Our meetings at the FDA on Wednesday were really interesting – from understanding the way a drug is approved to the role of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, it was an educational day. We met with four veterinarians involved in a variety of actives – from communications to international work.
Thursday was my first congressional meeting – I had the opportunity to meet with a staff member to discuss topics important to the AVMA. It is encouraging that there seems to be support from the congressman for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA).
Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is important as it seeks to keep interest rates for student loans low, permit refinancing of student loans, require schools to increase financial and loan awareness, along with several other important points. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is a program that allows veterinarians to work in underserved areas, as deemed so by the USDA, in exchange for approximately $25,000 each year that goes toward loan repayment. The VMLRPEA seeks to prevent the 39% withholding tax from being taken out of the award amount. If the withholding tax were not in place, it would increase funding awards that could be given directly to qualified veterinarians.
I arrived slightly early for my meeting with a current AVMA fellow that afternoon, so I wandered around the Capitol grounds for a while. It was a beautiful day so I wanted to maximize my time outside. My meeting with the current fellow was insightful, since I’ve only spoke to previous fellows until now. Since Congress is on recess, she had her dog in the office – a rare treat to see a dog in a Senate building!
Last night we attended the One Health Academy’s monthly presentation. Dr. Jack Shere, director of APHIS, gave several updates on disease programs within APHIS. The talk was very informative and the event served as a great networking opportunity as well. I am excited with all the internationally focused contacts I was able to connect with.
I’m excited for the weekend to enjoy the beautiful weather outside!
I have to say that I was pretty devastated when a friend told me before I left Ithaca that I would be missing the cherry blossoms in DC. Every year I come to DC at the end of April, just a tad too late to experience the beautiful blooms. However, this year, I was supposed to be here at optimal blooming… only spring came early and then it snowed. I was bitterly disappointed.
Of course, much of the city of Washington, DC is currently in bloom. Around the Capitol, many paths are lined with flowering dogwood trees and azaleas. The pinks and whites of all different shades are simply beautiful, and they have really enhanced my week on the Hill. Nevertheless, due diligence on the cherry blossom issue meant that I walked down to the Tidal Basin in between meetings this week to try to find me a cherry tree in bloom. The sky was beautiful, the sun was shining, the cool breeze was blowing. It was such a stark difference from the upstate New York that I had left where snow was still on the ground. In fact, until I went to college in the South, I had never understood why anyone could like spring; my understanding of it was grey, wet, and cold. The calendar designation of “summer” mid-June was about when it was acceptable to stop wearing winter clothing. So there I was, in a dress, by the water, and remembering why spring is beautiful. Yet, all of the trees were green. I was too late. Torn between the beautiful day and confirmation of my disappointment, I walked away from the Basin. And then I found it. One lone cherry tree but very much in bloom. I am not really sure how it survived, maybe it was just more sheltered away from the open water, but there it was. It made my day.
This week has marked the first of my Hill visits to discuss with members of Congress two important student loan issues: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and passage of Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA). Many aspects of the Higher Education Act are essential to reducing the loan burden that veterinary students must take on in order to pursue their education. However, I would like to take time to discuss the loan repayment program.
The loan repayment program is a program under the USDA that repays up to $75,000 in education loans for each participant over a three-year period. The program is highly competitive. VMLRP applicants are selected based on qualifications across the application pool nationally; additionally, only one applicant may be selected per high-need area. Each state puts together a portfolio of “high-need” districts and details why the area is under-serviced and what the services the area needs to be performed. Many of these areas are under-served because they are not economically situated to support a veterinarian. Participants must agree to practice in a designated high-need area fulfilling the area’s need as published on the program’s website. This program is very important because not only does it get veterinarians to under-serviced areas, but it also ensures national food safety. The vast majority of high-need areas require production medicine aid. Without a veterinary presence in these areas, disease outbreaks could enter unnoticed into our food supply and affect the entire nation.
To maximize the breadth of this program, the VMLRPEA would exempt applicants from a 39% withholding tax on their loan rewards just like other health care providers receiving awards through the National Health Service Corps’ loan repayment program. Currently, money must be allocated to offset the amount that they are taxed on the forgiven loans. The program receives $5 million each year, which translates to about 50 awards per year. By exempting the loan repayment award from withholding taxes, a greater number of veterinarians can become available to rural and impoverished areas that need their service.
This weekend was filled with the typical tourist fanfare. I walked all over the Mall, from Georgetown all the way to the Capitol Building and back. I was sad to find that the Washington Monument has once again been closed for repairs – this time till spring of 2019. Wandering around Georgetown I did manage to find that there are still cows, even in D.C. (see photo below).
