September 28, 2017

My FELLOW Americans..

By Derecka Alexander

A fellowship in veterinary medicine is usually associated with being a stepping stone for a vet to eventually become a Diplomate, which is a vet who is board certified in a veterinary specialty area. However, in Washington, D.C., the term fellowship takes on a slightly different meaning. Out here, fellowship programs are associated with many different professional organizations and are designed to provide a variety of work experiences ranging from public speaking, community organizing and media relations to in-depth research and analysis of specific issues for data generation and professional development. These are short-term and competitive experiences that allow professionals to gain unique experiences that are not typically available to someone starting out in an entry-level position.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Drs. Roxann Motroni and Michelle Colby, both of whom are veterinarians working at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We lunched at the Lincoln and the food was GREAT! That compliment means a lot when it’s coming from a South Louisiana native, because cajun/creole food is KING. Dr. Motroni and Dr. Colby were AAAS Science and Technology Fellows who matched with working for the DHS. I know that the AVMA Fellowship program gets fellows to understand policy and bill writing while working in a Congressperson’s office on Capitol Hill. This fellowship is in conjunction with the AAAS program. The slightly different AAAS Fellowship program matches participants to a governmental agency where they work to understand how research drives public policies.

Who would’ve ever thought a vet could work for the DHS? There’s no surgery involved or radiology rounds discussed. However, the work performed by these vets is probably some of the most important veterinary work being done in this country. Dr. Motroni’s responsibilities relate to managing the agricultural defense programs, which may deal with research pertaining to Foot and Mouth Disease or Classical Swine Fever just to name a few. One of her specific duties includes the development, management and execution monitoring of a 3-10 million dollar budget annually! Dr. Colby has over twelve years of experience in national security policy development, research collaboration and program management. Her duties cater to managing 16-18 projects monthly and maintaining interagency coordination so that they can adequately implement and enforce the policies they make.

At times, Congress has to act as a butcher to the nation’s budget. Although there seem’s to be a lot of unpredictability with the federal government, everybody needs to eat- literally! Agriculture defense must remain a priority so that our nation’s food supply stays protected; eating is a necessity of life! Both DHS vets explained to me how an important part of their job is communicating the science from research to leadership and stakeholders, so that everyone understands how taxpayer dollars are being spent, which helps play a part in directing Congress on how to fund DHS.

Ordinary veterinary practice wasn’t going to satisfy Dr. Colby or Dr. Motroni. And it’s not going to satisfy me. These veterinarians were intrigued by the nexus of problems linked together through international defense, development capacity and interagency communication. I left understanding that I need to not let the unknown career path I will take defer my dreams; I was encouraged to follow my bliss.