April 13, 2018

Harmful Algal Blooms: A One Health Issue

By Laura MacIntyre
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Every month, the One Health Academy holds an event to bring together federal governmental departments, non-governmental organizations and private industry leaders to discuss current One Health issues. The Academy’s mission is to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among health professionals, industry, and policy makers by promoting public health, as well as environmental, food and agricultural, and economic protection.

Hibah and I were lucky enough to attend this week’s discussion on Harmful Algal Blooms (with student discounts included!). The presenting speaker was Dr. Lesley D’Anglada, a Senior microbiologist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the office of Science and Technology, Office of Water, who has provided advice on public health issues regarding Harmful Algal Blooms for 13 years.

There were a diverse group of professionals in attendance including those working in public health organizations, research, and governmental positions. We were also excited to see multiple veterinarians in attendance. I remembered briefly learning about the effects of harmful algal blooms in second year pathology, but was surprised to learn about the widespread affects of these blooms across multiple disciplines.

Harmful algal blooms occur when there is overgrowth of algae in marine or fresh water due the combination of sunlight, slow-moving water and increased nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). This is often exacerbated by nutrient pollution from human activities including agriculture, stormwater, wastewater, fossil fuels and fertilizer waste from people’s homes. These algal blooms can produce cyanotoxins that have widespread affects on health of people and animals, environment and the economy. The EPA summarizes the secondary effects of Harmful Algal blooms on their informational website. These include:

  1. toxin induced illnesses in people and animals: potentially causing gastrointestinal, neurologic, respiratory and skin symptoms
  2. creation of dead zones in the water resulting in poor oxygen environments for aquatic plants and animals
  3. increased treatment costs for drinking water as these often occur in water sources used for consumption
  4. and economic impact of industries that depend on clean water

According to the CDC, these blooms have occurred in every region of the United States. Upon further research, I discovered these blooms can have major economic impact near my veterinary campus on the Oregon coast. Blooms can result in the closing of beaches during shellfish harvesting seasons and can have devastating impacts on the local industry.

As we learned in the discussion, there is still much research needed on harmful algal blooms because the characteristics of these blooms are often unpredictable.  Not all blooms produce toxins, toxins can form after the bloom, and toxins may last a short time in the water and be undetectable by the time the levels are measured.

For veterinarians:

There are no specific antidotes if an animal is exposed to the toxin and treatment is usually supportive. The toxin affects may vary (gastrointestinal, neurological, hepatic) so treatment is targeted toward those symptoms observed. Activated charcoal slurry has been used to bind toxins in the gut and reduce absorption.

Animals are often affected before people because they are more likely to swim in and drink these waters. It is important for veterinarians to encourage owners to keep their pets (and themselves) away from harmful algal blooms as prevention is key to avoiding potential toxic signs.

To keep pets safe:

The CDC recommends communicating to pet owners to:

  1. Avoid letting animals swim in water that smells bad, is discolored, has foam, scum or agal mats on the surface or contains dead animals
  2. Follow beach advisories in your state for harmful algal blooms
  3. Bring their pet in immediately if exposure to blooms is expected












Information cited in this post and further helpful information can be found on the following websites:




March 30, 2018

The Ask vs. The Story

By Jennie Lefkowitz
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Around DC

With lobbying on The Hill, the approach is generally focused around “The Asks”.

Yet, if so much of DC is networking, then I think it important to acknowledge the importance of building relationships. At the recent Legislative Fly-in, current AVMA Fellow and former SAVMA President Matt Holland shared his life strategy: “Build relationships”. I couldn’t agree more, Matt.

From my experience, “The Story” is the approach for building relationships. What do I mean by, “The Story”? I alluded to relationship building through collaborative efforts in my previous post, “The Ag Salon”. The day after the Ag Salon, I heard Rob Burnett, CEO of Well Told Story, speak at the Chicago Council on Global Food Security Symposium in D.C. about his company’s success of increasing the use of contraception among their audience. Rob Burnett spoke about a girl who discovered that if she made a particular side salad offered for free with her eggs, she tripled her sales. During an interview, the girl was asked if she had any kids, plans for family or a baby on the way. She responded, “What, a baby now? That’s gonna spoil everything.” If giving a reason to someone, something to protect, is the most compelling pro-contraceptive message effect, then changing the story they tell themselves changes their behavior and life prospects. Simply put, to this effect, The Story changed behavior.

