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Michael San Filippo
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 AVMA mourns veterinary pioneer, Dr. James H. Steele

​ “The Father of Veterinary Public Health”

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) mourns the loss of one of its most treasured members, Dr. James H. Steele, a pioneer in veterinary medicine, the man who introduced the world to the principles of veterinary public health and founded the American Board of Veterinary Public Health. Dr. Steele died peacefully, November 10 at the age of 100.

 “Dr. Steele spent his career harmonizing and integrating the fields of veterinary medicine and public health into what now is known as One Health. He knew several decades ago that the allied health professions must strive to work together to better understand the complex animal, human, vector and environmental interactions in order to achieve optimal health. Having set the foundation for One Health, he has paved the way for the well-being for all living things,” said Dr. Craig Carter, author of “One Man, One Medicine, One Health: the James H. Steele Story.”

Dr. Steele received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Michigan State College in 1941 and a Master of Public Health from Harvard University in 1942. Following World War II, Dr. Steele met the challenge of finding a place for veterinarians in public health. Not only did Dr. Steele coin the term “Veterinary Public Health” in the title of a report he presented to the U.S. Surgeon General in 1945, he went on to establish the veterinary division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1947. Hundreds of distinguished veterinarians have followed Dr. Steele into the profession of veterinary public health, serving human and animal health.

Dr. Steele began his career as the first Veterinary Medical Officer at the CDC with the title of Chief, Veterinary Public Health Division, Communicable Disease Center, U.S. Public Health Service. As a U.S. Public Health Service officer, he became the first Assistant Surgeon General for Veterinary Affairs and later was appointed as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health & Human Services at the rank of Admiral. Dr. Steele founded the American Board of Veterinary Public Health in 1950, which later became the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Steele received numerous awards over his illustrious career to include the Surgeon General’s Medallion in 2006. He received the U.S. Public Health Service Order of Merit in 1963, and the AVMA awarded him the XII International Veterinary Congress Prize in 1984. In 2012, Dr. Steele received the OIE (World Animal Health Organization) Medal of Merit, which recognized him for his “meritorious service to the world of animal health.” Most recently in September, 2013, Dr. Steele received the World Veterinary Association John Gamgee award, which his son, David, accepted for him in Prague, Czech Republic. Dr. Steele was honored during his lifetime by having an award named after him—the K.F. Meyer/James H. Steele Gold Headed Cane Award, an award of the American Veterinary Epidemiology Society for advancement of human health through veterinary epidemiology and public health.

Dr. Steele was recognized numerous times throughout his life for introducing the principles of Veterinary Public Health to the scientific community in the United States and around the world. The AVMA paid special tribute to Dr. Steele’s outstanding medical achievements during their special 150th anniversary celebration.

“Dr. Steele saved countless lives—human and animal—and helped the world to realize higher standards of living through a better understanding of the epidemiology of diseases shared by animals and humans,” said Dr. Clark K. Fobian, AVMA president.  “He is an inspiration and will be greatly missed.”

The AVMA paid special tribute to Dr. Steele this past summer at the AVMA convention opening general session. Too frail to travel at the time, Dr. Steele graciously made this video congratulating the AVMA on its 150th anniversary, which is being celebrated this year. To get a glimpse of the man behind the legend, watch this video and join us in celebrating the life of an individual whose contributions to veterinary medicine were monumental.



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