July 2, 2018

Broadening Horizon

By Ashley O'Shea Cleveland
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As Hailey and I prepare to leave the AVMA Government Relations Division, I have taken some time to reflect on the plethora of experiences I have been fortunate to have during my externship. One of the many highlights of this experience was meeting veterinarians who are working in positions I didn’t even know existed and learning about the interesting and diverse career paths that led them to where they are now.

During our externship, we have had the chance to meet with veterinarians who work in several different government agencies including the Department of Defense, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. We have met veterinarians who are lobbyists, congressional staffers, AVMA congressional fellows, as well as veterinarians who work at non-profits, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. The veterinarians we have been fortunate enough to meet have been so welcoming and genuinely excited to meet and speak with us. Even as a visitor in a big city like D.C., I felt included in an exclusive and distinguished group of professionals.

Getting an inside look at how the Government Relations Division functions has been an exciting experience. We had the chance to sit in on strategy meetings with the GRD staff as well as conference calls with the AVMA Political Action Committee (PAC) Board and the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC). Additionally, we have had the opportunity to attend hearings, bill mark-ups, forums, committee meetings, panel discussions and meet with legislative assistants to lobby on behalf of veterinarians. The GRD Assistant Directors, Alex Sands and Dr. Lauren Stump, served as our mentors and we worked closely with them on several policy issues in their portfolios by developing lobbying strategies and creating informative literature for members of Congress and their staff on policy topics important to veterinary medicine.

After reflecting on my experience, I have many positive elements to list and only one negative: it wasn’t long enough. I wish I could spend more time here and I highly recommend this externship to every veterinary student, regardless of what their current career goals are because having the chance to see the many different ways that veterinarians contribute to society is incredibly exciting and rewarding. Furthermore, whether or not you want to work in policy, having an understanding of how policy affects veterinarians and veterinary medicine solidifies just how important it is to be involved in the legislative process and advocating on behalf of the veterinary profession. Coming into this externship, I thought that this experience would help narrow down my career interests, but it has actually done the opposite. This experience has broadened my horizons and allowed me to see a wider range of opportunities and choices in veterinary medicine than I ever thought possible. The number one statement that I heard from every veterinarian I spoke to during this externship was a perception that I will carry with me throughout my career: “The best advice I can give you is to keep an open mind, because I never thought I’d be here, but I am so glad that I am.”

June 29, 2018

Stories

By Hailey Watlington
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A large part of our time here has been spent meeting with veterinarians who work in different capacities throughout government organizations (such as USDA-APHIS, Department of Defense, FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, National Institutes of Health) as well as veterinarians who work for non-profits, contracting groups, and universities in the area. I came in to the externship thinking that I would be able to narrow down what I wanted to do after graduation, but it has been the exact opposite! There are so many opportunities for veterinarians who want to pursue a non-traditional route, and it has been incredible to meet so many of them in this area.

Usually when we meet with them, we are able to hear their “story” – how they got where they are. It has been so interesting to hear the paths they took. Some knew from the beginning they didn’t have any interest in clinical practice, some tried practicing for a few years and realized they hated it, and some still practice part time now! Some got an MPH, some a PhD, and some got both. It was encouraging to hear how many different ways there are to be a non-traditional veterinarian.

Throughout these conversations, the most common things we have been told are:

  1. Keep an open mind
  2. I never thought I would be where I am now

Overall, everyone we have spoken with was wonderful about not telling us what to do, but telling us their story using it to encourage us to continue to pursue opportunities that interest us.

June 26, 2018

Hearings galore!

By Hailey Watlington
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Part of our work here has been to attend hearings that might be of interest to AVMA’s agenda or things that they want to keep an eye on further down the road. I was (naively) surprised to find out that these hearings are almost always open to the public! Sometimes you have to get there a little early to get in line, as there are a limited number of seats for the audience, but I’ve found hearings to be a really interesting experience.

Hearings are mostly set up the same way: there is a committee or a subcommittee made up of members from both sides of the aisle. There are more members on the committee from whatever side is the majority party (currently, Republicans). There is a chairman or chairwoman (also a member of the majority party) who sits centrally, then the ranking member, who is the most senior member of the committee from the minority party, sits next to them. They usually have their counsel (i.e. lawyers) sitting next to them. It took me a while to figure out who everyone was! The witnesses are the subject matter experts who are testifying to whatever the subject of the hearing is (for example, I sat through a hearing on Federal Regulations and Farmers and the witnesses were farmers and agribusiness professionals from the Midwest). The hearing usually begins with the chairman or chairwoman giving opening remarks, then the ranking member gives opening remarks, and then the witnesses give their opening remarks. I personally really enjoy the witnesses’ opening remarks – they are usually very passionate about the subject, and it gives you an idea of the issues they find important and what they want to discuss during the hearing. Some hearings can get a little bit contentious, but for the most part, it is obvious the committee is doing their best to work together to come to a solution for whatever the issue is.

