Entries in AVMA GRD (3)


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.



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!


An Externship Unlike Any Other

By Nikki Dowgos, SAVMA Editor in Chief

How do you describe an externship that had such a profound impact on your life and career trajectory? It’s hard to put into words the amazing experience I had during the month of April at the American Veterinary Medical Association Government Relations Division. As expected, I learned so much about legislative process as a whole and about what veterinarians can do to make an impact. What I valued most about this externship, though, is how much I learned about myself and the many veterinarians in Washington D.C.

I was very quickly immersed in the AVMA GRD agenda when I arrived. There was a sense of urgency to everything I was working on as Congress was quickly approaching Easter recess and there were many things that needed to be started before the two-week hiatus. I began working with one of the Assistant Directors, Alex Sands, on her project concerning the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRP EA). The bill was introduced in the 115th Congress, but it did not make it to the final stages. The goal of this project was to do research on specific states across the United States to evaluate how many designated shortages were filled in previous years and how many shortages there are for this current application cycle. By doing this, we were able to demonstrate the need to recruit and retain veterinarians in rural communities and garner support from members of Congress from many states! I found myself very passionate about this research and it was very fulfilling to work on a project that can ultimately improve the lives of rural veterinarians and their communities.

My time in Washington D.C. was a good balance of work and play. The peak cherry blossom bloom was occurring simultaneously with my first few days there, so I was able to walk around the Tidal Basin and see the beautiful Dr. Seuss-esque foliage after I completed some meetings on Capitol Hill one afternoon. I visited the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory and took a tour where I learned about medicinal plants as well as many plants endemic to different regions around the world. I explored the Library of Congress where I learned about the history of baseball and Central America through some of their temporary exhibits. One of my favorite places that I was able to go was the National Portrait Gallery and the Hall of Presidents. It was so incredible to observe such beautiful art as well as the portraits of all the presidents up to now. Many of them were so realistic that it appeared the subject could walk right out of the portrait! I really enjoyed being able to see some of the historic sites in Washington D.C. while on my externship.

One of the most exciting things about the AVMA GRD Externship is the fact that, as an extern, you have the flexibility to truly choose what you want to get out of the experience. Due to the two-week Congressional recess during my four-week externship, I decided to front load my experience with congressional hearings, meetings, and briefings. I spent the final two weeks meeting with as many veterinarians in D.C. that I possibly could. I met with veterinarians in a variety places throughout the executive branch like the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, Defense Health Agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). I also met with veterinarians from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the Animal Health Institute, Merck Animal Health, and a professor from George-Washington University. They all had unique and interesting stories to share about how they came into their current position; I am looking forward to one day working in government and calling them my colleagues!

The AVMA GRD Externship was the highlight of my clinical year thus far. I thoroughly enjoyed taking a step back from the clinical side of veterinary medicine to see how decision-making and policies enacted at the governmental level can affect the everyday lives of veterinarians and pet owners. Coming into this externship, I knew that I would seek out ways to be involved in organized veterinary medicine upon graduation whether that be at the local level with my state Veterinary Medical Association or the national level like the American Veterinary Medical Association. This externship allowed me to fully explore the many different avenues I may be able to pursue to stay involved and I am truly grateful for the opportunity that the AVMA Government Relations Division provided. I highly encourage anyone with any interest in the nuances of policy and organized veterinary medicine to apply for this invaluable externship opportunity!






If you are interested in applying for this externship experience, applications are now being accepted for the 2020 AVMA Government Relations Externship Program. More information is available on the AVMA Website!


Three Veterinarians in Congress, Two Veterinary Student Externs, One AVMA GRD Externship

By Erin Beasley

Congressional office visits.  Committee hearings.  Bill mark-ups.  More than 40 meetings with veterinarians in federal government.  Three veterinarians in Congress.  Two veterinary student externs.  One AVMA Government Relations Division.  My externship in September 2018 was one to remember in the nation’s capital.

As a fourth-year student from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, I am pursuing a career in public health and infectious disease epidemiology.  Interested in the relationship of public health and policy, I was excited and honored to be named an extern at the AVMA GRD.

Although the month of September was mostly cloudy and rainy, the days were still bright by my participation in AVMA GRD activities.  I was fortunate to meet more than 40 veterinarians in federal government, including previous AVMA Congressional Fellows.  I learned about numerous avenues for veterinarians in federal government.  Each veterinarian had a unique, exciting path to his/her current position.  These discussions also helped facilitate my understanding of veterinarians’ roles in different agencies.

During my externship, I gained further appreciation and knowledge about the overall legislative process.  Since AVMA is focused on legislation related to veterinary medicine or animal health, I learned about this process particularly through the 2018 Farm Bill.  I attended the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee Meeting, where I witnessed the opening statements of the conferees.  The House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill were discussed throughout September, but the bill ended up expiring without a final vote. Now, lawmakers are hoping to finalize the legislation before the year ends.

One of my favorite parts of the externship was visiting Congressional offices.  As a constituent of North Carolina, I met with staffers in the offices of my senators and representative: Senator Thom Tillis, Senator Richard Burr, and Congressman David Price.  I discussed veterinary-related legislation, such as components of the 2018 Farm Bill and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act.  Furthermore, Dilara Kiran (the other extern) and I met all three members of Congress who are veterinarians.  It was fascinating to hear about their pathways to Congress and how their veterinary training is utilized in their current positions. 

Being in Washington, D.C. during the end of the fiscal year was interesting, as I observed how certain pieces of legislation were moved quickly to pass while other pieces of legislation accrued more debate and/or continuing resolutions.  The atmosphere of Capitol Hill was electric and exciting, especially prior to the midterm elections.  I enjoyed my short tenure in Washington, D.C. at this busy time.

Outside of the externship, it was fun to explore more of the historic city.  Dilara and I visited several museums, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s “Outbreak” exhibit, which focused on a One Health approach to disease epidemics.  Even though I have been to Washington, D.C. several times, it is always fun to see the monuments and enjoy stellar cuisine.

After attending many events and meetings, I now have memorized most of the Metro map—but more seriously and more importantly, I have gained massive knowledge about the legislative process, current legislation impacting veterinary medicine, and the unique roles of veterinarians in federal government.  I am deeply grateful for the support and advice from the AVMA GRD staff and the collaboration with my fellow extern, Dilara. 

I look forward to advocating for the veterinary profession and contributing to public health policy.  To underclassmen, I strongly recommend this externship, as it will broaden your scope of the profession and recognize how policy affects veterinarians and citizens in general.  Thank you to the AVMA GRD for organizing this valuable externship!