At the USIP talk I attended, Rep. McGovern described an interview with a woman for an indictment against the President. This woman had seen her entire family killed in Chad. She told him that sharing Her Story is the reason worth living, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

During legislative fly-in, students were told to share a personal story to their congressmen about the Student Loan Forgiveness Program. In this way, The Story aided in advocacy.  

Rob Burnett concluded it’s not about The Ask, it’s about The Story that the audience is telling themselves. This resulted in a 20% increase in contraception use of their audience. “Sticky” Stories, as Rob referred to them, are authentic. They are from the heart, and thus inspire trust and ultimately inspire change. If we can conquer the desire not to preach or lecture but help find the desire within others, such a skill is invaluable in achieving goals and building relationships.

My favorite thing to ask of people is the how they came to be where they are and from there, the why. What were the opportunities and moments that moved them forward along their career path? In those moments, I learn about their motivations and personal values, which, to me, is how to best understand someone’s decision-making process and collaborate more effectively.

The Asks are important. People need to know what are your end goals. However; sometimes it’s important to consider the conversation in between. Buy in to the story, and then deliver the ask or start with the ask up front.

March 28, 2018

The Ag Salon

By Jennie Lefkowitz

Have you ever heard about Salons? The ones that were filled with exclusive members of a particular society, whether it be socialites, political activists, generally a group of people connected by something? Wikipedia describes it as “a meeting for learning or enjoyment”. I often think of the 18th century Parisian Salons during the Enlightenment. I attended my first one this week! – In the year 2018 in Washington, DC, not 18th century France. I probably didn’t need to clarify, but I’ve recently been hooked on Outlander, so my mind thought a time-travel joke would be funny. I digress…

A bit of a last-minute invite, it turned into my favorite night of this externship by far!

I met people in the Foreign Ag Service, Chicago Council on Global Affairs Government Relations, International Business Entrepreneurs, Agriculture Technology Investors, Program Manager for the General Mills Foundation, a Veterinary Consultant, and Policy Analyst to name a few. Of Note: Only one veterinarian was present.

In one little restaurant (food was amazing and the wine was on point) was a mixture of public and private sectors all working toward the end goal of sustainable development.

You’ll never know where the conversation can take you. At one point I debated Aristotle’s Ethics with an international business entrepreneur. At another, I discussed with a Foreign Service Officer the organization of programmes to produce maximum output of an agricultural-based economy. A Program Director of FFAR overheard the latter conversation and contributed her thoughts and shortly after person from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs joined us.

I am so grateful to Dr. Carrie La Jeunesse for inviting me to this invite. The Ag Salon brought together such a diverse group of people, and through being a part of those conversations, I was able to witness a resulting collaborative environment on an array of different subjects.

March 26, 2018

Week 3

By Sonja Perry
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On Tuesday, myself and thousands of others across Washington, D.C. anxiously awaited snow fall. As I trekked around D.C. in the rain that became sleet and finally snow, I was amazed by the beauty of the city with a dusting of white. Like most snow days in veterinary school, there was still work to be done. This was because we weren’t just waiting for the arrival of snow, but also for the arrival of Omnibus.

Omnibus, overly simplified, was the appropriations package that tells federal agencies which programs had been funded by Congress. If this bill was not passed by the House and Senate and signed into the law, another government shutdown would have occurred. As a GRD-Extern, waiting for Omnibus was a thrilling experience. Due to the current political climate, funding for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2019 were being debated up until the passage of Omnibus. Therefore, the text of Omnibus would provide information with what funding was being given for FY2018, as well as information that would allow the AVMA to direct our efforts for next year. Finally it was released. Immediately, Alex (my mentor) began combing through the 2,200 page document and finding concepts that would affect veterinarians.

Combing through Omnibus has been a turning point in my externship. I have always felt that it is one thing to enjoy current events in the news and another thing to enjoy reading heavy text of legislation. As I sat down to go line by line through the text, I felt patriotism, excitement, and passion. Feelings I was surprised to feel while reading what in reality was a dull text. I soon recognized this was an accumulation of my love of veterinary medicine and policy coming together in one. However, there wasn’t much time to feel nostalgic and the fact of the matter was speed reading and comprehension were of the upmost importance.

As I have progressed through this externship I have realized that my feelings of patriotism, excitement, and passion are feelings held by many in D.C. I have seen it on the faces of eighth graders walking to participate in a rally about school violence. I have seen it on the face of a mother of two young children as she pushed a stroller through the halls of Senate Office buildings as she marched to a meeting with a Senator. I have seen it on the face of Congressmen Yoho and Schrader as they spoke about their roles as veterinarians in Congress. As we follow current events, it is easy to become jaded about politics and the happenings in D.C. However, as a person who myself has made jokes about the inefficiencies of Congress and as an extern the past three weeks, I can assure you there are people here who care. People who work hard trying to improve on a current system. People who understand how complicated some issues are and people who believe that together we can make our world better.

