibly complicated and important topic.
She spoke about there being three types of veterinary or potential veterinary students:
- The called- this group includes the majority of veterinary students, who like myself, had an innate sense from when they were very young that all they wanted to do in life was be a veterinarian.
- The recruited- this group includes individuals who found their passion for veterinary medicine later in life, where certain life events had to take place for them to realize this is what they wanted to do as a career.
- The muted- this group, like the called group, always wanted to be a veterinarian, however, due to many possible reasons, this call was muted over time.
Understanding why the muted group exists can start to explain why there is such a lack of diversity in veterinary schools. We discussed many different scenarios including:
- Lack of exposure; I was lucky enough to grow up with animals, but not every family can afford to own a pet, and for many kids, they may not meet their first veterinarian until much later in life.
- Dissuasion and cultural differences; In some cultures, veterinarians are not as well respected as other careers such as a becoming a lawyer or doctor, and some kids may grow up hearing repeatedly that they should pursue something else.
- Lack of role models; Kids often pick the careers they are drawn to at an early age by meeting someone they connect with or seeing someone on TV and wanting to be like them. If a kid grows up never meeting a veterinarian that either looks like them or came from a similar background as them, they will lack this role model.
- Lack of opportunity; Many veterinary schools require significant amount of hours working with animals and all require high academic standards. But maybe this has excluded some people from being able to apply because instead of being able to volunteer, they had to work whatever job they could get. And maybe that job added stress and took up a lot of their time so their grades suffered. We talked about how this issue is bigger than just veterinary medicine application standards and goes back to the differences in education available to minorities starting at a very young age.
I think its safe to say, the road to veterinary medicine is unfortunately and unfairly more difficult for some people than others.
If as a community we are able to reach and keep more of this muted group and let them be part of the called as they were always meant to be, we can hopefully start to change the face of veterinary medicine.
Personally, I wanted to know if there was anything I (or you) could do, and Dr. Greenhill gave some excellent suggestions:
- Many veterinary schools have outreach programs that go in to elementary schools in communities that might lack veterinary access and educate the kids on what we do and why it’s a great profession- join them!
- Become a member of VOICE (Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity) and learn how you and your school can improve the campus climate to be welcoming to all people.
- Go out and work with different communities and understand their specific needs.
- Reflective journaling- this will increase your ability to communicate and engage people that you have never worked with before.
For more information and discussion on diversity in veterinary medicine, please take some time to enjoy this wonderful podcast put on by Dr. Greenhill.
Week two has been exceptional. This externship has taken me all over the city, to events that range from delightful to inspirational, and has allowed me to meet a countless number of individuals whose achievements are astounding.
One thing it has taught me, though, is that DC moves on a different time scale from the rest of the world. Change can be an excruciatingly slow process here. From the outside looking in, it sometimes appears like nothing is happening (see: popular rhetoric). Then, once you dive in headfirst to DC you realize that about a million things are happening all at one time. Like most things, the reality of Washington progress lies somewhere in between those two extremes. Yes, it often takes years to pass a bill and make a change BUT those years often allow for research to be done, important discussions to be had, and preparations to be made for the impending change. With America’s culture of breakneck efficiency it can be really hard for us to accept and appreciate debate and deliberation. The reality is that these concepts are essential parts of the legislative process because the decisions impact millions of people. Often laws passed in a huge rush can have disastrous unintended consequences because proper analysis was not done before the decision was made. So the next time you hear someone complaining about “do-nothing Washington” research the topic and see if there have been hearings or if there is ongoing research being done on the issue. Chances are there’s work being done, it’s just not work that makes for an excellent headline. If there isn’t, then you have the perfect opportunity to write to your Congressman/woman to get the process moving. :)
In this externship, we’ve been trying to get a handle on some of the big issues facing Washington currently, such as the rising cost of prescription drugs (ie. Epipens). On this issue alone there have been at least 4 congressional hearings in the last two weeks and several panels at policy institutes with industry experts. The public is crying out for immediate action and lawmakers are trying to figure out the best way forward. It may seem like nothing is being done on the issue, but the truth is there’s no simple answer/solution that will magically fix the problem. This could be said of a lot of issues facing our country currently. The good news that I can report from DC is that our legislators are trying to find solutions and there are a lot of brilliant policy analysts who are providing insights. I feel incredibly lucky that this externship has allowed me to see these processes occur and learn from some of these experts, even if it means I have to operate on “DC time” which is difficult for my type A personality to handle at times. For now I’m just trying to learn how to take a step back, smell the roses, and enjoy the journey. The incredible beauty of the DC area has definitely helped.
So in summary of my rambling thoughts I leave you with this quote:
“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.”
-Atifete Jahjaga, first female president of the Republic of Kosovo
When I left California for Washington, D.C. last week I was filled with two overwhelming emotions: excitement and terror. I was excited because the externship with the AVMA-GRD would allow me to follow my passion of advocacy for animal welfare and issues that face veterinary students, introduce me to incredible veterinarians with unique positions in the government, and give me an opportunity to learn about how policy impacts our profession. But knowing I would be doing all of this with my wheelchair and the infamous D.C. Metro System, I admit I was a bit terrified too.
