April 27, 2018

#GettingTo5050

By Laura MacIntyre
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One of the unique aspects of the AVMA GRD externship and its Washington DC location is the exposure gained to all policy and political issues- not just those directly affecting the veterinary profession. Aside form the hearings and mark-ups on the Hill, there are free panels and discussions occurring everyday in the city on issues from voter registration modernization to private sector investments in Afghanistan. This externship encourages students to explore these opportunities of interest and get a well-rounded DC experience.

These panels always teach me new insights on current political and policy issues and it’s always interesting to see the passions and pieces of legislation that are the focus of other DC organizations. And sometimes these events, especially those focusing on broader issues, are more applicable to our profession that I previously realized.

Because of my interests in policy, I was intrigued by a panel discussion held this week by the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). This organization was launched in 2011 by Hillary Clinton, with a partnership among the US Department of State and five US Women’s colleges, and now includes partnerships across the globe with different agencies, universities, NGO’s, the government and the private sector. They are working toward a goal of “50X50” which aims to achieve 50% representation of women in holding policy and political leadership positions around the globe by 2050.

The panel began with a short video created by Tiffany Shlain on why we should pledge 50/50 describing the importance of this movement.

This video highlights that Congress is 81% men and 81% white, while our population is 50% female. While in the majority of other countries, women are even less represented.

The discussion first highlighted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push for gender parity on his cabinet- half of which are female. The WPSP hopes to create this type of gender sensitive and balanced leadership across the government in United States. They hope to achieve this by collecting data using the Leadership Index which they define as “measuring progress toward gender parity and tracking the pathways for women to pursue leadership, the positions they currently hold, and the power they are able to exercise within those positions.”

The panel agreed that women need to play an active role in pointing out when women are underrepresented in leadership positions. This is not only important in the government, but all workplaces. Even though women make up half the population, they are largely underrepresented in leadership positions in business. A 2017 study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & CO, found that nearly 50% of men and 33% of women think that having 1 woman and 9 men per 10 senior positions is adequate. Again, this demonstrates the existence and acceptance of underrepresentation in leadership.

The panel continued to encourage women not only to speak up on gender imbalanced leadership, but also to realize their value and not be afraid to seek out leadership positions for which they are well-qualified. It was discussed that women tend to be more timid then men to accept nominations for office and need to realize their potential and also offer mentorship and encouragement to other young women to become leaders.

While listening to this discussion, I drew some comparisons with what I had heard from colleagues in the veterinary profession. Although veterinary medicine has shifted from a male to female dominated profession, women in veterinary leadership roles are also underrepresented. During my first years of veterinary school, I didn’t realize this problem existed as the leadership at Oregon State is pretty well balanced gender-wise. However, it appeared to me that this was not the case at other veterinary colleges. At one of the VBMA conferences, a student from a different school talked about starting a club chapter at her school focusing on women’s leadership positions in the veterinary field. I asked if that type of club was needed when veterinary school is characteristically predominately women, but she described it as a serious issue at her college and across the veterinary field. When I was participating in the Legislative Fly-In in 2016, I remember other female veterinary students frustrated that their leadership roles among their student governing positions were predominately male even though female were the majority of students.

This talk encouraged my to look up resources for women in veterinary leadership and see the different leadership positions women veterinarians hold throughout the diverse fields in business, government and industry (like many of the women we have met over the last 4 weeks). On the forefront of this issue for advocating and creating change is the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. This organization helps develop women leaders in all areas of veterinary medicine and helps create solutions to this issue. There are also club chapters at 8 of the 30 US veterinary schools so more chapters need to be started so incoming veterinarians are aware of opportunities and resources available. More information can be found here and is a good starting point for education on this topic.

April 24, 2018

Small World

By Hibah Abuhamdieh
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One of the wonderful things about DC is how easy it is to connect with people with similar passions and interests.

