After finishing up my final finals of vet school, finishing Large Animal Block and putting away my coveralls and flannel lined jeans for now, it was time to start packing all the business attire I could find in my closet. Onto my first externship of my clinical year—a month with the AVMA’s Government Relations Division!
Our first week here with the AVMA was a conglomeration of meetings, figuring out what our role was with the GRD and what was going on in Congress. During our first day, we got oriented to the beautiful AVMA office and learned to use our computers with two (!!) screens. We had a formal orientation with the GRD staff to get us excited for all the possibilities during our month here. On day two, we attended a meeting that the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA) held at our office. The AVMA staff described the current political climate and each staff members’ portfolio of issues they’re working on. The meeting touched on some of the group’s priorities for appropriations and the upcoming Farm Bill, and it ended up being a good experience for us to get thrown into the swing of things, struggling to keep up with all the acronyms thrown around! After the meeting, we met with each AVMA GRD staff member to discuss the issues they cover further, and get an understanding of how we’ll be spending our month here.
We finished off the day attending a Congressional Briefing on Antimicrobial Resistance. Representatives from the CDC, NIAID, DoD, and BARDA discussed the public health crisis antimicrobial resistance poses and how it affects each of their departments. Of importance to developing new antibiotics, in their opinion, was restructuring incentives for pharmaceutical company research into developing new drugs to treat these resistant microbes. These new drugs, of course, would be limited in use for only those infections proven to be multidrug resistant, but by doing so, limits the potential profit of these drugs. To counteract the inherent capitalistic forces driving pharmaceutical companies, they argued for government funding to incentivize research of new drugs, so that these critically needed drugs are discovered and created and provide profits to offset their cost of development.
On Wednesday, we headed back to the Hill, to attend the House Homeland Security Committee Markup. Numerous bills were discussed in this meeting, but we were specifically listening for HR 1238 Securing our Food and Agriculture Act, which aims to coordinate the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts related to food, agriculture, and veterinary defense against terrorism. The discussion on the bill was generally unremarkable, and the committee was favorable on it. However, it was interesting just to be a part of the process and see that agro-terrorism is something being considered in our government!
After the markup, we attended a PAC lunch for Rep. Ralph Abraham, a congressman from Louisiana with a veterinary degree! He’s one of three representatives with a veterinary degree, and we got the chance to have lunch with him and discuss the importance of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act for us and veterinary students as a whole, who graduate with high student debt they’ll likely be paying off throughout their careers.
Wednesday was also International Women’s Day, and being in D.C. allows me to opportunity to attend numerous events each day. Women’s reproductive rights both domestically and abroad are something I find critically important. In honor of International Women’s Day, George Washington University had a panel about the Helms Amendment and the Global Gag Rule, two policies that restrict the use of U.S. Federal funding for international agencies providing, or in the case of the Global Gag Rule, counseling women on abortion as a method of family planning. Being able to attend this event at night after spending the day learning about bills pertaining to agriculture was a great way to balance my personal and professional interests!