Student advocates

2004 AVMA externs advance legislative agenda
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

The 108th Congress was notable for the success of the AVMA legislative agenda, aided in large part by the veterinary students who worked on behalf of the Association.

The AVMA Governmental Relations Division Student Externship Program allowed 11 students from 10 schools and one veterinarian to spend four weeks each in Washington, D.C., helping the GRD advance the AVMA legislative agenda.

Their reasons for applying differed, but all were highly qualified and well-regarded students with a desire to learn about the policy-making process and assist the GRD in its lobbying. Each extern's contribution was unique.

The 2004 externs included the Student AVMA president-elect, three presidents of student chapters of the AVMA, the founder of the University of Illinois Public Health Association, a student ambassador to the United Kingdom and Australia, and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Fourth-year Purdue University student Morgan Hennessey said about his externship, "Participating in an externship with the American Veterinary Medical Association's Governmental Relations Division has proven to be an extremely rewarding and invaluable experience.

"I was also able to gain a firsthand perspective of how the national government actually works. I also saw just how important it is for the profession of veterinary medicine to have a voice on Capitol Hill."

Student interns in many Washington, D.C., offices spend most of their time writing correspondence or answering phones. AVMA externs, on the other hand, have the opportunity to influence the policy-making process up close.

Many externs were able to arrange meetings with their members of Congress and had the opportunity to speak with them about issues affecting veterinary students. Externs soon discovered that congressional staffers often have power to influence how a member of Congress views legislation and whether that member will co-sponsor or vote against a bill.

Externs worked diligently on several pieces of important legislation and sought appropriations for the National Veterinary Medical Services Act and the Department of Agriculture's Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory on Plum Island.

The Minor Use Minor Species Animal Health Act—signed into law Aug. 2, 2004—was an especially critical piece of legislation that externs helped guide to passage. Externs e-mailed veterinarians, asking for accounts about how drugs covered under MUMS would influence their practices, and collecting them to use as examples of how the legislation would be beneficial to the veterinary profession.

Externs encouraged grassroots activism to push for funding for the National Veterinary Medical Services Act. Although signed into law in December 2003, the legislation did not specify a funding amount, thus requiring another law or amendment to appropriate money to repay student loans for veterinarians who work in high-need areas.

Andrea Henderson, a fourth-year student from Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, encouraged SAVMA delegates to begin letter-writing campaigns at their schools in support of funding NVMSA.

Externs worked not only to pass bills but also to defeat those harmful to animals or the profession. One such bill was the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, a bill the AVMA opposed but which had 224 co-sponsors in the House and seven in the Senate. Facing this uphill battle, externs took to Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress to oppose the bill.

Lynne White, a fourth-year student from the University of Illinois, met with congressional staffers and became effective advocates against the bill, even persuading some members to remove their names as co-sponsors.

Although the application deadline for the 2005 AVMA GRD Student Externship Program has passed, the AVMA will begin advertising for the 2006 program at the end of this summer.

Applicants must be SAVMA members who have completed two years of a professional program at an AVMA-accredited school or college. They also must be involved in their school and outside activities. Experience in politics is not a requirement, but extern applicants must have an interest in public policy. Applicants must be motivated and able to work independently of staff.

Also in the upcoming year, the AVMA will likely host veterinary externs—veterinarians working in the GRD office do much of the same work as student externs. Unlike student externs, who receive a $1,000 stipend, veterinary externs self-finance their time in Washington. Interested veterinarians are welcome to apply.

Direct questions or comments about the extern program to Robert Hay Jr., program and administrative coordinator, at (800) 321-1473, Ext. 3208, or rhayatavma [dot] org (rhay[at]avma[dot]org).