This week, we had the opportunity to meet with AVMA’s Legislative Advisory Committee, composed of veterinarians from different states and organizations representing a wide array of industries within veterinary medicine. The team’s role is to assist with, and represent, the AVMA’s legislative agenda, which entails meeting with federal officials to share these veterinary legislative concerns.

The best thing about meeting new people is finding ways in which you are already connected – either through others, or through similar interests. Not only do these commonalities pave the way for great conversation, but they also serve as a source of comfort. A good example of this is Laura and I meeting with Dr. Matt Holland, one of the current AVMA fellows. We shared a common feature with him – the enthusiasm and interest in anything and everything. Matt came from a background of sports journalism before deciding on pursuing veterinary medicine, and within that, he has continued to explore and stay open to opportunities that come his way. I like to think of the joint struggle in in broad interests that Matt, Laura and I seem to share as a “good problem.” It is comforting to know, that even as a graduated veterinarian, even with the title of “Dr.”, it is alright, in fact, encouraged, to keep exploring. As I connect with more veterinarians involved in different aspects of the career, and learn about their unique career paths, the importance of staying flexible and open to opportunities is continuously reaffirmed.

Some fun connections that I made with the LAC team: Dr. Mike Topper and I, of course, have Georgia in common (and have met there before). I sat across from Dr. Kelly Still Brooks at the LAC dinner, only to realize that we had both attended Berry College and had the same double major! I found a couple of fellow running enthusiasts – Dr. Pawlowski and Dean Johnson from LMU. Dr. Johnson, who has done international work himself, was great in giving me tips and more connections to pursue my dreams of working in developing countries. It was amazing, and comforting to see that he has kept his enthusiasm for running, and continues to pursue it as a part of his lifestyle.

Laura and I were lucky enough to be able to attend a couple of meetings on the Hill with some of the LAC members, as well as Congressman Yoho’s reception. We met with Senator Risch, with whom I found a connection as well! When he found out that I grew up in Dubai, he told me that he had taken a trip there, where he had the chance to meet the Sheikh – and his horses!

Laura and I also had the opportunity to visit the Department of Defense, where we met with Major Paul from the Defense Health Agency, and junior veterinary officers. We got great insight into the roles that veterinarians can play in the military: food safety, clinical medicine for the dogs and pets of army personnel and their families, and international outreach programs. Speaking of connections – Major Paul had recently been in Georgia for my mentor, Dr. Corrie Brown’s, army training program.

Through these connections, I am realizing how small the world really is, and how wonderful it is to get to know somebody and uncover mutual interests.

April 24, 2018

Career Advice from Non-Traditional Veterinarians

By Laura MacIntyre
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New and exciting adventures continued throughout week three of the AVMA GRD externship. Following the current legislative issues affecting the veterinary profession, we were lucky enough to attend the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Markup, attend a hearing on the 2019 Budget of the US Department of Agriculture involving the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and attend a discussion at the Newseum hosted by the Retail Industry Leaders Association about the current Supreme Court Case involving online sales tax collection (the majority of veterinary clinics are small businesses largely affected by this issue). We were also able to sit down with U.S. Congressman Schrader, a veterinarian for 30 years before he decided to run for Congress, who currently represents Oregon’s 5th Congressional District (Yay, Oregon!!).

In addition to our focus on legislative issues, we continued to explore diverse career paths by meeting with veterinarians around the DC area. This week we met with veterinarians at the Department of Food and Agriculture, United States Agency for International Development, Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Center for Public and Corporate Health at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Among our various meetings, there were two commonalities I noticed about the conversations with the veterinarians we spoke with. These being:

  1. Most every veterinarian we talked to said that they would never have expected to be in their current job position. They often said their young veterinary student selves would never have expected their career path taken. And,
  2. Every veterinarian we talked to was genuinely happy with their current position and career.

