One bad thing, of many, about being in DC is there are a lot of people. One good thing, of many, about being in DC means that there are also a lot of veterinarians! There are various headquarters and offices for most government agencies and private corporations all close enough to visit and meet with personnel. So far I have had the opportunity to visit two separate agencies in government offices that employ several hundred veterinarians: the Center for Veterinary Medicine (part of the Food and Drug Administration) and also the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the USDA.
APHIS is divided into several different departments, our visit focused mostly with veterinary services and also the animal care division. As part of the executive branch, the USDA including APHIS, and the CVM at the FDA are important to enforce laws, but they do so much more than that! APHIS for example has a long list of responsibilities including but not limited to education, outreach, supporting veterinarians (and many other people), monitoring disease and preventing outbreaks, and ensuring the health of our agricultural resources. In doing all these things APHIS works to achieve their mission of protecting the health and value of United States agriculture and natural resources. We met so many veterinarians and other dedicated professionals that I cannot begin to list them all here. A few of my favorite discussions centered around the Cattle Health Center, National Import/Export Services, and clean up and decontamination when outbreaks do occur. The timing for the APHIS visit at the USDA was only a few days after the first confirmed reports of the avian influenza in Tennessee. We discussed the types of plans and actions that were indeed currently occurring just a few states away. Knowing that we now live in a particularly global economy and after going through veterinary school to learn the science of various diseases and transmission, I can say that without APHIS working to protect our agriculture we would have way more problems than we could count!
The CVM also is heavily involved in education and supporting veterinarians and many other objectives. Perhaps one main role of the CVM is its responsibility for approving drugs and monitoring products in the marketplace. The CVM reviews all research data and testing that drug manufacturers perform in order to develop and test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. Any new approved drug needs to be safe and effective. This includes both prescriptions and over the counter medications. However, it is important to note that the CVM, like the FDA for humans, does not closely regulate supplements, vitamins, probiotics, and other types of products. This is why many companies put a disclaimer on these types of products such as “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” One very important point for all practicing veterinarians is that when potential side effects are seen with drugs, the CVM should be notified as they track this essential information. They use a similar process to the FDA for all human drugs and can then investigate suspicious effects and if necessary have further research or evaluation performed, or rarely even pull the drug from the market. I also enjoyed discussing the minor use and minor species animal drug topic. The number of hours and dollars invested into first developing drugs but then also obtaining approval for a species is immense. For veterinary medicine, each species is approved. Therefore often times in vet med drugs are used “off-label”. The minor use and minor species drug development helps to make drugs available legally when used outside of the big species: dogs, cats, cattle, sometimes horses, etc, and have them approved to be labeled for less common species.
It was a great time meeting so many federal veterinarians! For play this time I did the usual walk around the monuments. It is always a great time to visit. And here is a picture of good ol’ Abe himself.
Thanks for reading folks! Peace. Love. Elephants.
The biggest news from DC this week was winter storm Stella. Or actually maybe it was the White House releasing a preliminary budget, the aftermath, and also Congress debating health care. That pretty much sums everything up.
We celebrated some birthdays with singing and cake: personal highlight of the week?
Getting back to the AVMA and our issues…. I had the opportunity to meet with two United States Senate offices this week. The first was with Senator Casey’s office (PA) and the second was Senator Baldwin’s office (WI). These meetings are almost always with staff members in the member’s office and usually last just 15-20 minutes. During the meeting we discuss current legislative issues important to veterinarians including bills currently in congress and issues in general. Most of the time it is simply an education session with staff members about issues important to veterinarians ranging from horse soring, compounding drugs, tax issues, the farm bill, and countless other items depending on the season. Currently these discussions for us center on higher education costs and the debt levels of veterinarians. There are a variety of proposals in congress with different ideas on addressing student loan debt. Often times these ideas are for an entire group of students, undergraduates, graduates, or sometimes all students. Other times bills are introduced which only affect one profession or one type of student. One bill recently introduced in particular relates directly to veterinarians.