Having done extensive research on where to stay that would make my daily commute less intimidating but wouldn’t completely break the bank, I settled on a nice AirBnB spot in Silver Spring 384 feet away from the Red Line, the same line for the AVMA office building. Feeling optimistic that my painstaking research in to where I would stay and how I would get around had paid off, I set out my first Sunday in town for a trial run and to find a nice spot to watch football and enjoy a beer. But, after my easy 384 feet roll to the Silver Spring metro stop I was greeted with the following sign:
Womp. Womp. Was this a funny prank? An omen for the rest of the trip? While this unfortunate elevator outage does add well over an hour to my daily commute, I’ve learned that it’s best to make the most of circumstances you cannot change. Because of this outage I have met many a friendly bus driver whose stories never disappoint (including one who is certain he was visited by aliens at a drive in movie), discovered a brewery I would have otherwise never known about, and saw this hilarious sign:
So, while the D.C. Metro will not be getting my first impression rose, I do admit that in just week one it has taken me to many exciting places.
In just my first visit to the Hill I saw a congressional hearing on the student debt crisis, a fascinating discussion on moving away from the use of animal testing for toxicology and biomedical research, and an enlightening talk on climate smart agriculture (which you can read more about from Amy Smith, my wonderful extern mate). In between all this learning, I have seen Amos Lee perform at the Kennedy Center, and snuck in a visit to the Newseum and American History Smithsonian. And, yes, all this made possible by the Washington, D.C. Metro.
After just one week, I can safely say the terror of navigating this city has subsided, and what remains is the pure excitement for the many adventures and learning opportunities to come.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Amy Smith and I’m a third year veterinary student at the University of Florida. There’s a little more information about me in the “About the Authors” page. The most important things to know about me are:
- I am passionate about animal agriculture.
- I have a strong interest in advocacy and international development. These interests are what led me to participate in the AVMA Governmental Relations Division externship.
Last night, I went to an event about climate-smart agriculture in Africa that was attended by approximately 50 experts on agricultural international development. I was asked by at least three of them why I was there. There was only one mention of livestock in the agricultural development plans for the countries. Almost all of the program directors for the plans had a background in soil/water/environmental sciences but no apparent training in livestock systems. The only mention of livestock at this event was to say that livestock systems in Kenya were a big source of greenhouse gas emissions. At the reception after the event, I conversed with a program director from the U.S. Agency for International Development. I asked him directly where livestock fit into the climate smart agricultural projects created by his agency and he didn’t know. He was surprised by my viewpoints on using livestock for international development and wrote down some of the examples I gave, such as Christian Veterinary Mission’s Give a Kid to a Kid program, to research more.
I’m not mentioning this specific event to point fingers – I am simply trying to use this circumstance to raise a point of discussion. A lot of developing nations treasure livestock production as an inherent aspect of their cultural traditions. If we want to help these nations improve their agricultural production wouldn’t healthcare and preventative medicine for these livestock species be a natural step forward? A study in 2001 showed that in Kenya, access to veterinary medicine was the major limiting factor preventing livestock producers from obtaining care for their animals. I strongly believe that veterinarians need to be part of the international development conversation and veterinary medicine should be regarded as an important aspect of agricultural development.
Preventative medicine and improved healthcare for livestock species has been cited as one of the major driving forces behind the increased per animal production seen over the last 100 years in agriculturally advanced nations. Veterinarians offer a skill set to international development that few others could provide. Our training in reproduction/breeding, epidemiology, orthopedics, medicine and more provides us with the ability to help educate livestock producers worldwide how to produce better animal products in a more humane way. We have the tools, we just need to figure out how and where we can apply them. In agriculturally advanced nations, we have been able to produce greater amounts of animal product with less animals and environmental inputs while also implementing more humane methodology. These advances were made possible through improved preventative medicine, breeding, nutrition, and biosecurity. These technologies and improvements should be made more accessible to developing nations. We could radically transform communities in many developing nations through livestock production education. This is my call to veterinarians (especially those who specialize in food animal species): please lend your talents and gifts to those less fortunate than yourselves. I truly believe (and the literature supports me) that improved livestock production could be a huge source of increased food security and resilience in developing nations and that we could help this improvement occur through providing educational opportunities for the citizens of those nations.
Other resources related to livestock/agricultural education in international development:
These are the events through the week of July 10, 2016.
On Monday, we briefly attended a meeting for the AVMA-Political Action Committee Board. It was interesting to hear the different points of view and how different ideas can come together to better the PAC. After that, we went to another meeting discussing the Freedom of Information Act and how that has impacted research in every single field. After yet another meeting, we decided to tour the Library of Congress. It was breathtaking. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting D.C. My favorite exhibit had paintings of beautifully feathered birds that explorers saw in the new lands.
