AVMA Answers: One world, one health, one medicine

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Dr. Roger K. Mahr was between sessions at the U.S. Army's Force Health Protection Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., when JAVMA News caught up with him in August. For the first time, a section of the military symposium was dedicated to veterinary medicine, indicating the growing reality of the one medicine concept, which unites veterinary and human medicine with the goal of improving and protecting animal and public health worldwide. When he addressed the symposium, Dr. Mahr emphasized that the military has been living the concept of "one world, one health, one medicine" throughout history.

Dr. Roger K. Mahr

In February, you said in an "AVMA answers" article that the shortage of veterinarians in the workforce would be the focus of your AVMA presidency. Why did you change the focus to the one medicine concept?

The veterinary workforce was identified as one of the top five strategic issues by the AVMA Executive Board two years ago. Of course, the main concern is the shortage of veterinarians in certain segments of our profession. As we address the veterinary workforce shortage, it's important to look at what the entire scope of the veterinary profession encompasses, and the opportunities available to not only serve the needs of animals but also the needs of society.

As we look at that broad scope, it becomes evident that we really need to consider how the profession fits in with the one medicine concept. By reviewing that concept, and what our value to society is, we are able to readily identify the critical areas where we need more veterinarians, and in doing so, we can better address the veterinary workforce issue.

A study commissioned by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition was released in June. It addresses the shortage of veterinarians in food supply veterinary medicine. That study coupled with two National Academy of Sciences' studies released in 2005 reveals the importance of veterinary medicine to the one medicine concept. The studies help us to identify our needs in public health, food supply veterinary medicine, rural practice, biomedical research, academia, and government service.

The key here is that we need more students in the veterinary colleges to meet those areas of interest. We need to continue to partner with the veterinary colleges in our efforts to increase that applicant pool. The AVMA is partnering with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to pursue another NAS study, which will assess the current and future workforce needs for the veterinary profession in the United States. This study will provide more valuable data that will help support the need for funding of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, which we are hopeful will pass in Congress.

In addition to the goals you stated in your speech to the House of Delegates at the AVMA convention, how else do you plan to implement the one medicine concept?

Communication will be essential in conveying to the public, and our own profession, the value that veterinarians have to society. We will need to convey that message to the middle school students and high school students to increase the applicant pool at the veterinary colleges.

The food supply veterinary medicine study identified that the experience students gained in middle school and high school had an influence on the type of career they pursued. That study also identified that these individuals are looking for areas of work that help fulfill some of their personal values. I believe a lot of those personal values are related to serving society. If we convey the message of the immeasurable value that the veterinary profession has to society, I believe we can imprint on students a strong desire to pursue veterinary medicine as a career.

Another point is to not only get those young students interested in applying to veterinary colleges but also to expose veterinary students to the opportunities within the areas where we have workforce shortages.

When communicating within the profession, we need to make veterinarians aware of the diversity of our profession and the importance all segments have to society. Small animal practitioners, for example, must be able to communicate one-on-one with clients about various zoonotic diseases, not only those related to small animals, but those related to food animals and wildlife. That way, veterinarians can educate the public about those concerns and what the profession is doing to support efforts in controlling and detecting zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza.

This past spring, the AVMA hosted a workshop for an avian influenza and companion animals communications working group, which serves as a model of communication within the one medicine concept. Along with the AVMA, we had representatives from the American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Animal Hospital Association, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, American Association of Avian Pathologists, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, and National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

At the meeting, we discussed crisis communication plans related to avian influenza arriving in North America. The efforts from that meeting will help prepare veterinarians and other health professionals in educating the public in a potential crisis situation.