Vivien Burnell, a first-year veterinary medicine student at Utah State University, was one of nearly 100 veterinarians and vet students selected to participate in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) annual fly-in event and spoke with lawmakers to advocate for the veterinary medicine profession.
Burnell said she has always had an interest in public health and organized veterinary medicine, and going to Washington D.C. was a great way to get started in those fields.
“I have always had an interest in being proactive for our profession because I think a lot of people assume that we have an easy job and that there isn’t a lot going on,” Burnell said. “The profession is evolving and I know how much veterinarians have to offer the community. I just think that it is really important for us to be vocal and to get involved politically.”
The AVMA fly-in was a 3-day event that included a day of networking and a full-day of workshops to prepare students for their visits on Capitol Hill, learning about important legislative issues in veterinary medicine and practicing effective advocacy techniques.
On the final day, students had individual meetings with lawmakers to gain support for veterinary priorities in the Farm Bill and Higher Education Act. With the Farm Bill, students pushed for measures pertaining to animal health and disaster preparedness. The Higher Education Act focused on preserving federal loan options and loan forgiveness programs.
Burnell is from New Hampshire and spoke with lawmakers from her state. She said the biggest takeaway for her was realizing how big a difference her personal story could make on the lawmakers’ agendas.
“There is so much going on in Washington D.C., and with all of the moving parts I think a lot of the legislators get caught up in the lawmaking part of it,” she said. “When they hear stories about individuals from their state or from the region where their voters are, they are more willing to listen to your story and make it a part of their proactive strategy.”
Burnell hopes to continue her political involvement in the future and believes it is important for all veterinarians to have an understanding of what is going in the political realm.
“Being able to understand the different aspects of the law that pertain to you is so important,” Burnell said. “There are so many people that just don’t know about it, but by being a politically active veterinarian, we can help advocate for our clients and make that connection for them.”