By Mike Dupor, WVMA Member, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine Fourth-Year Student
If you’re like most Americans, you probably think of Washington, D.C., with some mixture of frustration, exasperation and worry. For this bright-eyed veterinary student/policy nerd, however, Washington, D.C., represented a one-of-a-kind externship opportunity with the AVMA Government Relations Division.
I am a fourth-year veterinary student here in Wisconsin. I plan to enter food animal practice after graduation. My interest in this externship was piqued by a lifelong passion for public affairs and policy, and specifically a desire to learn more about agricultural policy. I first learned about this opportunity participating in the AVMA Legislative Fly-In.
In Washington, I had the chance to attend Congressional hearings, review proposed legislation, meet with Congressmen and their staffers, and attend policy seminars. I spent a lot of time discussing the shortage of rural veterinarians and encouraging support for the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program. This program helps food animal veterinarians working in under-served rural areas pay down debt and is a program I hope to take advantage of. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with several farm-state representatives to share the importance of veterinarians to a robust rural economy.
I also had the chance to meet veterinarians in a wide variety of public practice careers. Congressmen, colonels, public health experts and lobbyists are just a few of the roles veterinarians can fill. It was fascinating to see the doors that a veterinary degree opens for you. The people I met loved what they did and shared a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to ensure that policy is based on good science, and to ensure that government is directed in a way that benefits all Americans.
The other thing that stuck out to me was the different paths these veterinarians followed. Some entered government right out of school, others transitioned after decades in practice, and some never left practice, but work on policy as volunteers. All have realized the value of their experience and education, and the importance of our profession having a voice on Capitol Hill. There are many ways to be involved in the decisions that affect the future of our profession and country, and it is never too late to get started.
It’s important to remember that our system of government places an incredible amount of faith and responsibility in its citizens. None of this works if people like you and me don’t step up and make our voices heard. We desperately need more flexible leaders with animal and public health knowledge, and the ability to think independently and critically. Veterinarians are uniquely suited to fill that need, in nonprofits, community organizations, and government at all levels. I encourage you to consider ways in which you could put your passion, interests and skills to use helping strengthen our profession, communities and nation.