March 26, 2018

Thinking Global: Impact through commitment

By Jennie Lefkowitz

In Lesson #5 of my previous post, I promised to share my thoughts about the hearing; “China in Africa: A New Colonialism?“. It discussed China’s engagements across the African continent and challenged China’s intent and the effects of their engagements.

Now, at this point you’re either intrigued or scrolling to the next blog post. If you’re neither of those, please comment below what you are thinking. Note: Indifference is not a thing, here. You could be one of those you-read-so-fast-you-can’t-stop-quickly-enough-to-skip-through people, like my pup trying to do zoomies on hardwood floors, but I want to know.

Last summer I conducted research in Ghana on the implementation of One Health and learned about the state of Ghana’s Veterinary Services (VS), the infrastructure supporting them, and the relationship between the VS and government. Whilst there, I saw substantial Chinese presence, particularly along the coast. I heard many opinions, both in gratitude and dissatisfaction.

At the hearing, Ms. Bass had the most interesting question: “What’s the solution, here? … What leverage do we (the United States) have over China to get China to act differently?”.  I’d strip this down to relationships: If the US is seen as a positive investor, giving and trying to help build the capacity of developing countries, the ultimate relationship will be largely positive in nature and our ability to influence their behavior will be enhanced. A reputation for benevolent investment as a nation will lead to preferential opportunities presented to US funders. This preferential treatment will create incentives for China to radically alter its foreign investment strategies in order to compete for these investment opportunities.

A second hearing I attended, “Why Food Security Matters,” was by a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations. Notice there is no punctuation in this hearing’s title. No period, question mark or colon. It’s quite declarative, which exactly describes the conviction of the testimonies and commitment of the subcommittee. Former Governor Bealsey quoted Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee: “Show me a nation that cannot feed itself, and I’ll show you a nation in chaos.” Also of important reference, Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability, shows that food insecurity produces instability.

At USIP, “Human Rights: The Foundation for Peace” kicked off the new series of Bipartisan Congressional Dialogues. You can learn more about the dialogues here. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts noted three approaches to Human Rights:

  1.     Punishing human rights abusers
  2.     How to end armed conflict
  3.     Prevention of abuse and systematic discrimination

Punishing those who abuse human rights means people were abused. Spending resources on ending armed conflict means sending our soldiers in to life-threatening danger. Rep. McGovern believes we should be more focused on preventing abuse and discrimination as to spare our soldiers and protect persons from abuse.

What do all three talks have in common? If hunger, human rights violations, and exploitive foreign investment are all factors of destabilization, present in most areas of conflict, and proposed solutions of all three factors are long term and preventive in nature, then investment in resources will not be for the short term.

To this effect, I would challenge the current notion that US’s Armed Forces are its most effective foreign policy tool. Effective, benevolent investment and aid in developing nations has shown to be incredibly impactful in addressing the underlying socio-economic issues such as income and food instability which lead to conflict in these countries. If “our most precious resources are the blood of the men and women who serve,” as Lieutenant General John Castellow affirmed, then wouldn’t such a strategy be favored?  

Most often the solution which drives the most sustainable, long-term change is the one that takes 10 to 20 years to implement and requires sustained and consistent funding. This is however, directly in conflict with the 4-5 year cycle of most political systems. Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA, put it quite succinctly, “long term programmes build resilience and ultimately build capacity”. It is often an inherently more difficult challenge, both politically and fiscally to make the case for investment in addressing complex causes of a society’s problems due to the sophistication of any required solution. However, the bipartisan-oriented solutions and approach of these talks is a start to ensuring we see continued investment in the developing world and ultimately improve US diplomatic relations and national security.

(Also of note is the importance of appropriate but dynamic representation in order to insure successful implementation. This 2013 UN Report evaluated 20 years of work of its Commission of Sustainable Development.)

