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Congressman Schrader Delivers Commencement Address at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine Graduation

06/08/10

Congressman Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-OR), the only doctor of veterinary medicine in the US House of Representatives, delivered the keynote address at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine’s 44th commencement ceremony on June 4th at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Commencement Address
Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine
June 4, 2010               
New York City


First of all, let me congratulate the graduating class of 2010 of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. I know how much hard work and dedication it takes to get through veterinary school. I still vividly remember my first year “make or break” anatomy and physiology classes at the University of Illinois 33 years ago. I remember the long hours of study with my classmates, the long nights on clinic rotation, and the terror stricken look of our junior surgery supervising resident when my Carmelt clamp cut clean through my first cat spays uterine body, allowing it to disappear into the body cavity. I remember Dr. Selway locking us in the small equine surgery recovery room when anesthetic recovery for horses was an eventful affair. But I promise you there isn't a single day in my life that I don't use the skills I learned in vet school.

I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you as you venture out into the world as practice-ready veterinarians. "Practice-ready" is a phrase we hear all the time when we talk about veterinary education, and I know Ross takes that mission very seriously. Ross University has provided you with vital tools you will be able to use on the very first day you practice veterinary medicine. Tools that will bring the critical awareness our society requires for issues and discoveries that are emerging rapidly in our profession.

You may wonder what a veterinarian is doing as a member of the US House of Representatives. And I'll confess there are times when I ask myself that question—because I love practicing medicine back home in Oregon. At least in my clinic I knew when I was about to be kicked, scratched, or bit. But there is an important reason as to why I chose to serve in Congress and it has everything to do with my life as a veterinarian. Very soon you will discover that you are not just a doctor treating sick pets or animals, or performing vital research. You will be the most trusted health professional in your community.

You have earned the right, opportunity and responsibility to be an important member of your community. People will look to you for good ideas and solutions on a range of problems. You will be asked to help your community and I hope that each of you will say “yes” to that call—so that you can share the analytical, problem-solving and empathetic leadership skills you were taught at Ross and will further hone as a member of the veterinary profession.

In my small hometown of Canby, OR, while I served on the planning commission and legislature, one of my colleagues was the school board chair and another led the chamber of commerce. Your clients will come from every walk of life, and because you take care of one of the most important parts of their life, they will value you.

Word will spread in your community that you are someone people can trust, and someone able to help people in need. And you will be asked to serve outside your practice; at night, or on the weekend, or whenever needs present themselves. I started by serving on my children’s school sitting committee and volunteering to serve on my small cities planning commission once a month. And what I discovered was there were skills I didn't know I had, skills from vet school that enabled me to make a difference. It wasn’t just the Georgia body tie, twiches, steroids, antibiotics, x-rays, diagnostic regimens and technical surgical expertise. It will be your work ethic and your ethical training. Your ability to size up a situation, get patient and owner on board, show understanding and compassion, and be a problem solver will make you a leader in your community as well as successful in your practice. I found it was extremely satisfying to give back to my community. As my clinic grew, my confidence grew and I practiced smarter, not harder, and I found I had time for community issues that affect my family, community and state, and now I have the great fortune to serve our country in Congress. Don't be shy when neighbors and friends ask you to do more, because you may be surprised where it will lead you. I encourage you to explore all of the opportunities before you; private practice, public health careers, food safety, industry, academia and research and policy development. Build upon the natural link you have with the community through a shared love for animals.  

Veterinarians of your generation sit at the crossroads of so many public health and scientific challenges. Too few realize that veterinarians receive more integrated training than any other profession when it comes to zoonotic disease, food safety and comparative medicine. We need more veterinarians to step up and pursue careers in these fields, whether it is research or public policy, or academia. Your knowledge is essential to issues as basic to every American as the food they eat and their home security—for we know problems often arise in the pet population and food supply that are precursors for greater issues and even potential epidemics.  

And as America grows older, you also have the chance to be at the center of services to the disabled and elderly. Animals provide steady companions for seniors, recuperative support for the injured and essential aids for the handicapped. I’ve had clients who provided guide dogs for the blind and horse trainers whose mounts were often the only connection many autistic members of our community could make to the real world. Studies that will be released this summer will empirically confirm that spending time with animals makes both the person and the animal happier and healthier. Understanding and nurturing the human-animal bond is an important part of our role in the community.

Particularly in a society where much of our social interaction is done remotely through the internet, the loneliness and despair is often palpable. Research and a broad awareness of the comprehensive value of the human-animal bond have barely scratched the surface. You are entering our great profession at the best possible time to carry this knowledge further—be it with one client, an entire community or the broader research universe.

The skills you have learned at Ross and the services you will soon provide are in ever increasing demand. There just aren’t enough veterinarians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be over 28,000 job openings for the veterinary medical professional in 2012.  There is a significant need for you to get involved now to ensure the public health, protect our food supply and care for our pets. There are only a handful of professions that can say they have such a range of impacts on our society, so be proud that all of your hard work will enable you to make a difference and you will have so many opportunities to use your degree.

It is hard to resist an opportunity to kid our friends who are lawyers—and there's more than a few in Congress—but the headlines tell us how tough it is for new law school grads to find paying jobs. You don't hear too many folks saying we need more lawyers in America. But you hear this cry every day about veterinarians. The United States needs your skills, your ethics, your compassion and your communitarian spirit and I am confident you will find ways you have never dreamed of to put your DVM to good use.

Let me leave you with one thought. We face significant issues throughout America when it comes to our animals—from pythons in the Everglades to food animal medicine in rural America to zoonotic threats from our imports, to animal welfare issues surrounding every aspect of pets in our communities. Too often these critical issues are settled without the expert—the veterinarian—in the room. Our profession must stand up and be heard and provide the leadership America needs when it comes to any and all policies affecting animals and their health and ultimately our health and welfare. For example, there is currently legislation before Congress to restore the chief veterinary officer position in the Department of Homeland Security. The bill’s sponsors question the ability of the department to respond to agricultural disasters, animal epidemics, or food contamination without veterinary leadership. Veterinarians must speak up and provide a balanced and trusted voice to help protect this country and bring disparate factions together to solve our problems. I am excited about veterinary medicine’s future—you give me great hope.

So, congratulations! Have a great weekend in New York or wherever you may go to celebrate, good luck on your licensing exams, and if you are ever in Washington, DC, please stop by my office. Remember, it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about caring enough to listen and get involved and try to help make things better. That’s veterinary medicine.

 

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