HR1268 and S487 are equivalent bills titled the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA). They relate to the VMLRP which incentivizes veterinarians to practice in underserved areas as food animal or public practice veterinarians. Since 2010 there have been 388 awards given throughout 45 states with 1200 veterinarians applying. Each veterinarian is eligible for $25,000 each year for three years of loan repayment after signing a contract with the USDA in these designated shortage areas. Unfortunately as the program is currently written, all awards are taxed at 39% which means each $75,000 total award actually costs $104,250 to the program (The USDA pays the tax directly to the IRS on behalf of the veterinarian.) This tax leads to less veterinarians being placed due to the cost. The enhancement act would eliminate this 39% tax and therefore enable the placement of more veterinarians to work in places where they are needed most, and also receive loan repayment help. Eliminating this tax would make the veterinary program equivalent in administration to the program for doctors and dentists. You may have seen the press release from the AVMA, but you can help the cause here: http://avmacan.avma.org/avma/issues/alert/?alertid=75482626
Winter storm Stella made national news this week as snow piled up in the northeast. DC did not receive the worst of it, but with a poor overall response plan large snow storms lead to cancelled meetings, closed offices, and long transportation delays for those that do venture in to the city. Fortunately we were able to largely work on issues digitally and prepare for Wednesday. It did not take long to warm up and for the snow to melt. An evening hike around an area park showed wildlife and spring springing with countless birds, squirrels, and even several deer being active around the stream.
Thanks for reading folks! Peace. Love. Manatees.
Hello from the nation’s capital! It is a very interesting time to be in DC. With changes in congress, a new administration, and crazy spring weather there are many things occurring! Throughout the month of March I am serving as a veterinary medical student extern with the AVMA governmental relations division here in Washington. That means I am not working in an animal hospital, but am instead learning all about the intricacies of our federal government, veterinarians who serve, and how the AVMA works to advocate for our profession’s best interest in regards to policy. The first few days have been very busy and engaging.
We began the week with some of the usual first day stuff, meeting new people, discussing goals, but then we jumped right into the issues. There are a variety of issues that the AVMA is constantly tracking at the federal level for the profession. Perhaps most important to students are the cost of education and debt issues. There is a wide variety of legislation regarding this. Other current issues include horse soring, compounding drugs, the veterinary feed directive, wildlife, disease management, funding concerns, and the entire farm bill. It truly is a lot to keep track of.
The week continued with a variety of congressional meetings and correspondence between staff and a number of congressional offices. One example included a meeting with the United States Animal Health Association, the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, and the AVMA’s DC office. There was a congressional briefing on antimicrobial resistance which included various scientists, doctors, and a patient’s story. This was particularly interesting because there are so many stakeholders and concerns to this issue: there simply is no magic fix.
On Thursday I attended two congressional subcommittee meetings. The first was with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee which involved a discussion on the use of science in rulemaking. Scientific research is used by a variety of government agencies ranging from the USDA, EPA, FDA, OSHA, and many other fun acronyms. It is important that the research used be accurate, up to date, truthful, and ideally un-politicized. My afternoon hearing included the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research meeting about the inclusion of specialty crops in the next farm bill.
Between these two committee meetings on Thursday I was able to have a quick visit to the US Botanic Gardens (https://www.usbg.gov/). The gardens are located just a few minute walk from the capitol building on the grounds. The gardens have a long history and were originally an idea of George Washington himself with Congress formally establishing the gardens in 1820. This botanic gardens is the oldest continually operating in the country and has over 10,000 living plants with some being over 150 years old. There are a variety of areas including rare and endangered, desert, jungle, orchids, and Hawaii to name a few. Naturally, my favorite specimen was the chocolate tree! If you ever find yourself in the nation’s capital, the gardens are a must see.
So, it is not all meetings and work here!! In addition to the Botanic Gardens visit this week I had a congressional reception with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges one evening after their congressional visits. I also had the opportunity to have lunch with Congressman Ralph Abraham from Louisiana, one of three veterinarians in Congress. More on that next time!
Thanks for reading folks! Peace. Love. Tigers.
We’ve had three days working in D.C. now, and are starting to get the lay of the land. We spent the day Thursday on the Hill again, this time listening to a Senate subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management discussing the Use of Science in Rulemaking. They had three witnesses who were distinguished scientists in their fields. Their discussions highlighted the need for agency transparency on the decisions they make regarding choices of scientific studies helping to shape their policies. The witnesses also highlighted the importance of distinguishing science as a tool to help make decisions, which must be weighted against many other factors influenced by the policies in question. Thus, while science can and should advise policy decisions, science itself is not policy and needs to be weighted against inevitable risks. The conversation was really insightful, and it was great to see the Senate committee calling on scientists for advice.
That afternoon, Kyle and I split up to attend different House committee meetings. I went to the House Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture’s Member Appreciation Day. What this means, is that other Representatives presented testimony to the appropriations committee regarding issues of importance pertaining to agriculture in their districts that they believed needed funding. It was a great chance to hear a variety of representatives from all over the US describing the most important agricultural issues in their areas, and it highlighted the breath and diversity of US agriculture to me.