Ok, Jennie, this is a blog of veterinary student externs so where is the link to being a veterinarian? Animal health? Well, I’m glad you asked. If we are talking about long term programmes, we are NOT talking about programmes which provide short term solutions. Agriculture and livestock are commonly looked to in order to improve the ability of the developing world to feed its own citizens as many are in rural societies. Development of the agriculture sector within a developing nation and it’s subsequent impact on food security of the country’s citizens will lead to improved economic growth. With agriculture and livestock, animal health, disease surveillance programmes and technology accessibility are a necessity to protect and build these investments. So if we’re going to talk food security that means food safety across the entire supply chain…which means veterinary involvement is a necessity. Yet, we’re either at a point in which the conversation is simply trying to bring attention to the need of change in foreign policy or, the role of agriculture and livestock are being overlooked in the solutions.

Despite the myriad of reasons for pursuing long term sustainable development strategies, these are often rejected in favor of short term, easily quantifiable goals. These programmes are, in their essence complicated beings, requiring sustained bipartisan support and, whilst the polarized politics of today are doing their best to undermine these efforts, events and talks such as these show that behind the headlines very talented people from across the political spectrum are working together to deliver progress.

March 21, 2018

Week 2

By Sonja Perry
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As an aspiring food animal veterinarian, proper use of antibiotics is a concept I am continually asked about both within and outside of school. During my food animal rotation at the University of Missouri, I found myself constantly asking questions about the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act more commonly referred to as AMDUCA. AMDUCA sets forth the rules as to how veterinarians in the United States can use antibiotics to treat sick animals with conditions that no drug available is labeled for in a manner that prevents antibiotic residues in meat. After fielding several questions on these regulations, a professor directed me to FARAD’s website. FARAD (Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database) is a database of information that helps veterinarians navigate the complicated issues found within AMDUCA and provides information about how veterinarians can use antibiotics to improve animal welfare and ensure food safety. While here in D.C. one of the issues I’ve been learning a lot about is how AMDUCA is funded. Working on this issue is a lot of fun for me because it is something that I have seen firsthand – how it affects veterinarians and thus animals and humans who consume animal products.

AMDUCA may seem like a small issue for most people, but for veterinarians and those involved in livestock production, funding for it is imperative. As those involved in veterinary medicine, we are in a unique position to advocate for tools that directly impact animal production. Neither veterinary medicine nor agriculture happen in a vacuum. It is necessary to have people who understand what is happening inside the farm gate to advocate outside of it. While in DC, I have learned about several ways to stay involved in advocacy after the externship is over. Stay tuned for a future blog post here where I will dive deeper into those ways!

This week has also allowed me the opportunity to explore D.C. and attend several different veterinary and science-based functions. Meeting people from such a diverse set of backgrounds and interest has opened my eyes in a new way to the complexities of One Health. Weather at presentations or dinners, meeting and networking with such a diverse group of people has been one of my favorite parts of this externship. I hope that as this externship continues I will be able to continue to meet and learn from the people around me.

March 14, 2018

Week 1

By Sonja Perry
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The first week of any veterinary externship is always full of firsts. For me, it is usually the first time I jump into an ambulatory truck with a stranger, well before dawn, as we head to a dairy farm to begin a herd check. With the AVMA-GRD Externship, it was the first time I put on a suit and was shown the office where I would work. At first, I was nervous. The sights and sounds of Washington D.C. are quite different from those of Washington, Missouri. The “flight zone” of Congressional staffers and lobbyists are different from those of beef cows. Luckily, the staff at AVMA Government Relations Division are welcoming, passionate and eager to serve our profession in the most effective ways possible. Over the past week I have learned a great deal about issues facing the veterinary profession, agricultural industry and everyday citizens. Here are just two of the many lessons I have learned so far:


  1. The AVMA-GRD Cares
    I was once amazed after watching a demonstration of how a guard dog will protect sheep from predators. How they lay quietly and attentively between their flock and the unknown knowing what is going on and watching for how events around them could affect their sheep. The AVMA-GRD puts that dog to shame. The staff at the GRD works similar erratic hours to some of the food animal veterinarians to wade through a different type of manure, the federal budget. They comb through looking for ways that federal spending will affect veterinarians and then advocate the position of the AVMA. It is as detail oriented work as reviewing lab results of a difficult internal medicine case. The difference is instead of one horse being affected, thousands of veterinarians across the US are. I have already seen how seriously they take their work and I am so thankful to be a small part of the team over the next few weeks and to be able to learn from them.
  2. Mentorship is only one ask away
    A few weeks before our externship, Jennie (the other extern) and I were given a list of veterinarians who were working in D.C. On our first day we sat down and began reaching out to these veterinarians who work for a variety of organizations including the US Government, the United States Senate, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and many more. Each person to whom I reached out not only agreed to meet with me, but offered advice, personal stories and encouragement. Each meeting not only ended with a list of other people to reach out to, but recommendations of other opportunities to seek.


