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Public Health 101

Public Health 101A recent trip to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is just one way veterinary students at the Cummings School are learning about opportunities in the field of public health.

No. Grafton, Mass. [02.11.08] The root of Jenn McRobbie's interest in public health could be traced to "The Hot Zone," the non-fiction account of an outbreak of the Ebola virus that she read in middle school. So when she heard about a trip to the Atlanta headquarters of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about public health, she jumped at the chance.

"When this opportunity came up, it was like being asked to go on the set of your favorite TV show," says the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine second-year student.

McRobbie was one of 11 Tufts students who participated in the CDC's second annual Veterinary Student Day on Jan. 28. The event gave more than 300 veterinary students and 60 faculty members with an interest in public health the chance to talk to scientists and staff from various organizations and government agencies about opportunities in the field of public health, as well as participate in a simulated response to an illness outbreak.

Dr. Joann Lindenmayer, a 1985 graduate of the veterinary school and associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Population Health at the Cummings School, served as the faculty mentor for the trip. She is a liaison of the Cummings School's combined Doctor of Veterinary Medicine/Master of Public Health (D.V.M./M.P.H.) degree program with Tufts School of Medicine.

Lindenmayer got interested in public health as a student at Tufts when she traveled to Africa as part of a joint venture between the veterinary school and The Fletcher School. The project, the Niger Integrated Livestock Production Project, involved working with nomadic herders.

The experience taught Lindenmayer about the importance of animal production on both animal and human populations. At Tufts, she sees her role as guiding all veterinary students with an interest in public health-not just those in the D.V.M./M.P.H. program-toward the opportunities that await them.

"There was a huge amount of untapped student interest that is now being directed to careers in public health research and practice," she says. "There's a lot of support for them to be entrepreneurial, to go out and look for things that don't necessarily say, 'We want a veterinarian.'"

Hugh Mainzer, a 1990 graduate of the veterinary school and now a senior preventive medicine officer at the CDC and chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Public Health Service, agrees. He spoke to Tufts students at the CDC about his career path and what awaits them in the public health field.

"The opportunities for veterinarians to make a difference in this 'one medicine' environment are limited only by the individual being willing to apply their skills and energies to go for it," says Mainzer. He worked with Lindenmayer when they both were officers in CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, a two year disease detective training and service program for health care professionals.

The "one medicine" approach is a concept he immersed himself in at Tufts, where it was embraced by then-Tufts president Dr. Jean Mayer and then-veterinary school Dean Franklin Loew. At Tufts and in his professional career, Mainzer has worked in both the realms of clinical medicine and public health, examining the links between animal, human and environmental health.

"Jean Mayer was one of the early proponents of this 'one health, one medicine' type of approach," he recalls. "These are things that were part of Tufts. There was always that opportunity to try something new or do something outside the box."

The CDC's first Veterinary Student Day took place two years ago, with Tufts sending just two students. The jump to 11 this year, says Lindenmayer, reflects the Cummings School's sustained commitment to raising public health awareness among its students.

May Moreshet, a third-year veterinary student who is pursuing a master's degree in laboratory animal medicine along with her D.V.M., went on the CDC trip in order to more closely examine the field of public health and see how it might complement her interest in lab animal medicine.

"What's most important to me in choosing a career is that I find something that has a lasting effect on the world," says Moreshet. "I think that that's what draws you to public health and lab animal medicine both."

On the trip, she spoke to people from other schools and CDC staffers, including one of the attending veterinarians for animal facilities there. The experience broadened Moreshet's perspective on the types of jobs she might pursue after graduating from Tufts. And that, according to Lindenmayer, is exactly the point.

"That to me was a student making a connection that she might not have ordinarily made," she says.

Nadia Stegeman, a fourth-year student in the D.V.M./M.P.H. program, has followed her interest in disaster medicine as a Schweitzer Fellow and a Tisch Civic Engagement Fellow. She came to the CDC to learn about other people's paths to public practice and was pleased to hear about Mainzer's experience and their common interests.

"It was good to hear someone who'd actually been there," says Stegeman, who hopes to serve in the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service like Mainzer and Lindenmayer did.

"I was especially excited to see that Tufts really is committed, not just in word but in deed, to opening the eyes of its students," says Mainzer. "Anything that could be done to make it easier to get more people introduced to this field is a great thing."

For those who need little introduction to the world of public health, such opportunities are still valuable. McRobbie came to the Cummings School's D.V.M./M.P.H. program with a firm interest in studying zoonotic disease and bioterrorism. For her, the CDC trip was a chance to engage with like-minded veterinary students and professionals and learn about her options.

"I was really excited there were so many people who understood what I was going for," says McRobbie, who has previously worked testing bats for SARS in Australia. She is planning to work with the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in Fort Collins, Colo., to study agro-terrorism, and at the end of this semester she will participate in the USDA APHIS Smith-Kilborne Training Program in foreign animal disease.

"With these problems that we're going to come up against, it only makes sense that you get the animal side of it," she says. "Everything is connected."

Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

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