Public health vets want more to join their ranks

Published on June 15, 2011
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Public health practitioners have become more proactive in promoting their line of work to other veterinarians and veterinary students.

The American Association of Public Health Veterinarians anticipates that by making itself more visible, it can help lessen the shortage of veterinarians working in public health-related fields.

Currently, about 3,000 public health veterinarians work in federal service, according to a 2009 study by the Government Accountability Office. The study also indicated that the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services had not assessed the sufficiency of their veterinarian workforces, despite the fact that agencies employing "mission-critical" veterinarians are currently experiencing shortages or anticipating shortages.

"I think a lot of veterinarians may not understand what veterinarians in public health do, or maybe it's just a different focus (from) what they had in school," said Dr. Tegwin K. Taylor, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer with the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. She is also an AAPHV member and part of its Outreach Working Group, which was formed in spring 2010.

Dr. Taylor said so far, the group has created a presentation highlighting veterinarians in public health that has been made available to AAPHV members to use at speaking engagements. It explains that "herd health and population dynamics can steer decisions for treatment, vaccination, surveillance and many other areas of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians with their expertise in zoonotic pathogen ecology and epidemiology are crucial to providing understanding on how climatic changes influence pathogens."

A veterinary microbiologist with the Montana Department of Livestock performs a brucellosis standard
plate test at the department's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. (Courtesy of USDA APHIS)

The group has also launched a new AAPHV website,, to give more information about agencies that employ public health veterinarians and the benefits of joining the association.

Two of the group's members, Lauren Seal and Mark Laughlin, are DVM/MPH students entering their fourth year at The Ohio State University. They have been working with the AAPHV for the past year and a half to create a national network of student chapters under the AAPHV umbrella. As it stands, practically all veterinary schools and colleges have some sort of independent public health group on campus.

"At this point, we're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We'd like to put people from different schools in touch so they can share resources," Seal said.

At the Student AVMA Symposium March 24-25 at the University of California-Davis, the two students presented preliminary bylaws and a constitution, which are being edited now. They hope the various student organizations will adopt the documents this winter. Once the AAPHV gives the students the green light, the organizations can all become official student chapters of the association.

"We're hoping that through this, the schools can augment the curriculum, bring in speakers, and do hands-on things to get students motivated and show them what public health careers are like," Laughlin said. "At the national level, we'd like to have a quarterly newsletter with information on what groups do on their campuses and what resources they used. And maybe we can start national meetings for students on public health topics."

In the meantime, the AAPHV sponsored a $300 scholarship for one student to attend the 2011 SAVMA Symposium. Applicants were asked to describe their experience in public health, how attending the symposium would increase their public health knowledge, and how they intend to promote public health in their career. Shequenta Wray, a second-year veterinary student at North Carolina State University, received the scholarship this year. The association hopes to carry on the practice annually.

Finally, the AAPHV will soon come out with a brochure promoting the public health field and highlighting the important roles of veterinarians in public health.

"A lot of people out there don't realize the possibilities and variety of public health jobs. We would like to reverse that and not be the fallback career," Dr. Taylor said.

The AAPHV was formally established in 1995 to replace the former Conference of Public Health Veterinarians. Its purpose is to provide a single organization for all veterinarians who are professionally engaged or actively interested in public health and veterinary preventive medicine at all levels. Its top priorities are to provide support for members through mentorship, training, a listserv, and a newsletter; outreach to other public health and veterinary groups; and support for veterinary student public health chapters; and to serve as a resource for policy development.

The AAPHV has 141 members who are alumni of 26 U.S. and three foreign veterinary schools. About 23 percent of members are students and 68 percent are active members, with the rest falling into the honorary or lifetime member category.