As you can tell our first week has been busy and I have learned so much. Over the next three weeks, I hope to dive deeper into the policy that affects members of the AVMA and continue to expand my horizons on potential avenues to help positively influence the profession and animal ag industry after graduation.

March 14, 2018

FIRST EXTERNS OF THE YEAR: Lessons for those to come

By Jennie Lefkowitz
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I’ll be honest with you, as excited as I am to share this experience, I’ve never written a blog post and I rarely use social media. (Pretty sure I made a Twitter account whilst bored in freshman chemistry that I’ve forgotten about until this moment.)

However, I do love making Instagram stories and Snapchats of my pupper. I write in my journal weekly. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos to know what “vlogging” is and I follow a few fashion and skincare blogs. So now you know my lameness and hopefully between those and Oxford writing skill sets [aka my fiancee that checks every essay ever made by me], you’ll enjoy reading about this time in DC.

Some lessons I’ve learned from week one as an AVMA GRD extern:

  1. The Dawg community is EVERYWHERE! If you graduated from UGA and you choose to ever go anywhere outside the Georgia state lines, pack something to represent Georgia. If you’re running away from GA, I’d advise against this because fellow UGA grads will see you from across the street and will shout out Go Dawgs to you. Even in the formalities of meeting people, when you give your status, “I’m at the University of Georgia,” the instant response is a professionally stated, “Go Dawgs”.
  2. Go to a reception/dinner/social hour where you know absolutely no one and give your business card to at least 5 people. Make it a personal challenge. If you are naturally an extrovert, then this will not intimidate you in the slightest but if you are the opposite, this is a great exercise to get more confident in the DC networking ways. I sit somewhere in the middle: I’m used to traveling to places I know zero people and then naturally meeting people or scheduling meetings. However, something about a business card and walking up to a person randomly took some personal coaching. This challenge was suggested by former fellow and friend, Dr. Taylor Winkleman.
  3. If you want to meet the Congressmen that are veterinarians, call them first because they are busy! 99.9% likely the other extern has them on their list so go together. You’ll probably be grouped together if you call individually anyway. Sonja and I tried with one of them. Is that a #FAIL moment?
  4. The fellows are a great place to start. Whether you’re interested in the AVMA Congressional Fellowship Program, AAAS Program, both or neither. Every fellow has a unique background and interest and thus a each has a unique network in DC they could connect you, if your interests are evenly remotely similar.
  5. Speaking of unique and different interests: Attend hearings on any subject you personally find interesting. And/or what your mentor is going to. Each extern has a unique background, and you’re ability to start making what may seem a random connection, is only random because it hasn’t been thought of before. For example, I attended a subcommittee hearing titled “China in Africa: The New Colonialism?”. I’ll elaborate on my thoughts of this hearing in the next blog post but I bet you read that title and thought What the heck does that have to do with veterinary medicine or animal health or anything animal related for that matter?! If you didn’t think that, why are you in veterinary medicine? JOKES! But seriously- you’re my new best friend. Animal health is not the first thing to come to mind when mentioning international affairs. New Best Friend: I bet you’ve heard of One Health! #highfive  <– Did I use that appropriately? #yes
  6. Download the Citymapper App. Plug in your destination and it will give you all the city smarts to get you where you need to go. – Walk, bus, metro or a combination. Also gives you average Uber and Lyft prices so you can compare the cost of travel for all the ways possible.
  7. The staff at the AVMA GRD are truly invested in you making this experience what you want it and need it to be. Their doors are pretty much always open and some of their drawers are filled with chocolate. They encourage you to experience DC to the fullest – that means networking, attending hearings, seeing the monuments and museums, visiting with legislative staff, state departments, industry, and wherever your meetings take you.
  8. Say yes as much as possible. **Do not use Jim Carey in Yes Man as a reference.


November 10, 2017

A Farewell to the District

By Matt Kuhn

It’s truly amazing how quickly six weeks goes by in a city like DC. As I write this, trying to think of how to structure a summary of so many diverse experiences, all of the names and faces I’ve come across keep flashing through my mind. I met congressmen from around the country, both of my home-state senators, and a past speaker of the house. I saw the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, speak several times and Senator Al Franken make his well-known jokes during a senate hearing. I heard senators grill the pharmaceutical industry over drug pricing and farmers stand up for themselves to mis-informed representatives. With staffers, I discussed issues related to student debt and a bill incentivizing veterinarians to practice in rural America where they are needed most. I educated on the impending fallout faced by agriculture that would be caused by withdrawing from NAFTA and the necessity for mandatory funding of a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank in the upcoming Farm Bill. I met with veterinarians, lawyers, legislative aides, and lobbyists to discuss the intricacies and nuances to life in DC, to better understand how this city works and what all goes into the decisions that are made on Capitol Hill.

