Visiting Congressional offices over the last week has been exciting and busy! We completed several dozen visits to both the House and the Senate. There are multiple ways to contact your representatives at both the state and federal level. These include phone calls, emails, snail mails, and in person office visits. The opportunity to be in DC over the last few weeks and visit offices in person has been rewarding in both experience and successes for both myself and for the AVMA. I have met 6 congressional members in person and with many other staffers. After a few dozen meetings it has become very easy to talk about the issues! To have an effective meeting it is important to be concise, on point, have pertinent examples, and even more effective: personal experiences that are relevant. Making our issues relevant and important to leaders is how we advocate for effective change and improvements for our profession on a policy level.
Some offices prefer to have visits from constituents only, but most of our issues affect the large majority of districts to some degree and most offices appreciate the information we share. As the AVMA is a nonpartisan office in DC we work with everyone who is willing to work with us. However, with limited time, meetings with all 535 offices in congress cannot occur every year. Therefore we target offices that may have a larger impact. We also try to bring the issues home for members, make them local, particularly on the House side by having hometown examples and numbers. For example, being from Wisconsin I have a large knowledge base on Wisconsin in particular and can make the issues very relevant to the leaders from Wisconsin. After all they represent our state. I met with nearly every office from Wisconsin and then branched out to other important offices. Representative Kind from Wisconsin introduced HR1268. This bill is the enhancement act for the veterinary medicine loan repayment program. He introduced the bill with Representative Smith from Nebraska. My visit with Kind’s office for example was more along the lines of thank you for your support and introduction of HR1268 and these are some other issues. With other members we ask for their support and often times thank them for their previous support. Each visit is tailored to that member which makes it fun for us as no two visits are exactly the same. One recent success was that Representative Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin agreed to sign on to HR1268 as a cosponsor the day after my meeting with his office!
After meeting most of Wisconsin’s delegation I branched out to other target offices. This included those which have a veterinary school in their district or state, those who sit on a particular committee such as the agriculture committee, or those leaders who have shown a specific interest to our issues in the past through signing on in support of or introducing legislation that supports our profession. After all of these meetings we have been able to gather more support for the loan program enhancement act, and also generate further discussion and contacts for other issues in our profession. It has been a very exciting few weeks!
One fun time over the last week was making a trip up to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. It is only about a 20 minute metro ride from the National Mall and is a great way to spend an afternoon if you ever find yourself in the area! The National Zoo is one of my favorite zoos and it was a nice time visiting again. The zoo has pandas, elephants, cheetahs, great apes, and many other animals. Many people do not know that the National Zoo actually includes two pieces of land. The first is the 160 acre area that most people think of: it is the area open to public visitors. It is located in Northwest DC. The second area is over 3200 acres and is located in Front Royal, Virginia. This campus is called the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and is a nonprofit facility which trains wildlife professionals. Between both areas there are over 1800 animals of 300 different species. After my visit to the zoo, I made a pit stop to the ‘world famous’ Ben’s Chili Bowl. This was a tasty snack on my way out.
Thanks for reading folks! Peace. Love. Giant Pandas.
Some exploring recommendations for future externs!
National Museum of Women in the Arts- One of the few museums in DC that charges admission, but WELL worth the student price of $8. Stumbled upon this place with a visiting friend and had a great time. Really beautiful and interesting collections, obviously all by women artists. Definitely worth a visit!
National Arboretum- Went running here one beautiful Saturday and despite the crowds, really enjoyed it. Paved roads make for good running paths between exhibits, which have cute winding paths through flowering trees and other plants. At the visitors center, there’s an adorable Bonsai exhibit with tons of fantastic Bonsai trees. Apparently there’s a bald eagle there too… I did not get lucky enough to see it, however.
Cherry Blossoms- Sure, it’s hyped up by everyone in DC. But, it’s certainty very beautiful. The freak snow storm this year apparently affected one type of the blossoms more than others, so most of the trees were paler pink flowers. I went on a Tuesday afternoon that turned out surprisingly sunny after a morning of rain, and found this one fabulous bright pink tree!
Independent coffee shops—This might just be me being a coffee snob. But I’d definitely recommend venturing away from your Starbucks and Peet’s to find coffee elsewhere. There’s definitely some gems here!
Potomac Overlook Regional Park—If you happen to be living the suburban dream like I did, or find yourself out in Arlington, check this out for some good running trails. The park has trails that connect to a creek, which you can follow out to the Potomac River. I went on an overcast day, and luckily didn’t have the crowds I’d expected it to have. Lots of fun if you like trail running or hiking on rocky paths.
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.
This was a bit of a whirlwind of a week. Monday was a productive day, with an AVMA strategy meeting in the morning and a visit to the office of my PA senator, Bob Casey’s office. We had the opportunity to discuss a few issues of importance to veterinarians and the AVMA with his legislative fellow, such as the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, higher education programs, and the PAST Act, which aims to make the practice of horse soring illegal. It was a great first meeting with a congressional office, as Senator Casey continually supports legislation that supports students. When our meeting was done, though, I went road-tripping home to Philadelphia, hoping to beat the freak March snowstorm.
I went back to Philly to present a grant proposal to the Student Inspiration Committee at Penn Vet. This committee awards $25,000 grants to two innovative student projects each year. Over the past year, another veterinary student, Corey Spies, and I had been working with Sulayman Junkung General Hospital in The Gambia, West Africa, to develop a feasibility study and business plan for a goat dairy. Gambia Goat Dairy aims to improve community nutrition through safe, affordable animal protein. We worked extensively with multiple stakeholder groups in The Gambia to create a plan that addressed community defined needs. Because of the March snowstorm, however, our presentation was pushed back to Wednesday and I got snowed in in Philly with good friends! Fortunately, after our presentation we were awarded the grant! We’re unbelievably excited to get started with implementation this summer when we return to The Gambia.
I rushed back to D.C. Wednesday night to have happy hour drinks with a veterinarian working with USAID. As if my time in Philadelphia weren’t enough goat talk, I got more time discussing our plans in Gambia with a professional who has entirely more experience with international development projects than I. There’s so many options for careers in veterinary medicine, and the more I hear about them, the more excited I am to be graduating with such a surprisingly versatile degree.
Regarding non-traditional veterinary careers, Kyle and I spent Thursday and Friday visiting the USDA and the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. We were fortunate to meet with numerous veterinarians in these offices, discussing the effect of the current political climate on their offices, their roles in protecting food security, and their decisions in navigating their careers. We had so many enlightening conversations with veterinarians working in the government, it’s exciting to see all the options out there!
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.