The DVM-MD is now a representative from Louisiana
Some might say that Dr. Ralph Abraham, the Republican congressman for Louisiana’s 5th district in the U.S. House of Representatives, prefers to have his head in the clouds.
“If I have any free time, I’m usually up in the air flying,” Dr. Abraham said. “I fly airplanes and helicopters, and that’s something I enjoy immensely. Usually, if I can slip away for an hour or two, you’ll find me somewhere in the clouds.”
||Dr. Ralph Abraham speaks to veterinary students visiting Capitol Hill earlier this year. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)
A few of the freshman congressman’s interests have shaped his career. He graduated from Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 and was a practicing veterinarian for 10 years. Dr. Abraham says although his first love is veterinary medicine, he wanted the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, so he returned to LSU and obtained his medical degree in 1994. He has practiced family medicine and been an aviation medical examiner.
“I wanted to see the human side since I had the veterinary side under my belt. They’ve both been very good to me, but there are certainly many days that I miss the veterinary medicine part of it,” he said.
Dr. Abraham believes that his diverse experiences are an asset to him as he serves in Congress, particularly in his role on the House Committee on Agriculture. He says he is looking forward to having a voice in legislation that affects both agriculture and animal husbandry businesses.
“I was raised on a farm, a member of 4-H, a practicing veterinarian for 10 years, and am still an active farmer. At one time, I had several head of cattle. My father-in-law still runs a couple of hundred head of cattle,” Dr. Abraham said. “So having that base, including all of the things I’ve done in my life, has helped me do two things: It gives me a baseline since I know what it takes to run a ranch or a farm, but it also gives me a wealth of knowledge so that when I am asked in committees on the Hill for my take, I can give them a very educated response, not only from that knowledge base, but also from the practical side.”
Dr. Abraham served in the U.S. military performing Army officer infantry training, which makes his role on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs something he is passionate about.
“Veterans are certainly near and dear to my heart. We need to do more, and we need to do better for our veterans, so if I had to just pick the one thing that I want to put the target on and make better, it would be that,” he said.
As a newly elected member of Congress, Dr. Abraham finds it most surprising that there is a fair amount of bipartisan work on Capitol Hill.
“We were told coming up here that it would be tough and that you could not accomplish anything because of the partisanship, but I’ve found that just to be the opposite. People on both sides of the aisle are mostly good people, and they want to do a good job for the nation. And even though we may disagree on certain issues and certain policies, we can find common ground with most of them,” Dr. Abraham said.
When he looks back on his time as a veterinarian, the congressman says he has only good memories. He remembered one Christmas Eve when his three children were very young that he was called out to perform a cesarean section on a cow.
“It just so happens that that night was Christmas Eve, and I got home about 1:30 that morning after doing the C-section on the cow,” Dr. Abraham said. “At that age, we had things to put together for the children, and, looking back, it probably wasn’t a bad thing for me, but Dianne had to put all of that stuff together. She still reminds me of that pretty routinely,” he joked, “that I missed Christmas Eve and most of Christmas because I was trying to catch up on my sleep the next day. But any veterinarian is going to give you these same types of stories.”
As for maintaining his busy lifestyle, Dr. Abraham says his current pets do their share.
“Right now we have two cats, Laverne and Shirley. They are pretty independent, as all cats are, and since we live in the country, the cats are doing a wonderful job as mousers. Basically, we feed them and pet them, and they do the rest on their own,” he said. “When you’re in Congress and not home a lot, cats are great pets to have.”
Dr. Abraham is the third veterinarian serving in Congress currently, all three in the House, and has joined the Veterinary Medicine Caucus.
Valerie Goddard is a staff assistant in the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C.