Hill Climbers: Puppy Love

Posted November 5, 2008 at 4:34pm

Most people don’t think of a year on the Hill as the logical career step after finishing veterinary school. But for Whitney Miller, it made perfect sense.

As an American Veterinary Medical Association fellow with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Miller believes she will be able to use her medical expertise far more broadly than if she had gone straight into private practice. [IMGCAP(1)]

“When you’re in a profession like veterinary medicine, it can be very sheltering,” Miller said. Although she said talking shop with fellow vets is great, she craves “keeping up with current events and the real world.”

She’ll have the opportunity to do just that with the committee, where she will be working on issues such as biosecurity, medical emergency preparedness and how to work with the United States Department of Agriculture to recognize animal diseases that can be transmitted to people.

Miller, 27, first learned of the AVMA’s Congressional fellowship program when she was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. She always considered it an option, and decided to pursue it after graduating from Colorado State University with her doctoral degree in veterinary science.

“I wanted to be part of a program that works to bring scientific knowledge to the Hill, the place where laws are made, and where scientific knowledge can be in short supply,” Miller said. She also said she was interested in “seeing how vets can integrate their expertise into government, and not just areas related to general practice.”

Working in Washington was never too far out of the realm of possibility for Miller, anyway. She grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and only left the area while studying in Colorado.

“You’re more in tune to the government” after growing up in the Washington area, she said. Until learning of the AVMA program, however, she never thought working on the Hill was an option in her profession.

Miller has taken her veterinary experience on the road in the past, traveling with the Rural Area Veterinary Services, a nonprofit group connected to the Humane Society that offers free vet services to underserved communities. The group travels to places such as Native American reservations and low-income communities to spay and neuter dogs, and to educate the people there about proper pet care.

She first became interested in bioterrorism and animal disease issues while interning with the USDA. During a visit to the Plum Island (New York) Animal Disease Center, she was exposed to the “farm-to-fork continuum” — the entire process of how food comes from an animal and is processed for consumption — and gained an understanding of how food products can be contaminated. The experience got her thinking about the potential impact of intentional attacks, as well as foreign animal diseases, such as high path avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease, which she said could be “a huge economic problem.”

Although she took extra classes to supplement her background on these issues, she will have a chance to work on them daily during her fellowship.

Being a vet, she’s naturally an animal lover and pet owner. She has three cats, Nikki, Tally and ET, and two dogs, Cleo and Colby.

“They are all so fun and loving. They enrich my life,” she said.

Outside of taking care of animals and working on various issues with the Homeland Security Committee, Miller enjoys reading, snowboarding, watching movies and traveling.

She has not committed herself to anything professionally beyond her fellowship, but she is working toward becoming certified as a pet therapist and she said she would like to work with the executive branch at some point to explore her career options there as well.

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