To my surprise, many of these veterinarians practiced private clinical veterinary medicine (which they all described as a great learning experience) before making a career change in government, public health or corporate careers. These conversations should be very encouraging for current veterinary students and veterinarians looking for career changes (or not) to know that there are not only diverse non-traditional opportunities available, but that veterinarians can often find career paths in these venues tailored to their specific interests. In addition to the similarity in advice heard from our visits, there were also two unique and helpful words of career advice that stood out to me (summarized below):

  1. The first was from Dr. Valerie Ragan, the Director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She advised that veterinarians looking for career changes potentially in government, public health or corporate sector should first ask themselves what is their preferred lifestyle associated with a job. Factors like living in a city vs rural area, working directly with animals, need or distaste for travel, etc. Narrowing down one’s specific life values can really help direct a veterinarian to a job that will help them feel satisfied in their career and potentially address what changes they were looking for from a previous position.
  2. The second was from Dr. Daphne Bremer, a Policy Specialist and Program Officer on Combating Wildlife Trafficking Strategy and Partnerships with
    US Fish & Wildlife Service, International Affairs. She believes veterinarians have such a diverse education and skill set that they should be more confidant in marketing themselves to any career they wish to pursue. She encourages veterinarians to promote themselves as problem solvers, critical thinkers and the leaders that they are. This should push veterinarians to use their veterinary career as a stepping stone for any avenue they wish to pursue (like Congress!).

Seeing all these veterinarians making a significant impact on the world has been eye opening and I am so happy to be part of such a great profession. It is very encouraging to know that no matter what career path me and my classmates take in the next few months, it is still a great one.

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:

https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/harmful-algal-blooms

https://www.cdc.gov/features/harmful-algal-blooms/index.html

//www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/hab/vet/habvetfs.pdf

April 13, 2018

Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Veterinarians: Confusing, but Important.

By Laura MacIntyre
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So far, the AVMA externship program has been a blast and the most unique externship I have had during my fourth year of veterinary school. Within the first two weeks, Hibah and I have settled into our offices, met the GRD staff, met with the AVMA Legislative fellows, observed planning for a future AVMA convention, attended lectures and forums on international affairs, attended a One Health Academy series lecture on Harmful Algal Blooms, observed the AVMA’s Legislative Advisory Committee discuss the AVMA’s position on legislative issues, met with the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, met army veterinarians at the Department of Defense and met three Congressional members. (Phew, that’s a lot of things!). Everyone we have met has been extremely welcoming and we feel very fortunate to have had these experiences. Additionally, I have had the time to enjoy this beautiful city with trips to the National Mall (with the cherry blossoms in full bloom) and museums, while eating too much yummy food all along the way!

From all these varied activities, I wanted my first blog post to highlight legislative issues directly affecting the veterinary student community and why veterinary students should be paying attention to these issues. When the AVMA’s Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) visited their Congressional members’ offices on the Hill to discuss important legislative issues affecting the veterinary profession, Hibah and I were lucky enough to tag along on some of the visits. During our meeting with Representative Bera (D-CA 7th District), he first asked Hibah and I what were the concerns of the students. Without hesitation, me and Hibah both addressed the significant debt burden that veterinary students face upon graduation.

With the average debt carried by veterinarians at over $140,000 at graduation and the average starting salary for those that accept a full-time position in private practice at $70,000, loan repayments are a significant challenge for new graduates to achieve basic financial stability. This is in contrast to human family physicians and interns who typically begin earning solid six-figure salaries after residency. While every veterinary student or veterinarian I have ever met has joined the profession to positively impact animal health and not for financial compensation, the financial burden is causing the profession to become less and less sustainable.

This is very unfortunate because veterinarians contribute to society in so many different avenues and offer a diverse, adaptable skill set unique to any other profession. While veterinarians work on small animal and large animal clinical health, they also serve positions in Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Defense, research laboratories, the US Agency for International Development, United States Department of Agriculture, the US Public Health Service and many other organizations. Yet because of the significant debt burden, veterinary students often choose to go into private practice over jobs in the public sector in order to maintain a higher salary and contribute more to their loan payments.

One of the specific pieces of legislation the AVMA advocates for, The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, was created to encourage professionals, including veterinarians, to enter into needed public service jobs.

This program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. 