After the meeting, I took a quick trip to the Botanical Gardens before attending an AAVMC Congressional Reception. The Deans of multiple veterinary colleges took to the Hill that day to meet with their representatives to discuss issues of importance to their schools and the veterinary profession. We were invited to crash their party that evening and have a glass of wine in the Longworth House Building while discussing how their days went!
After a long Thursday, I was excited to take it easy on Friday and catch up on some emailing and these blog posts. We’re looking forward to setting up meetings with our own representatives to discuss the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, and will get the chance to visit the USDA APHIS office and Center for Veterinary Medicine next week! As for now, time to enjoy the weekend and explore D.C. with my best friend from college!
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!
When it comes to issues involving public health, animal health and animal welfare, veterinarians have unparalleled scientific expertise and experience. This knowledge is critically needed in public policy discussions to ensure lawmakers make smart decisions. As part of our work to elevate the voices of veterinarians, the AVMA brings veterinarians to Washington, D.C., as congressional fellows, to spend a year in the office of a member of Congress advising on policy issues.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-2018 AVMA Congressional Fellowship Program. This program is a unique opportunity for veterinarians to help guide public policy; protect, promote and advance the veterinary profession; gain valuable policy experience; and build your professional network. Recent fellows have worked on issues ranging from health information technology to aquatic animal health.
If you’re interested in bringing your veterinary expertise to Capitol Hill, we encourage you to fill out the fellowship application before the February 10, 2017 deadline. You can also read our FAQ page here.
The fellowship program is sponsored through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which works to place qualified, scientific experts in congressional offices where they are needed. To date, more than 60 veterinarians have participated in the AVMA Congressional Fellowship Program.
As I was processing the amazing month I’ve had in D.C. I was trying to come up with a good summary of everything I’ve learned. There’s no way I could quickly sum up the scientific knowledge I’ve gained from congressional briefings and organization lectures or the civic understanding I’ve obtained by visiting federal agencies and lobbying in congressional offices. I couldn’t fit the career advice that veterinarians have generously shared into a few bullet points. One thing I could describe in a well chosen literary quote, though, is the personal advice that many veterinarians echoed over and over again:
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
A resonating and repeating trend from these vets was that it’s okay to walk a different path than your fellow classmates/colleagues. Each vet we met had a different story and a different reason for ending up where they were. They encouraged Lori and I to be comfortable forging our own paths. They exhorted us to be courageous and live our lives doing jobs we were passionate about and loved. I’m not sure if these vets knew how meaningful that advice was for me. I’ve always been that irritating person who regularly updates her five year plan, but in vet school I have been unable to make decisions concerning my future. I’ve been wandering from one possibility to another with no strong feelings about any one option. I was starting to panic that if I didn’t figure it out soon I would make the wrong decision and end up ruining my life. The veterinarians I met in D.C. showed me that there are no wrong decisions. They showed me that it’s okay to try something out for a year or two and decide it’s not for you. They showed me that it’s okay to change your plan because something amazing and different happens to open up. They showed me that sometimes even when you make the best plans, something better and extraordinarily different happens. These veterinarians gave me a huge amount of comfort and confidence. These veterinarians showed me that it’s okay to not follow the normal, well-trodden paths. These veterinarians showed me what it means to forge a trail and how sometimes that can be your life’s greatest adventure.
Thank you to all of the veterinarians who met with Lori and I over the last month. Thank you for sharing your stories and offering us your wisdom. Thank you for being inspirational.
This trip has been more than I ever could have imagined! I fell in love with DC and couldn’t possibly recount all the amazing things I was able to do in my short 4 weeks, but here is a smattering of them to let you in on just how great of a place our capital city is.
1. Event: DC Beer Week
The stars aligned and I happened to find myself in DC during my favorite time of year- beer week. I knew I wasn’t going to have time to scurry around the city to all the different breweries and bars offering special events, so I settled on the opening night event. Seven different breweries brought along two of their favorite brews to be paired with an appetizer each from seven restaurants around DC. With live bluegrass setting the atmosphere in the spacious and luxurious Old Ebbit Grill Atrium, it was obvious this was going to be a fun night. Although starting the night by myself, the free flowing brew made it a welcoming atmosphere and I quickly found some like minded beer snobs and foodies who decided to go all Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi at the event and judge every food pairing. Consensus: DC Brau’s Belgian Space Reaper Double IPA 2.0 paired with Old Ebbit Grill’s cornmeal crusted oyster with smoked tomato vinaigrette and basil aioli was hands down the best. So, to whoever came up with that concoction… please pack your knives and go… straight to my kitchen, thank you.
