"There are some important positions in public health that are going unfilled," says Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) liaison to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Food Safety. "But many veterinarians are unaware of these positions and are not applying, letting potentially important opportunities go by."
Pappaioanou will be speaking at the University of Saskatchewan's second annual One Health Leadership Experience, August 16 to 18. More than 120 U of S health sciences students will attend the three-day event that will feature five high-calibre speakers with One Health expertise from across North America.
One Health simply refers to the co-operative effort of all health professions working together to improve and protect the health of people, animals and the environment. As a veterinarian specializing in public health, Pappaioanou's entire career has been focused on One Health.
"For most of my 22 years at CDC, I did not hold a job that focused on clinical veterinary medicine or on zoonotic diseases," says Pappaioanou.
She adds that many veterinary students may not realize the important role their profession plays in not only the health of animals, but also of humans and the environment.
"It's so important that veterinarians and our profession at large be at the table and bring its perspectives and knowledge and expertise in to solving the complex health problems our society is facing, both domestically and globally, and so it's important that we have and recruit veterinary students that pursue public health careers," says Pappaioanou.
"If we're not making the lives of humans better through the work that we do to protect and promote animal health . . . then the veterinary profession is not working to its full potential."
A career in public health may be a job option that many veterinary students have never considered – most students enter the field because they're drawn towards the clinical aspects of the profession. But as the veterinary job market becomes more competitive, it's an option that students should definitely look into.
"As veterinarians come out of veterinary school and masters of public health programs, a lot of them will ask, ‘So where are the jobs?' says Pappaioanou. "And one of the big mistakes I think veterinarians make is that they look for jobs where the job announcement or description says ‘veterinarian wanted' rather than looking for positions in public health and checking to see that their professional background meets or exceeds the qualifications of the position."
Veterinarians receive intensive cross-species (for example, comparative medicine) training while in school and are educated about the interconnections between the health of animals, people and the environment — particularly in the areas of food safety and zoonotic diseases.
This training helps veterinarians come out of school a step ahead of other new graduates in other health fields, who likely will not have had the same exposure to a One Health approach to solving a wide spectrum of public health problems, says Pappaioanaou.
She was first inspired to enter the field of public health after hearing a lecture in veterinary school from a parasitology professor who had worked at the Buenos Aires Zoonosis Control Center for the Pan American Health Organization. She now hopes to also inspire students to pursue careers in public health.
"From the day I moved over into the realm of public health, I've never had a dull day in a now 30-year plus career. It's been tremendously exciting, amazingly fulfilling and it's something I hope we can bring to the attention of veterinary students . . . for them to see what great opportunities lie out there for them."
Pappaioanou will speak to U of S students from veterinary medicine, dentistry, nursing, medicine, kinesiology, pharmacy and nutrition, public health and physical therapy on the topic of global food safety during the One Health Leadership Experience.
Her hope is to not only show veterinary students how they can play a part in global health, but she also wants to show students from other health professions the role of veterinarians in helping to solve these global health issues.
"You're not going to get effective solutions unless you bring all the professions in and help them understand the contributions each has to make and how to work more effectively together. That's what this leadership program is about – helping them learn how to work more effectively together," says Pappaioanou.
"I think it's a very unique and professional program, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
Melissa Cavanagh of Winnipeg, Man., is a second-year veterinary student and the WCVM's research communications intern for the summer of 2013.