Last week, during the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee and Political Action Committee meetings here in DC, I was asked what an extern does. I think you would get a different answer to this question from every student that has participated in this externship. And interesting enough, this question is extremely difficult to answer in a short, concise manner.
While there are a few things I have done regularly during my externship – lobby for support of the Veterinary Services Investment Act in both the House and Senate – I am usually doing something different every day. I can rattle off a laundry list of activities that I have been doing, (writing education articles, meeting with veterinarians in DC, attending various presentations, committee meetings, hearings, and the LAC and PAC meetings) but I can’t even limit what I have been working on to just one topic. What I can say with certainty, however, is that this experience has opened my eyes to the numerous ways that veterinarians are affected by what happens in this town and the need for veterinarians to speak out on issues in which they should be involved but are often not asked about.
What all veterinarians have in common, is a need for excellent communication skills. Whether you work in a clinic, an ambulatory service, a research lab, or Washington, DC, all veterinarians must communicate with their non-veterinarian clients. It can be difficult to drop the jargon and put what you are saying into simple English, but it is necessary. This externship has facilitated the development of these communication skills immensely and has enabled me to speak clearly about challenges the veterinary profession faces. I know that my communication skills will continue to improve as I move through my career but this experience has helped jump-start the process.
I can say, with great pleasure, that no two days of an AVMA-GRD externship are the same. While some days you can be put into uncomfortable situations, you learn from them and develop your ability to adapt to any situation. Most days provide excellent opportunities to learn about new topics, engage in conversation, and help bring veterinarians into important discussions. This externship is what you make of it and I would encourage everyone to step up to the challenge, take on a student externship or fellowship, and pour your heart into it to help protect the practice of veterinary medicine, protect the health and welfare of animals, and move the veterinary profession forward.