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A Day at the CDC, a Career in Veterinary Public Health?

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Students, with former students now working at the CDC, spend some time networking during their Atlanta visit to the CDC. Photo courtesy of Lea Mehrkens

January 25, 2012

When eight veterinary students skipped school Monday, January 23, they weren't playing hooky.

Instead, they spent the day in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to participate in "A Day at CDC for Veterinary Medical Students."  About 320 veterinary students from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean attended the all-day event, which was designed to encourage veterinary students to consider careers in public health.

Public Health Careers for Veterinarians

When people think of veterinarians, they often think of their pets' veterinarians or the classic representative of the profession, James Herriott. In fact, veterinary medicine is the broadest of the health professions. Veterinarians serve in key roles to protect public health related to animal disease, diseases that animals can transmit to people, and food safety.

At the Atlanta event, speakers from the CDC and other organizations led discussions on:

Experienced CDC personnel also offered advice and perspectives on the following topics:

  • Being a veterinarian in public health practice
  • Career opportunities for veterinarians in the federal and state government
  • Strategies for public health careers

Why is veterinary public health so important?

According to the CDC, the majority of emerging pathogens (75%) are either vector-borne or zoonotic microbes transmitted from animals to humans, including recent high-profile events such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), monkeypox, West Nile virus and avian influenza.

There are approximately 90,000 veterinarians in the United States, however, only 2.5% of practicing veterinarians are in the public sector. Despite the vital need for trained veterinary professionals to deal with emerging zoonotic diseases, there are only 2,250 veterinarians in the US public health workforce.

Declines in the workforce of trained public health veterinarians are projected at 5% per year due to retirement; however the threat of emerging zoonotic diseases is becoming more pronounced. In order to attract veterinary students into alternative career paths in public health, the federal workforce must develop attractive employment messages and develop sustained recruiting efforts. 

Why the CDC?

As the foremost public health institution in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serves a major role in recruitment of young veterinarians to public health careers, especially through its Epidemic l Intelligence Service.

CDC veterinarians first planned and held a Veterinary Student Day in January, 2006, which resulted in the acceptance of 2 attendees into the 2008 EIS class.

CDC symposia over time have enjoyed increased participation and engaging program content consisting of presentations on timely issues in public health, panel discussions, reports on recent activities and investigations conducted by CDC veterinarians, exhibits, and interactive case studies. At one meeting, students participated in a simulated foodborne disease outbreak that challenged them to trace the problem to its "source," vividly demonstrating the complexities of foodborne outbreaks, interagency cooperation, and the importance of veterinarians to the team.  

UC Davis Connection

From UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dean Emeritus Bennie Osburn  welcomed all the participants on behalf of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Danielle Tack, a 2004 School of Veterinary Medicine graduate and EIS officer, presented a talk on rabies in wildlife. Another UC Davis connection was a graduate of the School of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the Veterinary Scientist Training Program. Brian Bird, PhD 2008, DVM 2009, is now a veterinary medical officer at the CDC. Bird spoke to faculty attendees at a related meeting on the topic, "Rift Valley Fever: Outbreaks, Vaccines and One Health." 

School of Veterinary Medicine faculty representative Kent C. Lloyd, associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies, accompanied the following students to the event: 

In his doctoral work in microbiology, Sean Adams is studying the avian immune response to avian influenza virus. He says, "A Day at the CDC was a fantastic opportunity to meet epidemiologists and hear about how epidemiology is applied to outbreak scenarios.  It was especially fun to participate in the "outbreak scenario" provided for us students to help see how epidemiology could be applied to tracing back the origins of a disease outbreak.  I highly recommend it to anybody who has an interest in epidemiology as it allows you to network with individuals that could land you a career in that area, as well as hear more about other epi programs in other government branches."

Katie Barnes comments, "I applied for a place to participate in A Day at CDC for Veterinary Medical Students in order to explore my growing interest in comparative anatomical pathology as it relates to infectious disease and the human animal interface. Although this experience was focused towards veterinary students with a heavy interest in epidemiology as it relates to public health, I was still able to seek out a few pathologists and make some good contacts."

A co-founder of the Students for One Health Club, Amy Grimm reports, "The CDC-hosted Veterinary Student Day was a great opportunity to meet and establish relationships with professionals who share my passion for international public health, conservation medicine, and for improving the health of human, wildlife and livestock populations that interact so closely in developing nations. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the information I gained is invaluable to my education and career, and I look forward to keeping in touch with all the amazing students and professionals I met at the conference!"

Lea Mehrkens states, "Our visit to the CDC was not only a great way to learn more about careers in public health, it was a great networking opportunity. I enjoyed meeting students from other universities, seeing what positions Davis veterinary graduates hold at the CDC, and personally talking to the directors and participants of programs that I have read about, like the Epidemiologic Intelligence Service (EIS), first-hand. It was interesting to see how programs like One Health are integrated into policy and response. My classmate, Amy, and I also made the most of our time by renting a car for the days prior to the event to visit the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine and Southeastern Cooperative for Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) in Athens. There, we met wildlife pathologists and parasitologists to discuss externship opportunities and get a taste of Southern culture."


The information above is based on material provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The full agenda for this year's CDC event is available online, http://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dgmq/veterinary-day/index.html