Caitlyn Wilson

I used to know, for certain, that I wanted to be an equine surgeon. Then I started vet school, and my certainty waned until it was nearly zero after just a few short weeks in Basic Foundations. I realized I wanted to explore different avenues of veterinary medicine, and it was one of Dr. Woutrina Smith’s lectures in the fall of 2017 that first introduced me to the Health for Animals and Livelihood Improvement Project (HALI) in Tanzania. I immediately reached out, and Dr. Smith helped me narrow down my interests to develop both a STAR project and apply for the Rx One Health course. After many months of working on proposals and applications, I was ready to journey to Tanzania.

For the first half of my summer, I traveled to Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania to work on my STAR project. I studied animal demographics and husbandry risk factors (e.g. herd size, stocking density, exposure of the herd to new animals) associated with Brucella infection in livestock and humans. I utilized HALI datasets to help finalize these risk factors, and learned the ins-and-outs of working in a laboratory with minimal resources. I not only improved my practical, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, but I gained a wealth of knowledge regarding what it means to work through and develop sustainable solutions for the complex, inter-related issues surrounding the human, animal, and environmental health problems of underserved communities.

The second half of my summer I participated in the Rx One Health course, where I joined a diverse team of students from all over the world. Through early morning wake-ups, bumpy bus rides to field sites, group chats with stakeholders, and late campfire talks, we learned to appreciate our differing backgrounds and values, and bonded over our similar passions regarding global health work. We had the opportunity to watch sea turtle hatchings, learn about ocean pollution, sample mosquitos, bats, and rodents, and visit human and veterinary health care centers. We even got a glimpse into the lives of the Maasai community, where we learned about the One Health issues they faced and what they hoped to gain from their interactions with HALI. Together, we learned how to use our differing cultures, opinions, and expertise to make the most of our time learning about One Health in Tanzania. Through trial and error, and the guidance of our mentors, we navigated the challenges that often accompany working in new and underserved communities, such as community acceptance of change, sociological implications, governmental restrictions, time and resource constraints, and monetary limitations.

The practical skills and problem-solving approaches I learned will be applicable in every aspect of my education and career, whether that be laboratory techniques, collecting field samples, analyzing data, creating presentations, or professionally interacting with mentors, peers, and community members. The soft skills I learned may be even more important, as I have interacted first-hand with the people and animals our research impacts, and I have developed a connection with the communities. Classroom teaching cannot accomplish this level of understanding and tangibility regarding community engagement. Ultimately, I learned to define the balance between what can be done for a community and what should be done for a community, and I will use this newfound knowledge to poise my research findings in such a way that they are embraced rather than excluded, and efficacious rather than elusive. I figured out how to turn uncomfortable situations into learning experiences, and how to personally connect with the people and communities we served. My summer submerged me in a One Health focused research collaborative, presented me with real world problems, and taught me a whole new skillset regarding global health work. I am so grateful to everyone in the One Health department at UC Davis and Sokoine University, my funders, STAR and Global Programs, and especially my mentor, Dr. Smith, for allowing me to have this opportunity and helping me along the way.  

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