The Medical Reserve Corps is looking for more veterinarians to join the ranks of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and other health professionals who volunteer with community health teams.
The MRC is a national network of volunteer units that, under the sponsorship of the U.S. Surgeon General and local groups, supplement community resources for emergency response and public health. The 5-year-old corps has about 700 units, but 500 units don't have any veterinarians on the roster.
"I think there are a lot of roles for veterinarians and veterinary staff members to help out," said Capt. Robert J. Tosatto, RPh, MRC director. "The needs are great to have individuals with those skill sets to help out in emergencies and also strengthen the public health infrastructure."
Captain Tosatto said veterinarians and veterinary technicians can support the dual role of MRC units in responding locally to disasters and supporting the regular activities of health departments. Veterinarians could serve as consultants on zoonoses, for example.
The MRC structure allows health professionals to volunteer their full medical expertise during emergencies—because their unit will verify their credentials beforehand. Captain Tosatto said the MRC is developing a mechanism to allow volunteers to help with a federal response outside their jurisdiction.
In several states, MRC units have formed specifically as a veterinary corps or animal response team. Now, the multidisciplinary MRC units are trying to incorporate more veterinarians.
The MRC unit in Las Vegas, under the sponsorship of the Southern Nevada Health District, counts a number of veterinarians among its members. Paula J. Martel, program coordinator, said the veterinary component of the unit is a year old and still evolving.
Many veterinarians who belong to the Las Vegas MRC already participate in disaster preparedness through the Nevada VMA. An August event was an example of cooperation in disaster training. The Nevada VMA sponsored the hands-on drill to practice triage and decontamination of dogs. The Las Vegas MRC contributed some of the supplies and equipment, while the American Veterinary Medical Foundation contributed funding. Las Vegas Animal Control provided the dogs, and the space was courtesy of the Western Veterinary Conference.
"Being a member of the MRC is a benefit to the veterinarians and technicians that have joined," said Dr. Jon Pennell, who belongs to the Las Vegas unit. "MRC has access to resources that will be needed in a local disaster. Also, Paula has been promoting pet health and disaster preparedness at local events."
Dr. Lynne White, an assistant director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, said the MRC is one of many volunteer opportunities for veterinarians to promote animal and human health.
"Veterinarians are well-suited to work across species and in various settings," she said. "They have the expertise to provide emergency care for animals and to provide assistance to promote public health."
Information about the MRC is available at www.medicalreservecorps.gov.