I’ve come to appreciate the city and all those that work in it. It is no easy task forming and managing policy. While I’d like to think I’m beginning to perceive the considerations that go into legislation, I know that I have only scratched the surface of understanding. Working in DC is taking on the ultimate problem-solving challenges. It is the diabetic addisonian dog of the veterinary world.

Nearing the end of my time here, those I spoke with began asking what the best part of my externship was or what specifically I’ve learned while here. It is honestly hard to pinpoint any one moment, skill, or subject. The most valuable aspect of the externship is simply being immersed in DC life. My understanding of the legislative branch of government prior to this externship was incredibly naïve and understanding how decisions are made and the inter-working of DC is incredibly complex. I had thought coming in that I may see lobbyists schmoozing and the dark side of DC, and I’m not so blind as to think it does not happen, but for the most part, our representatives are normal people. Their offices are staffed by intelligent, grounded, well-reasoning folks who are more than willing to take all sides of a story into consideration. Unfortunately, there are a great number of factors that may alter an office’s ability to become involved in particular legislation.

DC is a truly magical place. It is an open and airy city, lacking skyscrapers and centered around the expansive National Mall. It is steeped in history and pride for our country. It is uniquely American. I feel so fortunate to have spent six weeks here and encourage any veterinary student, whether you are contemplating a career in policy or not, to consider applying for the Extern on the Hill program next fall. It is an opportunity unlike any other afforded to us as veterinary students. I’ll leave that as my final message and want to thank everyone here at the GRD office for such an unforgettable experience.

Twitter: @MattKuhnDVM18
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/mattjkuhn

Final Blog Pic












November 9, 2017

An Adventure to the Library

By Matt Kuhn
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Around DC

One of the many benefits to an externship on The Hill is just being in Washington, DC. Now, I’ve visited most of the museums and art galleries in previous trips to Washington, and I’ve seen all of the monuments on the National Mall innumerable times, so one of my main personal goals for this trip was to get on to the floor of the main reading room of the Library of Congress.

Yes, I know, you’re probably thinking “well that doesn’t sound fun at all.” Well, I’m a history buff and a bit of a bookworm, so for me, the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, is my nerdy Disneyland. The last time I visited DC, I finally made it a point to visit the library. The entrance itself is mesmerizing. A large hall completely covered with tile mosaic and a ceiling that could have come from Rome. And while there are exhibits with artwork and literature that flank this gallery, the real draw is the main reading room. Members of the general public are not allowed to go into the main reading room; rather, they can look down into it from a balcony through a pane of glass. As I stood there staring into one of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen, I knew, I had to find a way to get down there.

When I arrived this Fall, it was then my mission to figure out how I could get access to that room. It took a little bit of looking around on the internet for instructions, but eventually, I had my library card, and I was on my way to the library. I had chosen the book “Every Man a Cattle Doctor,” written in 1815, to be my chosen book to read while there. Books at the Library of Congress are ‘checked out’ but may not leave the reading room to which they are assigned. I entered the library via an underground tunnel from a building across the street so as to skip the line to get in, which made the whole ordeal feel very National Treasure-esque. I should say that anyone can do this; all of the buildings of the library, as well as the supreme court, capitol, house, and senate buildings, are all connected via tunnels, some of which the public can use.

The main reading room was magical. A circular room surrounded by books with a high rising rotunda painted with figures representing countries that most significantly contributed to western civilization. I could never do it justice with my written word, but being able to sit in there and just read for a little while was an experience I’ll never forget. The book I had chosen only added to my excitement. Reading about veterinary medicine from the early 1800’s was quite humbling. Almost every ailment could be solved with bleeding away 3-6 quarts of blood and giving the cow a home-made tonic of various herbs and spices.

This little jaunt was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in DC and one that I won’t soon forget. It was an experience that very few have had and I feel very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of. I would urge anyone considering this externship to get on to the reading room floor or seek out experiences that one can only have while in DC for a lengthy period of time. They may take a little bit of preparation but the payout is unforgettable.