This means a veterinarian can have their loans forgiven tax-free after 10 years if:

  1. They work for a government organization or non-profit 501 (c)(3) organizations: These include the previous public service jobs described above, but also include not-for-profit shelters and other not for profit hospitals.
  2. Their loans are direct federal student loans.
  3. They pay every monthly payment of an income-driven repayment plan for 120 payments (10 years).

Unfortunately, this legislation has caused much confusion for borrowers and has very specific guidelines that are often misleading or difficult to understand. Fall of 2017 was the first time borrowers were able to have their loans forgiven under this program and many who applied were denied due to inconsistency with the requirements. Because the government felt they didn’t adequately educate borrowers on PSLF, Congress allocated $350 million this month to cover borrowers that were enrolled in the wrong repayment program, but contributed 10 years of payments. Additionally, there is a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Form borrowers can fill out and submit to ensure they meet all the proper guidelines in their current area of employment to qualify for the program.

Sadly, there is discussion to discontinue the program. This is disappointing in the opportunities it would dissolve, but also because only one group has completed the first program and we don’t have significant data yet on how the program affects the public sector or public-sector job growth.

It is important for veterinary students to be aware of loan forgiveness options and speak up to keep programs that are beneficial for the veterinary profession. From my experience at a previous Fly-In and visiting the Hill this week, congressional members and their staff really do enjoy hearing the perspectives of their student constituents. In one of our meetings, one of the staff members for Senator Risch commented that he remembered a veterinary student from the Legislative Fly-In because of how passionately she spoke about student loans issues. Many other LAC members experienced similar comments during their visits on the Hill. The majority of people don’t understand the veterinary student experience, the veterinary profession or challenges are profession face because it is a small and unique profession. That’s why it is important that veterinarians advocate and educate local and federal legislators about the roles veterinarians contribute to society and why we have programs that help encourage veterinarians to fill these much-needed positions.

April 11, 2018

Finding Opportunities in DC

By Hibah Abuhamdieh

What stood out to me during my first week in DC is the tremendous level of opportunities available, not only in this incredible city, but also within veterinary medicine. I am a proponent of taking opportunities as they come, and figuring out through these opportunities, ways in which they can be applied to what I hope to accomplish; that is, working in developing countries on the human-animal interface to enhance public health and animal welfare while raising awareness of this crucial role that veterinarians play.

While learning about the work that is done by the AVMA Government Relations Division and the current legislative issues that the Assistant Directors are focusing on, I also had the chance to attend events about topics outside of veterinary medicine in which I am interested. One of these was a panel discussion about Syria, hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. One of the speakers was Jason Hamacher, an American musician, who, through a series of unexpected events, ended up making an incredible impact on sharing Aleppo’s history. Between 2006 and 2010, he recorded chants from the Armenian Orthodox church of Forty Martyrs in Aleppo, which was later bombed during the Syrian crisis. It is all about opportunity. This artist with no ties to Syria, through spontaneous means, ended up in Aleppo, recording some of the oldest chants from the Orthodox Church and taking photographs of the country before its devastation.

I had the opportunity to attend a talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: Gaza, Palestine, where Dr. Brian Barber a professor and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, spoke about his travels to Gaza over the past 23 years, an opportunity denied to most Palestinians, including myself. He is now a crucial figure for sharing the unheard story of the 1.8 million people of Gaza.

My blogpost is probably getting too long, but the last example that I need to share is getting the chance to listen to David Miliband speak at an event about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary of the UK and member of Parliament, resigned from his government role to become the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where he has benefited millions of people facing humanitarian crises around the world.

I have often wondered how I can tie together my passion for human rights and justice, with my passion for animals and veterinary medicine. I believe that through policy and advocating for subjects that matter, these matters can be tied together and we can work toward a better world. I believe that opportunities arise for a reason, and over these next couple of weeks in DC, I am excited to continue exploring the events and connections that come my way, and seeing where they will take me in the future.

March 30, 2018

The Ask vs. The Story

By Jennie Lefkowitz
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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.