October 01, 2003


 Students meet with nation's top government veterinarians

Fellowship highlights career opportunities in veterinary medicine

Posted Sept. 15, 2003

For two weeks this past summer, 11 veterinary students went where few students have gone before. As part of a fellowship in Washington, D.C., the students visited the Pentagon, toured a biosafety level 4 laboratory, and listened in on a congressional hearing.

The fellows also had a chance to rub elbows with some of the nation's top federal veterinarians so the students could witness other career opportunities in veterinary medicine.

Offered by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, June 16-27, the fellowship emphasized ways that veterinarians assist in homeland security and deal with bioterrorism.

"(The focus of the fellowship) was my reaction and what I thought I could do in terms of our students in response to 9/11," said fellowship organizer, Dr. Ted Mashima, associate director of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the college.

Through the tours and one-on-one interactions, Dr. Mashima wanted to expose the fellows to veterinarians working in the highest levels of government and help them develop skills necessary for effective communication, networking, and teambuilding.

Virginia-Maryland has been running the fellowship for the past five years. Until two years ago, it was open only to Virginia-Maryland students and focused primarily on research. But after 9/11, Dr. Mashima restructured the fellowship by opening it up nationally and with a new emphasis.

"Veterinary expertise is critically needed to protect our nation from biological terrorism threats," Dr. Mashima said. "This program was developed to network the future leaders of the veterinary profession with role models actively engaged in homeland security."

This year, Michigan State University, Tuskegee University, Texas A&M University, University of Minnesota, Auburn University, and Virginia-Maryland provided financial support for 11 veterinary students to participate in the fellowship. Nutramax Laboratories and Merck Research Laboratories co-sponsored the program.

For Courtney Ikuta, a third-year student at Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine, the fellowship was a chance to explore her interest in public health issues at the federal level. Ikuta has participated in a training program at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and, at the time of this interview, was in Rome volunteering at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

During the two weeks in June, the fellows visited the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. There, they saw a BSL 4 laboratory where some of the deadliest pathogens known are housed. Although the laboratory was being renovated at the time, Dr. Mashima noted that most veterinarians never see a BSL 4 laboratory.

At the Pentagon, the fellows were among the few civilians to receive a briefing on Silent Prairie, an exercise evaluating the impact and response to agroterrorism in the United States. They also saw the Secretary's Command Center at the Department of Health and Human Services, where the federal government's reaction to bioterrorism and related disasters is directed.

They toured the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, a state-of-the-art facility responsible for coordinating responses to disasters in the Maryland-area. The fellows visited the Library of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the National Association of Federal Veterinarians' office, and sat in on a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

Dr. Mashima thought it important for the fellows to meet veterinary leaders and prospective employers, so they sat down with Dr. Curt Mann, a member of the Homeland Security Council; Dr. Bonnie Buntain, chief veterinary medical officer at the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service; Dr. H. Michael Chaddock, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division; and Dr. Lawrence Heider, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

In addition to the face-to-face meetings, teleconferences on veterinarians' role in public health were held with professors at Auburn University, University of Minnesota, University of California-Davis, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

It was also good for the fellows to have some exposure to the news media, so they accompanied Dr. Mashima for an interview on the Diane Reems Show, which is nationally syndicated on National Public Radio.

The fellows were assigned to write a joint commentary on the AAVMC's "Agenda for Action: Veterinary Medicine's Crucial Role in Public Health and Biodefense and the Obligation of Academic Veterinary Medicine to Respond."

Ikuta considers the fellowship a "great success" that opened her eyes to a range of career opportunities. "I learned that if you want a job in public health working in Washington and you're a veterinarian student or veterinarian, the jobs are available," she said.