Externships provide students with a glimpse of international veterinary medicine

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Two veterinary students took time out of their summer schedules for externships at the Office International des Epizooties in Paris.

It was a unique opportunity for the Americans to get a firsthand look at how the international regulatory body monitors animal diseases throughout the world and sets standards governing trading of animals and animal products among countries.

Like most of their student colleagues, Tricia Hans, a third-year student at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and Amanda Jezek-Martinot, a fourth-year student at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, knew little about the OIE when they signed on for the externships.

Hans saw the externship as a valuable opportunity to learn more about public health and veterinary medicine in a global context. The externships are unpaid positions, so Hans' funding came from Georgia's veterinary college, which offers a program in international veterinary medicine.

From May 13-June 21, Hans, who speaks French, worked in the Information Office at the Central Bureau in Paris. The office is responsible for informing OIE member countries about animal disease outbreaks worldwide. List A diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease and rinderpest, are highly virulent and a serious threat to international trade. List B diseases, such as Q fever and anthrax, are less of a danger but still pose a threat that could lead a country to impose trade sanctions.

Tricia Hans and Amanda Jezek-Martinot with Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE director generalTricia Hans and Amanda Jezek-Martinot with Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE director general

Hans' responsibilities included helping update design elements on the OIE Web site (www.oie.int), working with the online database to update information about the animal health status of member countries, and assisting with the 70th annual meeting of the OIE's International Committee. More than 500 participants representing some 140 countries met in late May to debate and set standards affecting international trade (see JAVMA, Oct. 1, 2002, page 911).

The most valuable part of the externship for Hans was the new awareness she gained of job opportunities for veterinarians. "There are starting to be a lot of jobs for veterinarians in the field of public health and the arena of international veterinary medicine," she said.

Hans added that veterinarians with an understanding of global veterinary medicine are in demand, and OIE officials are encouraging veterinary students to pursue externships such as the one offered by the organization.

"If you're going to practice international medicine," she said, "to get credibility as a veterinarian, you really need to start now and look into externship possibilities like this one."

Jezek-Martinot, who plans on pursuing a master's in public health and a career in regulatory veterinary medicine, considered the externship a good opportunity to use her French while working abroad. Some of her funding came from small scholarships, and anonymous members of the AVMA Executive Board donated $1,000 to cover her housing expenses while in Paris.

From June 17-July 17, Jezek-Martinot worked with Dr. Alex Thiermann, president of the International Animal Health Code Commission, which is responsible for writing the regulations governing the trade of animals. "I was really fortunate because I was able to sit in on the Code Commission's meetings for the entire week they met," she said.

In addition to the Code Commission meetings, Jezek-Martinot participated in meetings of the International Fish Diseases Commission and International Dairy Federation. She provided an assessment of the OIE Web site, evaluating its usefulness to the public, and drafted a review of food safety for the Web site.

The externship allowed Jezek-Martinot to discuss her career goals with government veterinarians from such countries as Japan, Germany, and South Africa. "I was able to meet with some very influential veterinarians in their field from those countries, and that was a really wonderful experience for me to talk about my future career and where I could go," she said.

Like Hans, Jezek-Martinot now has a better understanding of the OIE and how it affects trade. With the continued expansion of markets abroad, more veterinarians are needed who understand international veterinary medicine and its relationship to trade. "With the world today," Jezek-Martinot said, "I think it's becoming more and more important for all veterinary students to have a basic understanding of international trade in animals."