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/

May 14, 2018

Being a Tourist in D.C.

By McKenna Guettinger
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One of the best things about being in D.C. is that many of the tourist attractions are free. During my time here, I have been taking full advantage of the typical tourist attractions along the National Mall, but I was excited to get out and explore what D.C. has to offer outside of the typical touristy things. My mom was in town for Mother’s Day, so naturally she got to choose where we would be going. We both love plants and nature, so she chose to go to the National Arboretum. Both of us were surprised at how large it felt, and how easy it was to forget that you were still in the city! The arboretum has everything from the all the state trees, to perennial gardens, to an extensive bonsai collection. It was also perfect timing to visit this weekend, as all the azaleas were in bloom! There was also plenty to learn about sustainable gardening practices, invasive species, and home kitchen gardens! Places like the arboretum or the Smithsonian museums are great places to go not only to have fun, but to learn a lot! After a fun, relaxing, and educational weekend, it’s time to get back to work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 14, 2018

The Build Act (S. 2463)

By Corey Spies

There’s a lot going on in D.C. right now! The Farm Bill is up for renewal so debate over the SNAP program is raging, the opioid crisis has led to new legislation that’s moving quickly, and midterm elections are looming. While that’s all exciting, I chose to focus my first blog post on a lower-profile Senate hearing that ended up being the most interesting event in my week.

On the morning of Thursday, May 10, The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to discuss the modernization of development finance through passing of The Build Act (S.2463). This hearing focused on the creation of a new office that would bridge the gap between USAID and OPIC (the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US Government’s development finance institution). Much of USAID’s recent activity has been suppressed by budget cuts imposed by the Trump Administration, so I was interested to see what the plan going forward was in this sphere.

What I saw was a surprisingly heartening, 3-hour, productive bipartisan discussion. Senators and witnesses alike offered testimonies that critiqued the antiquated donation-driven models of past development initiatives and advocated for evidence-based foreign investment strategies. Each spoke of the importance of leveraging community assets and on-ground expertise of organizations such as USAID while transitioning initiatives from grant-driven projects to investment funded, scalable operations of impact. These concepts have long been advocated for by leaders in the field of international development, as charity operations that depend solely on foreign generosity generally fail to create sustainable commercial operations with the ability to function independently in the context of a local economy. I found it encouraging to hear our elected officials communicate with a panel of development experts so effectively and respectfully, as was not necessarily the case in other hearings this week.

On the right side of the aisle, rhetoric focused on the economic benefits of incentivizing and protecting US investors in developing markets, the importance of competing with China in these markets, and the value of US soft power in politically volatile nations. Witnesses spoke of the strides the Trump Administration has made in encouraging The Build Act as a means to these ends. On the left, witnesses and senators dialed in on the specific means by which USAID would be included in these new investment strategies as the major source of expertise in community-level knowledge throughout the developing world. Individuals also sought to clarify specific language used in the act and illuminated a need to specify the scope of the act, the definition of “development” as it relates to financial growth as well as social impact, and certain details of the future relationship between USAID and OPIC.

As many of you reading this blog are likely also veterinary students, you may be wondering why I’m so interested in this particular act. Veterinarians sit at a unique interface at which they have the ability to create change that betters the health of humans, animals, and our shared environment. Understanding animal disease as well as health and productivity lends to a distinctive approach in overcoming the multifaceted barriers to achieving food security. Applying scientific and systems thinking to far-reaching problems and prescribing effective strategies for change is an occupational strength of veterinarians and will be a valuable asset to many development initiatives in the decades to come. Legislation like this will outline the role of the US in developing markets as well as for veterinarians who will inevitably be needed as part of emerging food industries.

May 4, 2018

First Week in Washington

By McKenna Guettinger
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As a student, you get used to introducing yourself with your name, where you’re from, major, and a little bit about yourself, so I figured I’d do the same here. My name is McKenna Guettinger and I am a fourth year veterinary student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. I will be graduating in May of 2019, and following graduation I hope to enter small animal general practice, specifically feline only practice. When I tell people that I want to go into feline only practice, I get one of two reactions. I either am asked why I would want to do that when cats typically aren’t the patients who show you any affection, or people assume I am the crazy cat lady of my class. Although I am known as one of the crazy cat ladies, I currently only have two senior cats at home, 15 year old Lilly and 13 year old Ollie, so it could be worse, right? In reality, I enjoy the challenge that feline only practice presents, as many of your patients really aren’t excited to see you, and will keep every appointment interesting.

