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To Climb the Hill
When Ashley Shelton DVM ’04 began an AVMA Congressional fellowship in 2007, she believed that it would be a one-year stint. In 2008, she fully expected to return to the life of an equine practitioner. That year, though, was transformative, and today, Dr. Shelton is looking forward to a long and productive career in Washington, DC, where she spends much of her day “on the Hill.”
“The fellowship was probably the most fun I’ve had in my professional career,” said Dr. Shelton, adding, “but it was also the most eye-opening. It changed my perspective on the government—how it functions and the laws that govern us. I developed a much deeper respect for people who are willing to serve the public.”
These people, she says, influence and shape our lives. As an assistant director with the AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division (GRD) responsible for advocating for the veterinary profession in areas related to food safety, public health, pharmaceuticals, animal disease programs, and homeland security, she wants to be—and is—part of that effort.
“Here at the GRD, we advocate the Association’s policies and positions on federal legislative and regulatory issues that influence animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession,” said Dr. Shelton. “Advocating is about explaining your perspective and it is also, frequently, about numbers. Members and staff need to know what is important to their constituents, and the more constituents who contact them, the more likely action will be taken. Meetings with members and staff, letters, emails and phone calls are all important in conveying your message. It doesn’t take long to participate, and it’s in your best interest. I’m looking forward to a lot of engagement from veterinarians.”
Currently, Dr. Shelton is engaged in discussions concerning the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals and veterinarians’ roles in public health and food safety. It’s her job to help elected officials understand the AVMA’s policies and positions on these issues.
“My days here are very different than what they were in private practice,” said Dr. Shelton. “As a practitioner, I saw patients and had tangible things to show for a day’s work. These days, my to-do list is filled with the steps that will help us reach a goal, such as Hill visits, coalition meetings, and conference calls. The actual goals are often long in coming, because, as was pointed out to me upon my initial arrival to DC, the government is not set up to pass as many bills as possible. It is set up to keep bad bills from being passed. My job allows me to be involved with the profession as a whole, and I never realized just how many of these laws affect veterinarians.”
Dr. Shelton decided to be a veterinarian in her senior year of high school after an afternoon of horseback riding. More specifically, she decided to become an equine vet after she watched a veterinarian gracefully restore an ailing colt to good health all the while engaged in a conversation with the family.
“We were outside in the sun and fresh air,” she said. “And the doctor had such an influence on that family, on the horse, and the people. I had been leaning toward a career in human medicine and had never considered veterinary medicine before that, but on that day, I knew it’s what I would do.”
After graduating from Cornell, Dr. Shelton completed a one-year internship in equine medicine and surgery at Blue Ridge Equine Clinic and then joined the clinic of the veterinarian who inspired her to pursue the profession in the first place.
“That brought my career full circle,” said Dr. Shelton. “My work helped families and animals every day. In this position, I am excited to help those same families and many others, too. I’m helping in different ways, but I hope in ways that are just as important to them and the profession.”
If you would like to be part of shaping the profession, visit the Congressional Advocacy Network at www.avma.org/advocacy/get_involved/avmacan.asp.