Zipping around on the Metro line was my theme for this Tuesday. I took the metro from where I’m staying in Union Station up to College Park to meet with the FDA, then metroed back to the office to prepare for my meeting with one of the Assistant Directors. I am meeting with several members of Congress this week, and want to ensure I am familiar with the AVMA’s talking points on issues I am presenting. These include support for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act as well a support for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.
Afterwards I met with another Assistant Director in the office to discuss her role in the organization, her portfolio and important talking points. I then hopped back on the metro to scoot down to the Capitol in time for a coffee meeting with a former AVMA fellow. The fellowship is a one year opportunity to be placed in Congress to gain experience in the political realm. It sounds really intriguing, and I’m excited to be meeting with a few more current and past fellows while I’m in town.
Today I am off to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. I’m looking forward to learning more about the roles of the veterinarians there. Off to the metro I go!
This week has really flown by! Most of it has been occupied by emailing – I have been trying to ensure all the veterinarians we are interested in connecting with have been contacted. Tuesday was filled with getting to know more staff in the office, specifically the Assistant Directors and the various portfolios of issues that they cover. Wednesday we went to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I, perhaps naively, did not realize that DHS hired veterinarians, so the day was very informative. We spoke to several vets in different departments, giving us a really wide range of insights and experiences. Afterwards we headed over to George Washington University to meet with a veterinarian in their school of public health. She reviewed her efforts in pushing the concept of One Health since she has joined the school. It was so exciting to hear how well the concept has been received and implemented by her students.
Last night we attended an event by the EcoHealth Alliance, which focused on biosecurity and current developments the organization has made. It was held at the Cosmos Club, which was established in 1878. The building was absolutely beautiful – complete with very detailed woodwork, portraits and chandeliers. It was a fun evening and we had the opportunity to network with people who are focused on infectious disease and public health, particularly from a global perspective. I’m looking forward to a similar event we are attending next week at the One Health Academy.
Today is another day at the office trying to tie up loose email connections and schedules. I’m looking forward to a weekend of exploring more of D.C. and all it has to offer!
Yesterday, my extern mate and I attended an event sponsored by the Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics (C-FARE) in partnership with the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) titled Tackling the Challenges of Innovative Trade and Maintaining Robust Markets, Capitalizing on Big Data, and Advancing Consumer Health Symposium. The morning opened with discussions about trade. Their economic models indicated that free trade and investment foster billions of dollars in US export profits every year, over a third of which are from agriculture or agriculture-derived profits. Additionally, free trade allows a diversity of agricultural goods to enter the US to give us a diverse and nutritious diet as well as workers to supply our farm labor shortage, particularly that of dairy farms.
Talks then transformed to agricultural technology and big data farming. Not only does adapting new technology allow farms to be cleaner, more humane, more efficient, more productive, and more resilient, but integration of innovations also promotes data collection. Much of the technology on farms nowadays has the ability to collect individual farm data that when synthesized with other farms’ data and processed through various models can give economists and scientists a better idea of the needs and inefficiencies of modern farming. This allows all of us to benefit as the government, industries, and other nations can target technologies and policies to reflect these data. Additionally, science such as genetic modification allows farms to have a smaller carbon footprint and to be more productive; however, use of technology is ultimately dependent on educating farmers and consumers on its value.
So we come back to voting with your fork. All of these technologies and models are just theoreticals until you show businesses that you want them through consumer demand. Trade does not happen between countries but between the firms that are situated within them; these firms need to have a financial incentive to import goods into the US. When you buy your coffee or limes, almost all of which are imported, you are voting with your fork and vocalizing you want these foreign goods. When you go to the grocery store and choose to buy your organic or conventional production, you are voting with your fork. And with the financial privilege to vote in this arena, your vote becomes reflected in the less food secure; goods like organic foods become symbolically better because the wealthy can afford them for their kids whether they are truly healthier or not. So, I implore you to do some research the next time you reach for something in the grocery store. Consider where your food is from or whether choosing organic is actually the right choice for this particular product. Consider whether you want to pass on meat or if it is better to support farmers that raise their animals in a way you condone. It’s important to understand that many alternative facts or social myths are out there concerning food. Organic does not always mean more sustainable, healthier, or humane. Antibiotic-free or outdoor production systems does not always mean more sustainable, healthier or humane. Base your choices in scientific facts, and serve as an example to those who are less privileged and do not have the education and financial background to have access to this research.
If you would like to learn more about the goals or speakers associated with the symposium, please follow this link.
