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Friday
Sep062019

What is a veterinarian's role in DC?

Personal introduction

Hi! My name is Liliya Veliko and I am a rising third year student at North Carolina State University. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to be an extern for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for the month of June 2019. My interests include small and exotic animal practice, as well as policy.

As the only extern, I took a lot of sheepish selfies. But DC is too beautiful not to photograph! This was at a PAC event.

 

Background

The AVMA Government Relations Division (GRD) Externship is a program where aHome away from home! veterinary student spends one month working with the AVMA office in Washington DC. As an extern, I spent the month attending congressional hearings, networking with veterinarians in government, attending political events such as receptions, and seeing the city! I really appreciated how the schedule can largely be personalized to suit the student; you can attend hearings related to your interests such as agriculture, One Health, business, or technology. By the end, I felt comfortable discussing important legislation for veterinary medicine, like VMLRPEA (Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act) and the deceivingly named Fairness to Pet Owners Act. Before this experience, I was pretty comfortable with my mental bubble of veterinary school, textbooks, and science.  The experience has given me a more well-rounded understanding of how the issues people care about become law.

 

Aw you’re going to be a veterinarian! …  so why are you in DC?

Veterinarians have many potential career options! When meeting other young professionals at congressional hearings, they were often surprised that a representative from the AVMA would be engaged with the topics of the hearing. While the public may think we only treat cats and dogs, we have interests in many fields – including agriculture, biological sciences, small business, One Health, drug regulations, food production, aquaculture, animal welfare, research, and laboratory animals. Though my personal goals include small animal and exotic animal private practice, I was able to learn about the variety of veterinary positions in policy, from working for the USDA to being a congressperson!

 

Valuable experiences and lessons learned

Veterinarians have so many more useful skills than you might think!

We focus so heavily on building our diagnostic skills in school, we do not realize we are also concurrently developing many other skills. Veterinarians are uniquely trained to consider animal health (of course), human health, nutrition, food safety, biosecurity, and effective communication. We are a group of highly driven people that tend to garner respect from others and are natural leaders. Imposter syndrome can make us feel like we are not qualified to be doctors, but I was able to see veterinarians confidently and competently apply their skills to all sorts of careers. Some of the positions I saw veterinarians fill while in DC are:

  • Congressmen (no DVM congresswomen – yet!)
Representative, and Dr. Ted Yoho! (Fl-R)Representative, and Dr. Kurt Schrader! (OR-D)
  •  Environmental activists and conservationists
  • Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) staff regulating import/export of animal products
  • Scientific consultants for governmental bodies
  • Legislative assistants for a congressperson or senator
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees working to ensure drug and product compliance 
  • Meat product quality assurance with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • Officers of the Public Health Service Corp – a uniformed branch of the US Public Health Service

 

You can easily learn about matters relevant to you

One of the biggest surprises upon arriving to DC was witnessing how much of our government is based on conversations. Before the externship, the legislative process seemed somewhat grandiose and mysterious to me. After simply listening to congressional hearings and briefs, I realized the legislative process is more straightforward and accessible than I realized. Beyond the many news outlets, you can form your opinions directly from the conversations in the House and Senate, because many hearings are livestreamed and saved indefinitely on YouTube.

Congressional hearings are a great way to be exposed to a diversity of important issues. I attended hearings regarding agriculture, farmer resilience, the Ebola outbreak, federal funding levels, appropriate line speeds in swine processing plants, and the impact of student loans on small businesses.

Email services are an easy way to stay up to date on legislation relevant to veterinary medicine. The AVMA Advocate is a monthly informational email newsletter. The AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network (avmacan.avma.org) is our grassroots network that emails you when taking action, like contacting your representative, would be especially powerful in your state or area. Both are an easy way to become a policy savvy veterinarian!

Room inside of a house office building in preparation for a hearing

 

People care, including politicians

I now realize I had come to DC with a slightly pessimistic view of government officials. It is easy to become jaded when we hear news outlets calling our leaders corrupt, inconsiderate, and lazy, especially in this time period of political divisiveness. After witnessing how tirelessly our leaders and their staff work, I realized I had absent mindedly bought into a negative narrative. Of course, there are shortcomings in our government, but I appreciated how much work it takes to keep our country running and, generally, how much people care.  When attending a hearing about agriculture, I met other interns working in diverse fields such as transportation and need based nutritional programs. Just as others may have been surprised to see a veterinary student interested in many topics, I was excited to meet people from so many disciplines collaborating. It was refreshing to see how much we all agree on and how we can share our passions.

I loved getting to spend time with other veterinary students doing internships around DC!

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