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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.