Calling on Congress

Workshop empowers veterinary students as advocates for profession
Published on April 16, 2015
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Story and photos by R. Scott Nolen

Nearly 70 veterinary students lobbied members of Congress in early March for a legislative remedy to skyrocketing student loan debt and the scarcity of veterinary services in parts of rural America.

Those efforts paid off, resulting in five senators signing on as co-sponsors of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. Passing the bill is a high priority for the AVMA, as it would eliminate the federal tax on a Department of Agriculture program that pays off part of the student loan debt for food animal and public health veterinarians who agree to work in designated veterinary shortage areas.  

Veterinary students of the California delegation show state pride.

The 66 veterinary students were participating in the seventh annual AVMA legislative visit to Washington, D.C. The workshop, held March 2-3 and hosted by the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, is an opportunity to learn about the federal legislative process and advocate for bills affecting veterinary medicine and U.S. animal agriculture. 

Students hear from Rep. Kurt Schrader, one of the three veterinarians elected to Congress and co-chair of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus.

“It is always exciting for us to see so many young people come to Washington to share their views on issues that impact the veterinary profession and animal health and welfare,” said AVMA President Ted Cohn. “We would like to thank these students for exercising their civic duty and hope that the 114th Congress will be responsive to their concerns.” 

Dr. Elise Ackley, an AVMA Congressional Science Fellow serving in Sen. Dick Durbin’s office, meets with the Illinois delegation of veterinary students to discuss student debt relief.

After a day learning about the federal legislative process and tips on effective advocacy, students converged on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and their staff. The students asked for support for the loan repayment enhancement act, for improving the terms and conditions on federal student loans for veterinary students when the Higher Education Act is reauthorized this year, and for maintaining the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides incentives for veterinarians to practice in the public sector. 

Rachel Shutter, a third-year veterinary student at Washington State University, described the experience as empowering. “Our profession has its own set of unique challenges, and being so small, it’s important we take a stand on issues affecting us now and in the future,” Shutter said. “The knowledge gained through the AVMA Legislative Fly-In has motivated me to continue to advocate for matters relating to the future of veterinary medicine with confidence and direction.”

Rachel Shutter (WSU ’16) speaks with Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis about co-sponsoring the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Enhancement Act.

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