We have been able to attend a variety of hearings, including farming, small business, budget markups, tax, education, and more! It’s been a great opportunity to see the discussion behind the legislation.

June 25, 2018

The House on the Hill

By Ashley O'Shea Cleveland
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This week was a busy one with an array of critical hearings, several informative meetings and an orchestrated email campaign to try to get face time with legislative assistants working for members of Congress in an effort to discuss several pieces of legislation that could significantly affect veterinarians, including the elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) in the House GOP bill, the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) was created with bipartisan support in 2007 with its purpose being to attract a qualified, educated workforce to jobs in the public sector. These jobs can be in many different areas including military, public safety, law enforcement, and public health. For veterinarians, this could mean taking a job in the federal government or at a local animal shelter—jobs that often pay less than the private sector.

The PSLF program requires a significant commitment of working up to 10 years in an approved public-sector position and during that time, making 120 separate, qualifying loan payments. After meeting the time and payment requirements, your remaining loan balance would be forgiven—tax free.

In the first quarter of 2018, American student loan debt hit a whopping $1.5 trillion, according to Federal Reserve Data. According to the AVMA, the average educational debt for 2016 veterinary school graduates including those with zero debt was $143,757.82. The average for only those 2016 veterinary school graduates with debt is $167,534.89 and over 20% has at least $200,000 in debt. For graduates with these crippling financial constraints, the PSLF program can mean the difference between taking a higher-paying job in the private sector or providing critical services to the public. As Alex Sands, Assistant Director at the AVMA GRD, points out “the only professionals routinely practicing at the interface of animal health and human health [are] veterinarians [and their] unique expertise is critical to a range of public sector roles such as protecting public health, promoting animal health and welfare, bolstering food safety and security, advancing research, and educating the next generation of practitioners.”

Despite fierce opposition to its elimination, including the Department of Defense issuing their opposition in January of this year, the elimination of the PSLF is still a looming threat. The AVMA GRD is hoping to make some headway this week—with their externs in tow.

June 21, 2018

One Health with Dr. Stroud

By Ashley O'Shea Cleveland
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During my second week as a AVMA GRD extern, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Cheryl Stroud on “Advancing the One Health Movement: Our Ray of Hope for the Future” at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in Washington, D.C. Dr. Cheryl Stroud is currently the Executive Director of the One Health Commission and she holds a DVM from Mississippi State University and a PhD from North Carolina State University. Having a strong interest in learning more about the One Health Initiative, a movement to encourage inclusive collaboration between human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental sciences, I was delighted to hear from Dr. Stroud. There was an excited and accomplished group gathered at the ASM to listen to Dr. Stroud, which included physicists, veterinarians, microbiologists, and professors, among others. Dr. Stroud’s talk gave distinct insight into the myriad of connections between human, animal and environmental health as well as detailing the incredible progress of the movement with the creation of early education initiatives, symposiums, conferences and global alliances. Dr. Stroud also discussed the inherent obstacles of the progress of the movement and the long road ahead to further integrate these extremely isolated disciplines. Dr. Stroud illustrated fascinating connections, for instance how soil health and the microbial community in our soil is potentially as important to human health as the microbe in our gut since microbiomes in soil have profound impacts on human and animal health. Another important topic she discussed was the declining bee and monarch butterfly populations due to climate change, loss of habitats and insecticides that can have serious consequences for our food supply, demonstrating that having scientists from all disciplines, in this case entomologists, as part of the One Health movement is vital. Dr. Stroud encouraged us, regardless of our background and disciplines, to make connections, have conversations, and continue to build a community of collaborators.

June 6, 2018

Week 1

By Hailey Watlington
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What a week! I came in to this externship excited and ready to learn, but I don’t think I could have imagined all of the opportunities we are given as AVMA GRD externs. This first week has been a whirlwind of activity. This has been stated by previous externs, but there are just so many opportunities that we are able to take advantage of while we are here, and it’s been incredible.

