July 14, 2016

Week One of a Kind

By Matt Holland

I woke up in Chicago on Monday, July 4, and boarded a flight to Washington Reagan National. There was abundant activity in D.C. during the first week of my externship with the AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division (GRD). There was also no shortage of kindness:

On Monday afternoon, a friend showed me around Glover Park before heading to Columbia Heights to watch fireworks from another friend’s rooftop – thank you to Dr. Greg Matheson and AAVMC Executive Director Dr. Andy Maccabe for the hospitality.

First thing Tuesday was a warm welcome and orientation from GRD Program Manager and Policy Analyst Valerie Goddard; the other extern, Sam Scholz, is a classmate of mine, and coincidentally, we lobbied together during the 2015 AVMA Legislative Fly-in! So back we went to Capitol Hill to see if we could remember our way around. Only with the help of our home office – Illinois District 13 (where the UIUC College of Veterinary Medicine is located) Representative Rodney Davis – could we enter the House gallery to listen in on the afternoon’s hot topic: gun laws.

Wednesday began with a One Health Commission webinar about antimicrobial resistance involving humans, livestock, companion animals, and the environment. (Spoiler: our pets may play a bigger role than we once thought.) That afternoon, we went back to the Hill for a House hearing on Zika virus, and it was so popular that attendees were spilling into the hallway! But not to worry, Dr. Carolyn La Jeunesse came to the rescue. She’s a former AVMA fellow (2014-’15), and used her valuable time to share some experiences responding to infectious disease in foreign territories. She also showed us around town and put some people and places on our radar for the remainder of the month.

Following the theme of priming the externship, on Thursday we met with GRD Director Dr. Mark Lutschaunig and National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV) CEO Dr. Michael Gilsdorf. Not only did they have excellent advice regarding non-traditional career paths for veterinarians, but also they were incredibly generous with their personal networks. With their help, we’ve setup meetings with USDA, FDA, NIH, and Department of Homeland Security, to name only a few.

On Friday afternoon, we attended a House briefing on research and development of extended-release drugs presented by The Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. The speaker, Robert S. Langer, world-renowned bioengineer, was grateful for a veterinary presence in the audience, and thanked us for the work our profession does to promote ethical biomedical research. We also met with another AVMA 2014-’15 fellow, Dr. Elise Ackley, who now serves as Legislative Assistant for Connecticut House Representative Rosa DeLauro. She took precious time out of her busy afternoon to give us a tour of the Capitol and answer question after question about life on the Hill.

What stuck out the most from the first week, however, was the morning of Friday, July 8:

I woke up to news of Dallas shootings. I mourned.

During my commute, I pulled up to a busy red light where a beggar was asking stalled motorists for handouts. An old man offered food.

That old man was not solving world hunger, nor did he lecture the beggar on social mobility. He did, however, directly influence the beggar’s belief in humanity – they were beaming at each other throughout the exchange. The beggar was white, and the old man was black.

If I took anything away from the first week, it’s that kindness isn’t professional courtesy or perfunctory, and it extends beyond business hours. Examples of good people doing good things are everywhere, especially if you’re looking for them– just like Pokémon. Thank you to good friends, complete strangers, and everyone in between for the lesson.


Sam and me before our first visit to the Hill!

One Response to “Week One of a Kind”

  1. Tom Bartlett-Svehla Says:
    July 15th, 2016 at 11:41 am


    Glad you have the extrnship and are sharing your thoughts as you move through the day to day of that. Also, thank you for sharing your general observations on the life flowing around you. A single act by one person can make a difference, can have a ripple effect.