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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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DÉJÀ VU – AN EXTERN’S PERSPECTIVE

by Terri Dudis
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter November/December 1999 Volume XIV, No VI

They say that you cannot go home again. But then they also say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Well, this old dog is here to tell you that you can, in fact, do both.

Almost four years ago I was a content and complacent middle-level manager in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation with twenty years of government service when I decided to take the offered buy-out and run. I ran as far as Blacksburg, Virginia and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM). As my educational and work experience had been limited solely to public administration and, having no science background whatsoever, I had spent the previous two years preparing for my leap of faith by attending night classes in biology, physics, inorganic and organic chemistry, and biochemistry at a local community college. Unfortunately, nothing had prepared me mentally, physically, emotionally, or financially for the events of the next four years.

As the eldest student in a class of ninety, there were certain adjustments to be made such as learning the twenty-something dialect, buying the appropriate type of jeans to supplement my 2-piece suit wardrobe, and learning how to take direction from professors who were half my age. This old dog also quickly learned not to drink coffee in the morning before a long lab or lecture; how to apply the appropriate mix of chemicals to cover the graying temples; and how to operate a microscope, lawn mower, and weed whacker. Albert Camus once said "what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger." Should this be true, then I am looking forward to emerging from this experience (albeit bruised and battered, bloodied, humbled, and impoverished) with a new-found Herculean character.

As one of a handful of veterinary schools that allow some degree of specialization, the VMRCVM has a fourth-year curriculum that is based on the concept of "tracking." All third-year students must declare whether they intend to pursue a career with companion animals, food animals, equine practice, mixed practice, or the government and corporate field. The fourth-year series of seventeen three-week rotations is then tailored to each student’s declared interest. All students are required to complete a core curriculum of rotations that include subjects such as radiology, anesthesiology, small animal medicine and surgery, and large animal medicine and surgery. Additionally, each "track" has a separate set of requirements. For example, all students pursuing an equine career must spend a minimum of six weeks at the school’s equine medical center in Leesburg, Virginia. Finally, a student may elect a limited number of electives offered at the school such as a clinical pathology seminar or a stint in specialty medicine (dermatology, neurology, and cardiology), or opt to develop their own self-initiated rotations to meet individual needs.

The VMRCVM is the only veterinary school in North America that has a government and corporate program. The campus for this program is collocated with the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. While it serves primarily as a resource for those VMRCVM students who choose the government and corporate track, the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine also provides educational opportunities in this field to other veterinary students and graduate veterinarians from around the world. Additionally, all fourth-year VMRCVM students are required, as part of the core curriculum, to complete a three-week government and corporate rotation. These assignments are scheduled and coordinated from the Maryland campus.

To a blue-blooded bureaucrat, scanning the almost limitless government and corporate rotational options was like being the proverbial six-year-old in a candy store. When selecting from all of the possible options, I identified those government organizations that were geographically desirable and that had a meaningful and relevant mission as well as a workload that was unlikely to dissipate within the foreseeable future. Additionally, I wanted to gain a better understanding of the regulatory process regarding veterinary drugs, feed additives, and the pet food industry, and the role(s) that veterinarians play in that process. With these objectives in mind, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) seemed the only logical choice and I returned to Uncle Sam’s abode, having indeed come full circle.

And now, as my three-week rotation with CVM draws to a close, I can honestly say that this opportunity has exceeded all of my hopes and expectations. I cannot imagine a more welcoming, supportive, and appreciative organization. From the get go I have been briefed by all of the key individuals in the Center, invited to meetings at all levels on a myriad of topics, involved in discussions of a confidential nature, and assigned meaningful projects. Highlights of the externship included:

  • a tour of the Center’s Office of Research in Laurel, Maryland;
  • attendance at the National Research Support Project No. 7 (NRSP-7) fall meeting;
  • an opportunity to meet and learn from nationally-recognized disease experts in veterinary practice and academia;
  • involvement in the discussions and processes that lead to the establishment of Center policy;
  • attendance at various sponsor meetings to discuss product development plans and protocols; and
  • the opportunity to conduct a literature review using the National Library of Medicine.

In concluding, I would strongly encourage a greater use of vehicles that promote the placement of veterinary students in positions with both government and corporate entities. The student benefits by gaining:

  • a greater appreciation of the number and complexity of veterinary-related topics and issues;
  • an enhanced understanding of the diverse and multiple roles that veterinarians can play in these matters and, consequently;
  • information about future career options, and the impact that these opportunities can have on animal welfare and public health issues around the world.

In addition, the organization is benefited by:

  • an additional resource that can accomplish some of those "back burner" projects that one just never gets around to;
  • gaining an avenue for recruitment of new blood; and
  • achieving a heightened awareness of its mission, accomplishments, issues and concerns in an important stakeholder group.

If you would be interested in sponsoring an externship for a fourth-year VMRCVM student in your government or corporate facility, please contact Dr. Peter Loizeaux, Deputy Director, VMRCVM Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Loizeaux may be reached by telephone at (301) 935-6083 extension 106, or by e-mail at PL57@umail.umd.edu.