This week, I attended the 2018 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture, where Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a cooperative extension specialist in the Division of Animal Science at UC Davis, gave a talk entitled “Does Agriculture Have a Parallel Science Problem?”. Dr. Eenennaam is originally from Australia, and she opened up her talk with anecdotal stories of an echidna chasing her and her pony across the Australian prairie – how cool is that?! She went on to discuss the crossroads that the agriculture and technology arenas find themselves at – we have amazing technological advances that can (and do) result in incredible breakthroughs in agriculture right at our fingertips, but they are often met with great trepidation from the general public (think GMOs). One aspect that I found very interesting from a science perspective is that they are now able to genetically modify dairy cattle to be polled instead of horned without affecting their milk supply or any other trait. This allows them to avoid the uncomfortable de-horning procedure as calves. Even though the only result of this genetic modification was the lack of horns, she displayed several articles, blogs, and even podcasts that argued that it was unacceptable. After the talk, there was a discussion panel with Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science and Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University, Dr. Jay Akridge, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity at Purdue University, and Lowell Randel, President of The Randel Group. The discussion was enlightening, and it was an honor to see such distinguished leaders from the international research community and agribusiness.

Later in the week, I attended a hearing with O’Shea and Alex (one of the Assistant Directors) at the Committee on Education and the Workforce with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to examine the policies and priorities of HHS. It was fascinating to watch the dynamics of each party in the hearing and how they approached their questions and how he subsequently answered. It was also interesting to see the themes and issues that each party focused on during their questioning. This was my first time watching a hearing, and I am definitely hoping to attend another one during my time here in Washington.

I could write 10 pages about my first week’s experiences, but I’ll stop here. I can’t wait to see what next week holds!

June 4, 2018

Global Health Diplomacy Symposium

By Corey Spies
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On Thursday, May 31 I attended a Global Health Diplomacy Symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Symposium focused on past, present, and cases in international health diplomacy, analyzing the relationships between nations and how they determine the outcomes of global health issues. In Session I, historical examples of international health crises including polio and the past Ebola outbreak were analyzed by a number of experts who provided insight into what worked, what didn’t, and what we’ve learned as a result.

After this, the attendees broke out into small groups and role-played a fictional case in which different stakeholding groups were to coordinate an international response to a health crisis. Specifically, this scenario involved a population of refugees fleeing a natural disaster who had recently become ill with an unknown respiratory disease in their neighboring country. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders, and the government of the nation hosting the refugees were all represented and were to discuss managing the situation given the unique agenda of each player. To me, this exercise was the perfect representation of why I enjoyed my time in D.C. so much. Our small group had members representing the human health profession, environmental science, veterinary medicine, and foreign affairs offices. Each person was there because they had a genuine interest in global health diplomacy and had a unique set of skills to bring to the table. Everyone was interested in learning what skills the others had to offer in a situation of consequence, and I learned just as much from hearing about others’ career paths as I did from the case study itself.

Following the case study, Session II illuminated contemporary issues in global health diplomacy and the different strategies currently being employed in response. Afterwards, Session III brought experts to the stage to discuss future directions for players in global health diplomacy, with a focus on chronic disease and aging as major health issues that will emerge to new extents in the 21st century. The symposium was concluded with remarks from the past US Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Uganda.

This symposium was a great way to end my time as an extern in D.C. I left AAAS that day motivated to push my career in the direction of international development and global food security so that I too can one day have a positive impact on issues on a global scale.

May 30, 2018

Visiting USAID

By Corey Spies
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Last week I visited the headquarters of The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal branch of the US government that works to facilitate humanitarian aid and development efforts worldwide. Since its inception in 1961, USAID has funded numerous initiatives that help provide disaster relief, medical aid, and healthcare to impoverished communities. More recently, as the lens of development shifts away from aid and towards the generation of community wealth, USAID has slowly increased their focus on livestock initiatives and begun work on an initiative called “Feed the Future,” which focuses on food security in 12 focus countries. I found the following overview quite thought provoking as I poked around online to learn more about this effort.

  • There are nearly 800 million hungry people in the world today. By 2050, there will be more than 9 billion mouths to feed. This is a huge challenge and opportunity.
  • By 2050, a quarter of the world’s entire population will be in Africa. Strategic investments on the continent have the potential to contribute an additional $12 trillion to global growth.
  • 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. Our economic growth depends on maintaining and increasing access to markets abroad. Helping people rise out of poverty can also help increase demand for U.S. goods.
  • Our work ensures that America can influence rapidly transforming regions and emerging markets. Feed the Future supports policies that help U.S. businesses compete with others and expand into new markets, reduce corruption, open trade in the agriculture sector, and increase foreign demand for American products. U.S. agricultural exports to Feed the Future partner countries have already increased by $1 billion since 2009.

When I visited the USAID headquarters I met with Dr. Tyrell Kahan, a current AAAS fellow working with USAID. He described an important role of veterinarians in the ongoing and future efforts of organizations like USAID, specifically as gatekeepers that bridge the knowledge gap between the world of science and international development and the world of business and foreign investment. As a profession that traditionally attracts and employs more entrepreneurial health professionals than others, veterinary medicine has an important role to play in facilitating conversations between all the stakeholders relevant to these areas.

