For the first installment of 'Ask a Vet Student,' Anonymous user writes:
"What kind of options are there that deal with One Health?"
For those that aren't familiar, One Health is a movement towards recognizing and embracing the inextricable links between human health, animal health, and the environment. Pressing modern issues like antibiotic resistance, zoonotic disease outbreaks, climate change, and the global food supply chain are all quintessential 'One Health' areas of interest. Veterinarians all have a role to play in One Health initiaves, by virtue of their very profession. The Veterinarian's Oath reads:
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.
All veterinarians, regardless of their ultimate career, are stewards of public health, and by proxy, key players in the One Health movement. However, there are many veterinarians that pursue careers geared explicitly towards One Health initiatives.
Careers in One Health
Research: Veterinarians are medical professionals and can easily become involved with private or public research endeavors. Studies on emerging diseases and disease treatments can always utilize a veterinarian on the team. There are many diseases that effect both humans and companion animals (like diabetes mellitus, chronic renal failure, cancers of all types, and psychological disorders like depression and anxiety) and teams of collaborative health professionals allows innovation through the combination of different perspectives. Veterinarians can also provide a unique perspective to the environmental sciences, issues of conservation and the effects of pollution, providing a medical lens to various impacts on ecosystems. If not participating in research endeavors as investigators... veterinarians can work on the healthcare team overseeing the use of animals in studies.
NIH and Lab Animal Veterinarians: Veterinarians at the NIH support the health and welfare of animals utilized for research. More broadly, the American College of Lab Animal Medicine provides board certification for veterinarians that work with research animals. Lab Animal Veterinarians work with research facilities to ensure the humane and responsible use of animals in studies. These veterinarians may provide medical care to populations of lab animals, train research personel on appropriate surgical techniques, and review and adjust research protocol proposals. They exist in a career balance between medical practice and administrative oversight.
CDC: The CDC offeres fellowships for medical professionals that are interested in involvement with public health in a broader context. The Epidemic Intelligence Service, for example, is a two year program offered to physicians, veterinarians, PhD, and allied health professionals, that allows officers to respond to disease outbreaks in the field, developing and initiating control strategies, and instituting guidelines for preventing future outbreaks. The FLIGHT Program, Future Leaders In Infections and Global Health Threats, is three years and it is open to physicians and veterinarians that have graduated from the EIS program. They also provide a residency program for prospective laboratory animal veterinarians. The CDC also employs veterinarians to detect and respond to disease outbreaks, conduct research on disease prevention, and develop and advocate for public health policies. Veterinarians have been particularly valuable in providing medical context to agricultural issues, granting a unique insight to environmental concerns, and addressing prominent zoonotic diseases of companion animals.
State Health Departments & Public Health Veterinarians: State Public Health Veterinarians focus on the epidemiology of zoonotic diseases and have done important work on antibiotic resistance, particularly in the context of agriculture and food animals. These veterinarians may work with animal control agencies, do work with disease vectors such as parasites, and assist in the development of legislative guidelines for zoonotic diseases like rabies.
USDA: Veterinarians with the USDA help ensure and maintain the safety of our food system. Many work in plants where meat and poultry are processed, overseeing and enforcing inspection procedures and standard protocols. This includes ensuring humane slaughter, and extends even to the transport and distribution of final products. These veterinarians also collaborate with the CDC to investigate and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
FDA: Veterinarians with the FDA are responsible for assisting in the approval of new drugs for animal use. This includes oversight of drugs approved for use in food animals, which has more stringent requirements than drugs used in companion animals. Veterinarians with the Office of Safety and Compliance ensure that drugs approved are safe and effective on the broader population. The FDA also does work on the issue of antibiotic resistance.
Disaster Response: When disaster strikes, veterinarians are value for a number of tasks. When people are evacuated and displaced, shelters must be provided that can accomodate the animals that live with displaced people. These pets often require medical care, and may need to be housed in temporary pop-up shelters. Additionally, anywhere people need rescued, animals may too, whether that is from flooding, building collapse, wild fire, or a sink hole. Veterinarians can receive training for technical rescue, and can provide invaluable assistance to rescue teams, having access to sedative drugs and having the knowledge to triage and provide emergency care to injured animals.
Shelter Medicine: The Shelter Medicine speciality is an emerging and developing field of veterinary medicine, with the Association of Shelter Veterinarians founded in 2001. Shelter veterinarians oversee the health and welfare of pets in shelter environments. In addition to that, there is a growing movement to supply a public service in the form of accessible veterinary care to disadvantaged members of communities. American Pets Alive! and Human Animal Support Services are two great resources for learning more about these initiatives. Veterinarians that work in the shelter environment are often cross-trained for another aspect of veterinary medicine with a strong One Health application... foresenic veterinary medicine.
Forensic Veterinary Medicine: Animal cruelty comes in two forms: neglect, which causes harm without intent to harm, and abuse, in which harm is knowingly and intentionally inflected. Neglect is often seen by veterinarians. Veterinarians in any practice setting can provide education to help prevent neglect and treat the illnesses that arise from it. However, veterinarians are also increasingly being educated on how to recognize and document signs of animal abuse. There is still a long way to come on that front. However, it is important from a One Health perspective, as the link between domestic violence, other forms of crime, and animal abuse has been well established. Forsenic veterinarians document lesions and injuries that may be consistent with abuse for the sake of legal documents that can be utilized in court. Additionally, these veterinarians may provide expert witness in the court of law, describing how lesions may (or may not be) consistent with evidence of abuse.
How to Get Involved
Many veterinary schools have public health or One Health clubs. If not, start one! Reach out to other campuses at your University (School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, School of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Department for Emerging Diseases, School of Agriculture, etc and see if they are interested in collaborative speaker events. Reach out to faculty and administration at your college that have a background or research interest in public health). Additionally, a growing number of veterinary schools offer dual-degree programs for obtaining a DVM-MPH.
Every two years, the CDC hosts a veterinary student day in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a good opportunity to network with other veterinary students, hear from public health veterinarians on their career path and day to day, and meet representatives from different organizations.
To stay up to date on One Health developments and specific opportunities for involvement, I recommend the following:
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Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Kathryn Bowers
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen