AVMA Answers

Promoting one medicine among veterinary students
Published on January 15, 2007
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Why did you take up AVMA President Roger K. Mahr's one-medicine vision as part of your message to veterinary students?


Dr. Charles M. Hendrix, AVMA vice president, responds: 

For me, when President Mahr announced his one-medicine vision in Hawaii this past July, it was like preaching to the choir. I was very interested in signing on with President Mahr's vision because I've long been interested in the roles veterinary medicine plays in human health promotion and disease prevention. I've been working with physicians, nurses, and public health personnel over the past 10 years.

One of the things I find shocking is when I go to these human public health conferences, I'm always asked, "What are veterinarians doing here?" Part of the platform I wanted to take on as vice president was to inform veterinary students what their public health roles are going to be in the 21st century, and how they have to change the world's attitude regarding veterinary medicine. These students are our foot soldiers, and it is a tremendous responsibility these young people have. So, as I'm visiting the veterinary colleges across the nation, I've been trying to drum up enthusiasm. 

What do you tell students about the relationship between human and veterinary medicine?

The first thing I try to do is get the students' attention, and I usually start out with a very famous quotation from the popular television show "Grey's Anatomy." There was a character who said, "He's not even a real doctor. He's only a veterinarian." That's what I use to get their attention—how public and health care professionals really don't understand what veterinarians do with regard to veterinary public health, zoonoses prevention, food safety, population medicine, environmental health—all these roles that encompass veterinary medicine. And rather than being at the back of the pack, veterinarians need to be leading at the front.

I also tell them about the Hill's Innovations in Public Health Award. Information about the award is posted on the Web site of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. It's a writing competition where students come up with innovative ideas using veterinary medicine to promote public health in the 21st century. I'm trying to get every veterinary college to send at least one entry into this competition—the entry deadline is March 30, 2007. When I talk about the competition, I challenge students to think outside the box regarding all the ways veterinary medicine can be used to promote human health and prevent disease. I mention the human-animal bond, food safety, antimicrobial resistance, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, bioterrorism, and ways in which a veterinary practice can benefit both human and animal health.

People don't realize the myriad roles we play in veterinary public health. For example, there's a document called Healthy People 2010. It's a comprehensive set of health objectives identified by the Department of Health and Human Services. In that document, under the chapter on disabilities, there is discussion about assistive devices for people with visual impairments. Surprisingly, Seeing-Eye dogs aren't even mentioned as assistive "devices." And that's just one of the ways veterinarians can play a strong role in promoting human health. 

As a voting member of the Executive Board, will you be making any recommendations at the spring meeting?

The objectives for Healthy People 2020 are currently being developed. If I do come forward with any recommendations, I will be suggesting to the Executive Board that the AVMA needs to have strong representation in the formulation of this new document.