So you might ask, why the AVMA GRD externship if you want to go into practice? Although many previous externs have been aspiring to what are considered non-traditional careers (military, research, policy, etc.), I am in DC because I want to be involved in the process. My family has always had a motto that “if you don’t stay informed, you don’t get to complain when you don’t like the outcome.” That’s why I’m here, learning the skills that are involved with maintaining a lifelong engagement in policy. Since arriving in DC this week, I have already learned so much about the different areas that the AVMA focuses on. The assistant directors are currently advocating on the behalf of student loan repayment programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which provide partial loan forgiveness for veterinarians in government positions or rural areas. Their focus is not limited to student loans, as all the directors and assistant directors are currently tirelessly advocating for or against policies that would affect the veterinary profession such as small business issues, government funding, and pharmaceuticals.

While I am interested in the policy work being done in the office, I am also looking forward to getting out in the community and meeting with veterinarians working in agencies all over D.C. While I’m not planning on doing government work as a career following graduation, I am looking forward to learning more about different career paths that veterinarians can take. After all, I’ve only now just started the job hunt, and could get inspired at any moment over the next few weeks to consider a different path following graduation!

April 27, 2018

Tying It All Together

By Hibah Abuhamdieh
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It’s hard to believe that 4 weeks have already gone by since we started the AVMA GRD externship! Looking back at the past month, I have met such inspirational people, both veterinarians and non-veterinarians, who left me with valuable lessons.

Leaving DC, I feel like I have acquired a new level of knowledge of the different career opportunities available for veterinarians; I got familiar with legislative issues concerning veterinary medicine; and I got reinvigorated through the panels and events that I attended concerning the Middle East, to tie everything back to helping achieve justice to those who are facing inequality.

During my last week, I attended a fundraising event for a Boston-based, non-profit organization: 1for3. 1for3 has partnered with a local nonprofit, the Lajee Center, in the Aida Refugee camp of Bethlehem, and with joint efforts amongst engineers, health professionals, architects, entrepreneurs, water experts, education consultants, and many more (hopefully a veterinarian in the near future), they have successfully set up sustainable projects in the Aida refugee camp to ensure better-quality water, better access to health care, and enhanced educational opportunities. They have been so successful with sustainable projects implemented by the local population, such as setting up water cisterns and rooftop gardens throughout the camp, that they were contacted by the U.N. with a request to expand their outreach to other areas.

In the end, I would love to be involved in such a project. What I hope to do is to touch the lives of as many people as I can who have been neglected by most of the world. I have been privileged to pursue my education for my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian; following my education, I hope to pay back what the world has given me by helping make others’ dreams a reality.

During a conversation that Laura and I had with Dr. Valerie Ragan, a wonderful veterinarian who is now the director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland CVM, we got two helpful pieces of advice that I will carry with me with everything that I do:

  1. It is important to take into account personal interests and skills when considering a position. One will find happiness with what they do when they are able to use their natural abilities in their everyday lives.
  2. Take into consideration the aspects of a job that will ensure your comfort/happiness. For example, the weather; the ability to spend time outside; the ability to be active; is traveling an option (if desired); does the position allow for a leadership role if that is sought after?

By working through our passions; by truly listening to our motifs and drive, I think we can excel in anything that we do. It is important to find the right fit and it is important to be happy in order to be the best person you can be and to have the most success, and as a result, maximize the positive change and energy on the people (and animals of course) around you.

Many of the veterinarians who we met working within non-traditional veterinary medicine have come from a practice background, and recommended getting a few years of clinical or mixed animal experience. They saw the experience as valuable in enhancing interpersonal skills, becoming better at working in a high-stress environment, and developing a basis and degree of knowledge in detecting and responding to diseases with which we may be working with in a different manner in the future (whether that is through surveillance, developing vaccinations, or regulations).

