Public health careers on display for veterinary students at CDC event

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Updated April 11, 2019

Dr. de Jong, AVMA President
Dr. John de Jong, AVMA president, was among those who spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2019 Veterinary Student Day. (Courtesy of CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hosted the 2019 Veterinary Student Day seminar Jan. 13-14 at its headquarters in Atlanta. The event featured scientific lectures and hands-on activities designed to increase the awareness of current veterinary students and faculty about careers in public health, including opportunities in research and regulatory medicine. This is the sixth time this event has been held at the CDC since 2006. Veterinarians from across the CDC helped plan the event; some had previously attended when they were veterinary students.

This year's theme, "A League of Extraordinary Veterinarians," was chosen to highlight the role of veterinarians as public health leaders in a variety of work settings including federal service, according to the CDC. The event included welcoming remarks by CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD, followed by Dr. John de Jong, AVMA president, and Rima Khabbaz, MD, director of the CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Following the opening speeches, CDC veterinarians gave presentations on their latest investigations, according to a CDC press release. Some of the disease outbreaks highlighted were outbreaks of anthrax, brucellosis, Seoul virus, and Zika virus. Veterinary students also received information about the work of CDC veterinarians who provide medical care to laboratory animals through a talk about the CDC Laboratory Animal Medicine Residency Program. Veterinarians from state agriculture departments, state health departments, and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service also participated in the day as panelists providing information about their work protecting the health of humans and animals, according to the release.

During a special session, veterinary faculty heard about the many opportunities for students interested in spending time at the CDC through the CDC Epidemiology Elective Program, Epidemic Intelligence Service, and Laboratory Leadership Service—opportunities that allow students and early-career professionals to explore, experience, and pursue a career in public health. The faculty session also provided attendees an opportunity to discuss collaborating with CDC scientists with similar research interests.

The highlight of the day was a hands-on experience for veterinary students to try their skills as a public health veterinarian. The students participated in a mock outbreak investigation involving lettuce contaminated with Escherichia coli. Students worked in groups to identify the food that caused the outbreak and worked to trace the implicated ingredient all the way back to the farm of origin. Students also learned about the importance of public communication during outbreak investigations by holding a mock press conference during which they answered questions about the investigation and potential concerns that the public might have.

In all, more than 300 veterinary students and faculty attended.

Co-sponsors of the CDC Veterinary Student Day included the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services, National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, American Association of Public Health Veterinarians, and American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

"Planning this event was a team effort. We collaborated across CDC and with external partners to make this event a success. The best reward was seeing how engaged the students were during the mock outbreak," said Dr. Megin Nichols, a veterinarian with the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the CDC Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Enteric Diseases, who attended the event when she was a student.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified a co-sponsor of the event.