On Tuesday, we went to the office of Rep. Schrader (D-OR). Julia, one of his staffers, was fantastic and coordinated a joint meeting involving both Rep. Schrader and Rep. Yoho (R-FL). They are both veterinarians by training but are currently serving as Congressmen in the House of Representatives. So we met Julia and she led us to the Capitol media room. In order to get to the Capitol, we walked through tunnels connecting the Rayburn, Longworth, and Cannon House Office Buildings. We talked for a bit with her while we waited for her Boss. Unfortunately, she had prior obligations and had to take off but not before one of Rep. Yoho’s staffers, Larry, arrived and we spent the remainder of the time with him. Finally, the Congressmen entered after a round or two of voting. So we all chitchatted for a short time then they had to go vote again, and again.
We did have the pleasure of spending this “vote-o-rama” with Larry. I say “vote-o-rama” because they had to vote at least five times but these votes had two minute intervals. While the Congressmen were voting, we met Miss Illinois! She was in town for her political training. One conversation really highlighted how pertinent it is to have people with a veterinary background involved with policy making. Someone suggested that the wild horses out West should be rounded up and then the horses should be darted to manage the herd versus rounding the horses up and castrating them once. The Congressmen brought the issues to light but I could understand how someone unfamiliar with certain procedures would suggest certain ideas! I am very glad that they are in their position in the House to represent their constituents and veterinary medicine. I’m sure immediately after that conversation, another buzzer went off and they had to go vote again. Before we all parted ways, Rep. Davis (R-IL), who is my Representative was nearby so we had a nice photo op! Larry offered to walk us out of the Capitol and was escorting us to the exit when we heard the overhead announcement of “Lockdown. Lockdown. Please go to the nearest office.” So we went with some other staffers and visitors to a staircase and then rode in an elevator and found ourselves in someone’s office. When I asked whose office we were in, they promptly told me it was Speaker Ryan’s office. They were very friendly and I imagine it was a good office to be in during a lockdown of unknown cause. Once it was lifted enough for us to leave the office, we were able to take the tunnel to Dunkin Donuts to get some iced coffee.
We attended the Inaugural American Humane Lois Pope LIFE K-9 Medal of Courage Awards hosted by The American Humane Caucus on Tuesday. It was held in the Longworth Foyer. The event was well attended and there were dogs scattered throughout the audience with their partners and handlers. I always just ignore the urge to pet working service dogs; however the people at this event took advantage of their presence and rushed to the canines to give them a good petting. Congressional members of the caucus spoke for a few minutes to express their gratitude to these human and animal warriors. Eventually, a brief history regarding each dog and their handler came to light. One of the dogs, Bond, suffers from combat trauma and actually knocked out his own teeth trying to chew himself out of his crate during a thunderstorm. But there we were, clapping for him. Once Matt and I heard about his history, we silently clapped for each of the remaining handlers and dogs. We did go up to Bond and spoke to his caretaker and she said that he was getting anxious during the ceremony. I teared up at this event, but how could you not? I was honored to attend this inaugural ceremony.
The Inaugural Public Health Fair was also interesting. There were many associations in attendance which provided us the chance to discuss veterinary medicine and what veterinarians can bring to the table.
The Senate Hearing on the risk to the Western Hemisphere from the Zika Virus humanized some of the Senators for me. Their frustrations with the House’s inaction on the Zika Bill were evident. The expert panel included Thomas Frieden from the CDC, Judith Garber from Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and Irene Koek from the U.S. Agency for International Development. I am happy to report that the Senators on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were able to compromise and pass a bill with the goal to combat the Zika Virus.
On Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a reception for Congressman Yoder at the Capitol Hill Club. For a 4th year veterinary student at the University of Illinois, the location of the Lincoln Presidential room couldn’t have been more appropriate! Rep. Yoder joined the Congressional Veterinary Medicine Caucus, co-sponsored some of the AVMA’s top priorities including the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (HR 3095), PAST Act/Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (HR 3268), and the PACT Act/Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (HR 2293). Rep. Yoder has also led congressional efforts to increase funding for food and agricultural research. Congressman Yoder is a friend of veterinary medicine. Some people on the Hill seemingly look right through you; however, Rep. Yoder is not that way. He was looking forward to seeing his family during the Recess and I am looking forward to seeing my husband and pets come August! However, all evenings come to an end and sometimes the universe even sends you a sign. The sign for the evening was the fire alarm and then the entire building was evacuated. End scene.
Soapbox for the week: In this political climate, compromise is basically seen as a weakness. The ability to “play well with others” is not a priority. That perspective does not help the people in this country. I have seen some extremely frustrating things here over the past few weeks that could have been avoided, or at least alleviated, with some of the communication facets that Dr. Garrett teaches us at Illinois: utilize empathy statements, participate in reflective listening, ask open-ended questions, and to send, receive, and recognize non-verbals.
Over the weekend, I was able to meet up with my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins. I love to kayak so I was thrilled to go out on the Occoquan River with my cousin, Sarah, who is a skilled multi-tasker. She kayaked and caught some Pokemon on the water.
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!