The advice that we heard and the tips that we got all fell back to the same main themes:

  1. Much of what you do depends on the environment, or the climate of the workplace; which of course, comes from the people who work there.
  2. There are tremendous opportunities out there and there is no reason not to take the liberty to explore multiple things.
  3. Make connections, maintain those good relationships, and help others out. Networking, finding people out there who are doing the type of work you are interested in, and offering them suggestions or your unique skillset, is key in getting involved in the type of work you want to do.
  4. Do something good for the world. Everyone has a different way of doing so, but in the end, there is a deeper purpose where we can choose to make the world a better place.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in DC and walked away with an enhanced knowledge of the role of politics in veterinary medicine and the ways in which veterinarians can play a role in protecting our profession, students, and animals affected by legislative agendas. I also walked away with a better idea of the magnitude of work that veterinarians can be involved in through meeting veterinarians within the National Institute of Health (NIH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USDA APHIS, and Department of Defense. I am thankful for the many wonderful opportunities offered through this externship and look forward to using what I learned to make a positive change through our wonderful career.

April 27, 2018

What’s APHIS?

By Hibah Abuhamdieh
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One of the legislative issues that I have been following closely with Alex Sands, one of the amazing Assistant Directors at the AVMA GRD, is the Budget and Appropriations Act. One of the key components within the act affecting veterinary medicine is the appropriations of money to critical USDA programs.

There are a number of important offices and programs within USDA. For today, I am going to focus on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), which falls under the Marketing and Regulatory Programs, which Laura and I had the opportunity to visit in Riverdale. We had an exciting, tight-packed day meeting with veterinarians from the various branches of APHIS. This experience was a great opportunity to tie together what I had been working with Alex on – advocating for the steady funding of these key governmental programs, with a clearer understanding of the need for, and practical implications of these funds.

APHIS was established in 1972 as an agency to protect U.S. agriculture, which helped bring together the work of multiple animal and plant health bureaus within USDA with the same role. Under APHIS, there are 6 operational programs units including Animal Care (AC), Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS), International Services and Trade Support Team (IS), Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ), Veterinary Services (VS), and Wildlife Services (WS). Veterinarians work across multiple branches, playing an important role on the human-animal interface by ensuring the health and welfare of production animals across the US, including keeping out Transboundary Animal Diseases, and as a result, ensuring a safe food supply for both people in the country, and the U.S’ trading partners across the globe.

During our visit, amongst the veterinarians who we met, was Dr. Rachel Cezar, Director of Live Animal Imports under Veterinary Services. She plays a crucial role in regulating the import of live animals, semen and embryos while serving as a trade consultant on both a national and international setting. Dr. Rachel Cezar has worked in other segments of APHIS, including Animal Care, where she was a leader in enforcing the Horse Protection Act to eliminate the practice of “soring” in horses. Dr. Cezar started her career at APHIS serving as a Veterinary Medical Officer, a role under Veterinary Services, where she worked firsthand in surveillance of critical public health diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease and Scrapie. A key player in this role of diagnosing exotic and economically devastating diseases is the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) under Veterinary Services, and the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which respond to animal disease outbreaks such as HPAI, which are amongst the programs that the AVMA is advocating for sufficient funding.

There were a lot of acronyms in this blog-post, and lots of structure to make sense of, so I have included a chart, through USDA’s website, of the general organization of USDA, and one of the general organization of APHIS, which will hopefully help clear things up.

However, the main point that I wanted to bring across, is the importance of the work that these agencies perform, which often goes unrecognized due to much of the work being performed from behind desks or facilities that are not regularly accessed by the public. However, if you are a consumer of animal products, crops, or a horse owner, or farm owner, or have a pet that has traveled between states, you have been influenced by USDA. The assurance of food safety, animal welfare and response to devastating disease outbreaks, can all be attributed to the wonderful work of personnel within USDA – many of whom include veterinarians, that we had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know on a face-to-face basis, making their mysterious work more relatable and transparent; their hard work, passion, and evidence of the importance of what they do, has inspired me to consider a career within APHIS, perhaps in the International Services department, where I can work alongside developing countries as I hope to do.