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K-State Today

May 11, 2017

Event gives voice to Kansas State University veterinary students in Washington, D.C.

Submitted by Division of Communications and Marketing

Intrigue in the nation's capital is usually the stuff of spy novels. In this instance, however, a dynamic veterinary student duo from Kansas State University said they elicited intrigue from U.S. legislators while taking advantage of a special learning opportunity.

Second-year veterinary student Samantha Boyajian, Gardner, and third-year veterinary student Sohaila Jafarian, Manhattan, joined the American Veterinary Medical Association's ninth annual Legislative Fly-in, which took place April 23-25. They joined 70 veterinary students and 20 veterinarians in Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of the veterinary profession. Over the course of this three-day event, attendees heard from veterinary policy experts and met with members of Congress and their staffs.

"I was able to meet with both Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Roger Marshall, as well as with Sen. Pat Roberts' office," Boyajian said. "It was incredible to discuss critical issues with people who found it intriguing that a veterinary student made the trip out to D.C. to advocate. I got the impression that not many veterinary professionals visit the Hill often, which is unfortunate because I believe advocacy is an extremely invaluable tool that every veterinarian should utilize, whether that be every day in your own clinic to clients or every season on Capitol Hill."

"Often, the important role veterinarians play in the control of zoonotic diseases, food safety, antimicrobial resistance and other aspects of public health is lost in the dialogue among veterinarians, policymakers and the public," Jafarian said. "This experience helped me learn firsthand how important it is for elected officials to fully understand the ways in which their decisions will affect veterinary medicine, and I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity."

Fly-in attendees focused on two key legislative issues facing the veterinary community: the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the passage of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. Both pieces of legislation would help address veterinary student debt, which averaged more than $140,000 for 2015 graduates of U.S. veterinary colleges.

Concerning the Higher Education Act, attendees urged Congress to enhance portions of the bill that would reduce student loan burdens for veterinary students, such as lowering interest rates for federal loans and permitting refinancing. Attendees also asked Congress to pass the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, which would eliminate a withholding tax requirement to effectively increase awards available through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. This program provides up to $75,000 in loan forgiveness to veterinarians who commit to serving at least three years in regions suffering from veterinary shortages.

Many attendees shared their personal student loan experiences to help their representatives in Congress understand why addressing veterinary student debt is so important.

"I'd love to see more people involved in policy," Boyajian said. "No matter what you specialize in, policy affects every veterinarian. Oftentimes veterinarians get overlooked or bundled into 'etcetera' categories, and that thinking is affecting our way of practice and livelihood through legislation. It's time veterinarians, as well as veterinary students, start raising our voices."

Student attendees represented nearly 30 veterinary colleges across the country. Banfield Pet Hospital sponsored the fly-in.