Having just spent the last month in Minnesota with the USDA APHIS, I arrived in D.C. on Sunday after a quick unpacking and repacking of the bags in Philadelphia. My coveralls and work boots were swapped for any and all clothing that could be deemed ‘business attire,’ a rather small amount in my closet. I may have to do some shopping while in town!
Monday was my first day with AVMA GRD, and consisted mostly of orientation duties. We were given a tour of the headquarters and got to meet members of the staff. We were also given a contact list for veterinarians in the area, which took a fair amount of time to comb through. As I do not see myself practicing after graduation, I am thrilled about the possibility of meeting veterinarians who are in such a variety of positions. I am eager to speak to them about their experiences, as well as hear about their career tracks.
Monday afternoon we went to a hearing where Bernie Sanders presented his new bill regarding higher education. I did not realize Sanders would actually be presenting at the hearing, and was surprised to find myself shaking hands with him prior to his speech. He, along with Elizabeth Warren, Pramila Jayapal and several others, spoke on the high cost of higher education, and their new approach to making college more affordable to a wider majority. He specifically announced that fees at universities would be waived for families making less than $125,000. It was a very interesting hearing and not a bad way to start off my first day in D.C.!
What can I say other than that it is good to be back in Washington, DC? This week marked the beginning of my four-week externship in the Governmental Relations Department of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Having lived in this great city before, I was more than thrilled to return. However, this return has marked a serious dichotomy from the last time I lived here. Three years ago, I came to DC as a Smithsonian intern in the Nutrition Lab at the National Zoological Park. I had a million poorly defined dreams, no particular direction, and had never lived in a metropolis before. I had just completed my first year of veterinary school, and, to be honest, I was not even sure that I still wanted to be a veterinarian. I had no friends, no pets with me, and I felt like I had made a huge mistake stepping outside of my comfort zone. Now, here I am, almost three full years later, effectively finished with veterinary school, infinitely wiser (though definitely not wise), and pumped to be back in this cosmopolitan city. I am enjoying staying with two amazing friends and their hilarious cats. And, most importantly, I am excited and proud that I shall be a practicing veterinarian in just a couple months.
It is not entirely clear what my future will hold, but this week has bought about a lot of introspection. Finally, after a whirlwind year of clinics, I have been able to take some time to evaluate what I have learned over the past year and what it means to be a veterinarian. In talking to various veterinarians in non-traditional careers this week, I have been forced to re-confront why I entered this profession and what I hope to contribute to it. I feel so different than the person that I appeared to be three years ago, more knowledgeable, more confident, but underneath it all, there are still the same motivations. The girl who committed to this profession because she was so touched by the way a small, rural south Indian village responded to a surgeon and her saving a calf by Caesarean section is the same veterinary student who felt so rewarded by her first clients’ appreciation at giving their dog another chance. I do not know if I shall become an immunologist or a surgeon, but I do know that I am looking forward to learning all that I can in the following weeks so that I shall be able to advocate effectively on behalf of the members of my profession and allow more people’s lives to be touched by us helping their animals.
As I finish up my four weeks with the AVMA GRD, one message from veterinarians came up time and time again. You never know where you’ll end up.
Which, of course, is dauntingly filled with uncertainty but I think there’s some beauty in that. Our degree is tremendously flexible, allowing us the freedom to take on many different roles if we keep an open mind and do not limit ourselves. For me, my time here has inspired my interest in both international development and agricultural policy. Here’s to keeping an open mind and seeing where that all goes!
I’ve really enjoyed this externship and am thankful for the time and support of the AVMA GRD staff, the overworked congressional staffers, and all of the veterinarians who I met throughout my month here!
And I’ll leave y’all with these awesome rainbow roses I stumbled upon on my last day!
As the saying goes all good things must come to an end. As is true for my time in Washington DC. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. As I pack up and get ready for the next rotation I will take what I have learned here and continue to build upon it. I met many veterinarians, countless staffers, had many meetings, and was able to successfully acquire support for our profession on both specific legislative bills currently in congress and also simply educate members about our profession.
I would encourage any veterinary student with an interest in public policy, government work, networking within the AVMA, and helping to advance our profession to consider this externship. It is a one month period to explore so many career paths and advocate for our profession. Of course, this externship is not for everyone, and therefore I encourage every veterinarian and every veterinary student to stay involved with both organized veterinary medicine at your state, local and national levels, and also to stay engaged with public policy. There are countless ways to support our profession from being a leader in your local community to contacting state and federal offices. Follow the AVMA CAN online and stay involved.
Thanks to the AVMA GRD for hosting this externship and to all the member veterinarians and staff throughout DC that I met along the way. It has been a great experience.
Signing off for the last time.
Thanks for reading folks! Peace. Love. Pick Your Spirit Animal.