May 5, 2012

Country Yokel Goes to the Capital

By Lacy Strom

To all those new to this blog welcome, and to those returning, you know the deal!  My name is Lacy Strom and I am a fourth year veterinary student at the University of Georgia.  This will be my first experience blogging, so please be gentle with any criticism.  In writing this message I feel like a passenger on a ship at sea casting the proverbial letter in a bottle into the void of the ocean, never knowing whose eyes may fall upon these thoughts.  Of course, there is no water, as that would be disastrous for my computer, but the Internet is it’s own sea and you have stumbled upon the bottle having washed upon the shore.

Now that introductions are out of the way, I guess I will continue with flagrant metaphors to begin describing my first week at the GRD.  Being a small town yokel, this enormous city, with it’s bright lights, herding stampede of humans, and never ending mechanical beasts calling to all wayward contraptions and meat sacks, has left me a little stunned and awed.  In many ways, my first experience while here–riding a metro (ie, underground roller coaster) for the first time– reminded me of Alice descending down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.  I emerged with abated breath and a giddiness developing in my stomach.  The full impact of my current location was only beginning to sink in.

I started at the GRD office on Monday morning and went through the usual orientation and paper work.  The office was rather dead, but those present were extremely nice.  It wouldn’t be until Tuesday that I would meet most of the Assistant Directors and other staff that I would be working with over the next four weeks.   It was here that I took my first trip to the Hill.  Upon emerging from the metro, I glimpsed my first sight of the Capitol building, and if not for Assistant Director Ashley Morgan’s blinding pace, I would have been stunned into statuesque form.  But there was no time for ogling the stones of history, as we were on our way to a meeting with senior members on the Agriculture Committee to discuss DEA regulations of controlled drugs for mobile veterinarians who list a personal residence when ordering.  This has not been an active issue until recently, and I can assure any parties concerned the GRD is on the case!  An informational meeting with the Animal Welfare Legislative Assistant (LA) for Representative Castor of Florida followed.  Beyond the wondrous sights, the pinnacle of my day was the consumption and rapture that came from dinning on a cheeseburger at Good Eat’s Restaurant.  For those who are unaware of this business, the chef was featured on Food Network’s Top Chef, and I must say he deserved all the credit.

While I made few Hill visits this week, I accomplished a great deal in scheduling visits with veterinarians in the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, the Department of Homeland Security, the FDA, and various Congressional Offices.  Just today I meet with Dr. Melinda Cep, a former AVMA Fellow, to discuss her decision to pursue a non-traditional career in veterinary medicine, and what it’s like working on Congressional staff.  If that wasn’t enjoyable enough, I was able to follow that meeting with a quick trip to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, where they discussed emerging zoonoses and preventative measures being taken to detect and curb the spread of diseases.  The topic was fascinating, but it was a bonus that I was able to meet Dr. William Karesh, Executive VP for EcoHealth Alliance, author of “Appointment at the Ends of the Earth” (really great read!), and most importantly, UGA CVM alum.  Though the topic intrigues people, it’s the food that puts butts in the seats–of course we all know that as vet students–and being the poor student I am, I spared no relish in preparing a hearty salad bowl with sparse greens and copious amounts of steak and shrimp, along with any meals tag along friend, dessert in the form of a delicious chocolate cup cake.

Times have been exciting and I’ve started to get into the meat of this externship by contacting various Congressmen in South Carolina and Georgia.  The process for this task is to find out who the LA is for the issue you wish to address and schedule a meeting with them.  As stated before, though Congressmen essentially vote and write bills, it’s the LAs and other staff who really help the Congressmen direct their issues.  And to all those who believe their Congressmen are too difficult to reach, all I can say is, you must not being trying at all.  In just the past day I have scheduled meetings and one photo-op with half of the Congressmen I contacted.

So in all the above verbosity, allow me to distill my message to these three points, as that’s how most important things are delivered today anyway:

1.) The staff at the GRD is amazing! With just a few members they work to accomplish so much, and all of them are so unbelievable nice.  Give them a call some time if you are truly concerned about an issue, and there are many you should be.

2.) Gourmet sandwiches can come from a gas station, and they won’t give you food poisoning.  I never would have believed it, but it takes tasting to believe.

3.) There is no way as a student I should be allowed to take an externship this fun.! Our lives are usually full of drudgery and monotony as we attempt to cram and regurgitate the massive volume of material shot in machine gun manner.  I am unaccustomed with the idea that learning can be fun again, and not involve the classroom or a hospital.  If you have any interest in policy or regulatory veterinary work, then I encourage you to apply for this externship.  Heck, even if you aren’t really sure, do it for an exciting time away from school and the opportunity to network.  You never know when a business card may open doors for you (and no I’m not talking about shimming a lock).

Well that’s it for this week.  Time to hit the town and catch the sites.  I’ll try and take some pictures to include in the next entry!