I’m Michael Hung, currently the Senior CVMA Representative and from the Class of 2019. In April, Navneet Saini, the Senior SAVMA Rep and a fellow Class of 2019er, and I got to attend the AVMA Fly-In in Washington DC as UCDSVM representatives.
Although their work might be unknown to some in the veterinary profession, the AVMA actively advocates for the veterinary profession on a national and political level. The Governmental Relationships Division (GRD) meets with and lobbies political figures in order to advance veterinary medicine and animal welfare. A few weeks ago, Navneet Saini (Class of 2019) and I had the opportunity to represent UC Davis to do just that. The AVMA Legislative Fly-In invites students from veterinary schools all over the country to our nation’s capital to participate in this unique and important event so that we may see how veterinary medicine is involved in our nation’s political process.
The event lasted two days: the first as a kind of “training” meeting to prep us for what would happen the next day, and included a general overview to the political side of AVMA (spoiler alert: there’s a lot of stuff going on) and the wonderful world of lobbying. It was during this time that they began to explain and detail the two pieces of legislation we would be advocating for as veterinary students: The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, or VMLRPE Act, (try saying that four times…which we had to do) and the Re-Authorization of the Higher Education Act.
Although I imagine that you may not have a day to acquaint yourself with these two acts like we did, both bills deal with a major issue that current veterinary students and recent graduates are fighting with: debt. The VMLRPE Act proposed to decrease taxation on a program that allows debt forgiveness for veterinarians that work in designated “veterinary shortage” areas; the Re-Authorization of the Higher Education Act sought to protect the current financial loan options and opportunities for higher education, which are currently in danger of being slashed or diminished.
Of course, the next day was the exciting and nerve racking part: meeting with and lobbying the offices of our Congress representatives! I was placed in the “Northern California” group as a Davis voter with Navneet (from San Jose) and a student from Tufts University, David K (from San Francisco.) During our time on Capitol Hill, we met with the offices of both our Californian Senators and all three of the offices of our individual representatives – including John Garamendi, whose district includes the city of Davis. We were able to share our perspective as students entering a profession with an increasingly larger debt to income ratio, demonstrating how veterinarians are a necessity in a nation where anti-microbial resistance is becoming frighteningly relevant, where zoonotic diseases threaten human and food animal health, and where pets are becoming an increasingly valued part of the typical human life.
We were fortunate to have representatives who are sympathetic to our cause. Unfortunately, the terms of the Re-authorization of the Higher Education Act are in danger of being slashed, as a significant portion of Congress currently does not. Fortunately, the VMLRPE Act has bipartisan support.
The AVMA Fly-In impressed upon all of us there the importance of organized medicine in how it fights to better the lives of veterinary professionals and students across the country. Though the obstacles may be many, it was encouraging to know that the AVMA persistently lobbies on our behalf, and that we, as students and citizens, could participate in that process. I left with a greater appreciation for organized veterinary medicine as a whole – it gives us a voice so that we can speak on the behalf of veterinarians and their patients across the nation.