2. Museum: Holocaust Smithsonian
While there are many incredible museums in DC, my time at the Holocaust museum was educational, emotional, and reflective. The museum takes you through a chronological timeline of events that led up to the rise of Hitler and eventually the Holocaust. It is hard to believe that anything so horrific transpired in our history but as you walk through the museum, you realize that some of the events and circumstances that took place feel eerily familiar. It challenges you to look at what is going on in the world and ask yourself if you would take action if something of this nature was happening in the world. The hard reality is that this has not been a one time occurrence in history and the tragic stories of Cambodia in the 1970s and today’s crisis in Syria force us to reflect on our role as global citizens and ask if we are letting history repeat itself.
3. Restaurant: Busboys and Poets
Busboys and Poets is hard to describe. On its surface, it is a restaurant/bar/coffee shop/book store/ event space all rolled in to one comfortable, convenient, and welcoming location, but once inside you realize it is so much more. I don’t know too many restaurants that have mission statements but theirs sums up what makes this place so special: “Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted…a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul…a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide…we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.” Not to mention it had the best gazpacho and mint infused gin drink I have ever had! I enjoyed this place so much I went twice!
4. Entertainment: A Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Kennedy Center
In order not to ruin anything for future play goers, I will just say this play made me laugh, cry, and squeal. If it ever comes your way- go!
5. Bar: POV at the W
Swanky is probably the best word to describe this bar. Located on the 11th floor of The W hotel, with views of the Washington Monument and White House, I can’t think of a better way to say farewell to DC. With two of my best friends in town we headed here for a sunset drink while we caught up on life. If you can brave the crowds, the views and of course the company, was well worth it!
One idea I’m currently hypothesizing is that there are two types of people in this world: those who walk up escalators and those who stand on them and wait patiently for them to reach the top. This thought came to me as I schlepped my way up the escalator at the DuPont Circle Metro Station which must be one of the longest/tallest in the world (see below) while it was turned off one morning.
My heart was pounding by the time I made it to the top and I couldn’t believe there were people who chose to walk up that many steps on purpose on a regular basis. I decided it was a metaphor for more important ideas – such as different ways of dealing with life. I enjoy standing on the escalator and letting it transport me to the top because that’s what escalators were made to do. If I wanted to walk up stairs, I would take the stairs. Other people are more focused on end results and care less about how to get there. They want to get to the top and do it as fast as possible so walking up the escalator seems like the wisest decision to them. Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe this represents a fundamental difference in thinking. I did some research on the topic and found that the most efficient use of escalators is actually for everyone to stand on them and not walk.
This seemingly silly topic interfaces two fundamental cultural issues: American desire for efficiency (which I touched on last week) and individualism vs. “greater good” mentality. Those who stand on escalators are technically sacrificing their personal efficiency for the efficiency of the group, and those who walk up are choosing their individual gratification over the greater good. What’s interesting about Washington D.C. is that it is a place full of people who are dedicated to the greater good. Over the last weeks we’ve met countless administrators, legislators, and policy analysts who are singularly focused on doing the most good for the greatest number of people possible.
So who are the people walking up the escalators here? A lot of these escalator walkers are often interest groups and corporations who lobby for their specific issues. They often will push their issues at the expense of the greater good. This sounds all negative but individuals and individual issues matter too. For example, some proposed higher education policies could very negatively affect veterinary students but other students and/or society by decreasing federal spending. Should veterinary students sacrifice their welfare at the expense of the “greater good”? Or should we continue to advocate for legislative changes that help veterinary students? I think, as with almost anything, the answer lies in the middle. There is common sense reform that can be made that would help veterinary students and not have other negative effects. This example is indicative of the struggle of the legislative process – legislators must listen to escalator walkers all day everyday who advocate for policies that will help their individual organization/profession/charity/demographic and then must transform these ideas into policy that does the most good for the greatest number of people. It is not easy and it is not simple. It is a huge part of the reason that the slowness of the process matters – hearing from many different stakeholder groups and experts on the topic often leads to the best solutions to complex issues that do the most good for the most people.
Additionally, doing your part and being a good member of society also means that sometimes you are going to have to stand on the escalator and be late to a meeting. Sometimes the legislation is not going to go your way but will help many other people and that’s just a part of life.
Metaphor and deep thoughts aside, I’m really glad the data was behind me so I can feel better about my escalator standing, which was not borne out of altruism but was instead a product of laziness.
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.