As Hailey and I prepare to leave the AVMA Government Relations Division, I have taken some time to reflect on the plethora of experiences I have been fortunate to have during my externship. One of the many highlights of this experience was meeting veterinarians who are working in positions I didn’t even know existed and learning about the interesting and diverse career paths that led them to where they are now.
During our externship, we have had the chance to meet with veterinarians who work in several different government agencies including the Department of Defense, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. We have met veterinarians who are lobbyists, congressional staffers, AVMA congressional fellows, as well as veterinarians who work at non-profits, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. The veterinarians we have been fortunate enough to meet have been so welcoming and genuinely excited to meet and speak with us. Even as a visitor in a big city like D.C., I felt included in an exclusive and distinguished group of professionals.
Getting an inside look at how the Government Relations Division functions has been an exciting experience. We had the chance to sit in on strategy meetings with the GRD staff as well as conference calls with the AVMA Political Action Committee (PAC) Board and the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC). Additionally, we have had the opportunity to attend hearings, bill mark-ups, forums, committee meetings, panel discussions and meet with legislative assistants to lobby on behalf of veterinarians. The GRD Assistant Directors, Alex Sands and Dr. Lauren Stump, served as our mentors and we worked closely with them on several policy issues in their portfolios by developing lobbying strategies and creating informative literature for members of Congress and their staff on policy topics important to veterinary medicine.
After reflecting on my experience, I have many positive elements to list and only one negative: it wasn’t long enough. I wish I could spend more time here and I highly recommend this externship to every veterinary student, regardless of what their current career goals are because having the chance to see the many different ways that veterinarians contribute to society is incredibly exciting and rewarding. Furthermore, whether or not you want to work in policy, having an understanding of how policy affects veterinarians and veterinary medicine solidifies just how important it is to be involved in the legislative process and advocating on behalf of the veterinary profession. Coming into this externship, I thought that this experience would help narrow down my career interests, but it has actually done the opposite. This experience has broadened my horizons and allowed me to see a wider range of opportunities and choices in veterinary medicine than I ever thought possible. The number one statement that I heard from every veterinarian I spoke to during this externship was a perception that I will carry with me throughout my career: “The best advice I can give you is to keep an open mind, because I never thought I’d be here, but I am so glad that I am.”