In addition to USAID, Dr. Kahan mentioned a few other organizations that often seek veterinary expertise when dealing with issues of development and food security. Heifer International, Vets Without Borders, and The USDA Foreign Service Offices are all places that we as soon-to-be veterinary professionals can look into as we think about the possibility of non-traditional veterinary careers.

May 22, 2018

Meeting Congressman Yoho

By Corey Spies
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Last week, I wrote about the version of The Build Act that is currently working it’s way through The Senate (S. 2463). This week, fellow AVMA extern McKenna and I were able to meet one of the Congressmen who introduced The Build Act in The House (H.R. 5105)! Congressman Ted S. Yoho of Florida also happens to be a veterinarian and was great to talk to about The Build Act, his personal experience, and the role of veterinarians in the public sphere.

Congressman Yoho’s main interest in The Build Act concerns the importance of development finance efforts to build diplomatic relationships, competition with foreign development investors, and furthering US national security interests through soft power abroad. While Yoho is less concerned about the social impact of development finance, his interests align with federal aid organizations whose goal is to reduce poverty in the developing world. Yoho issued the following statement when introducing the act:

“U.S. foreign aid and development money, when properly implemented, are strong tools of diplomacy. When used effectively, these funds help improve our diplomatic, economic, and national security interests around the globe. Today’s introduction of the bipartisan BUILD Act will reform and modernize America’s approach to development finance making it more efficient and effective… Taking countries from aid to trade is the end goal. We want to help countries become robust trading partners with the United States. By doing so, we will be helping create stable, self-sufficient societies around the world and open new markets for U.S. goods and services.  There is truth to the saying a rising tide lifts all boats. The BUILD Act will help make this a reality.”

Congressman Yoho also had a lot of great advice for us regarding our careers as vets, emphasizing how important it is for new veterinary professionals to advocate for themselves and market their unique skillsets. While we didn’t get a chance to discuss student loans and federal repayment programs, it was interesting to hear about the way Yoho works in congress and how his colleagues value his expertise as a veterinary medical professional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18, 2018

The Hill is a Zoo…. Literally

By McKenna Guettinger
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One of the best things about my house in Saint Paul is how close it is to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Como is an amazing zoo that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is an accreditation process that less than 10% of zoos complete. In addition to being AZA accredited, it is one of the few zoos left in the country that doesn’t charge an admission fee! The zoo is home to a wide variety of species including gorillas, orangutans, large cats, giraffes, and many more! Keepers not only work with the animals in the zoo collection, but they also are encouraged to contribute their expertise to conservation and rehabilitation efforts abroad.

Over the years I have volunteered, interned, and worked at Como as well as visited regularly. Because of this work I have been able to learn more about what AZA does to support their member zoos, as well as field conservation work. I was excited to hear that AZA was going to be in Washington this week to speak with congressional offices regarding their conservation work, and the important work they do educating the public on endangered species issues. As it turned out, the Campus Director of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory was in town for the event, and I was able to catch up with her during a coffee with your senator event before their advocacy began. It was great to get her firsthand perspective on what the AZA would be advocating for, and also an update on Como’s new aquatics exhibit, which will be beginning construction soon!

AZA also coordinates a Congressional Reception every year, which literally brings the zoo to the Hill. AZA institutions from the surrounding area bring ambassador animals to talk about conservation and breeding programs that the animals are involved in. This year the ambassador animals included a penguin, crocodile, sloth, rabbit, macaw, and sharks. Ambassador animals play an important role in spreading the message regarding conservation both in the wild and in zoos. Many of the animals attending the reception were part of Species Survival Programs (SSP), which is a program that I like to describe as eHarmony for animals. The program evaluates genetics, breeding potential, and behavioral compatibilities for all breeding aged animals of a particular species in captivity to find the best matches. For example, if a tiger at one zoo is found to be a good match with another tiger across the country, they will be transferred to a zoo facility that could accommodate their breeding and gestation needs. This system ensures that genetic diversity is maintained in a captive population, and that zoos will have healthy captive populations for generations to come. It was great to see these ambassador animals on the Hill educating offices on the role that AZA institutions play at home and abroad. The continued support of Congress is essential to ensure that endangered and vulnerable species are given a chance at survival. In case I still haven’t convinced you that AZA institutions are invaluable to public education and conservation, here’s my shameless plug for all the amazing work that keepers at Como are working on internationally: http://www.comozooconservatory.org/blogs/keeper-blogs/