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Job market expands in public health arena
Washington - With more than 2,220 federal positions earmarked for DVMs by 2007, pubic health represents an upsurge of job opportunities for future veterinarians.
WASHINGTON — With more than 2,220 federal positions earmarked for DVMs by 2007, pubic health represents an upsurge of job opportunities for future veterinarians.
Bioterrorism and emerging disease have increased the government's demand for scientists, and veterinary medicine's broad scope is needed to combat the threats, experts say. With a current lack of practitioners working in public health-related fields, a handful of veterinary institutions have ramped up output by creating dual DVM and master's of public health (MPH) degrees.
Considering the publicity, student interest has boomed, says Dr. Larry Heider, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). A federal report recently showed that the Department of Health and Human Services and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were "utilizing intern programs to increase the pipeline of new talent" due to employee retirement and a shift in need. Projections continued in July with two high-profile National Academies reports that recognized animal health as having "broad implications" on everything from human population to global security.
"The MPH is becoming an essential degree for veterinarians wanting to work with federal services," Heider says. "I think there's a realization today that the veterinarian who has an interest in public health medicine has an opportunity across the spectrum of food handling and production, delivery, research and consulting. There are obviously expanding opportunities for these graduates in the future."
Alex Ramirez, DVM, MPH, has witnessed the shift. The Mexico native received his DVM degree in 1993, but waited more than a decade to earn his master's degree. Now a veterinary specialist with Iowa State University's (ISU) veterinary college, he attributes the profession's growing public health involvement to national needs.
"There are several issues going on including bioterrorism and agroterrorism," he says. "But I also think people are starting to interact with animals a lot more. If you look at emerging and re-emerging diseases on the human side, at least 70 percent or more do have a zoonosis aspect to them."
Considering the animal-human disease link, veterinarians often are unmatched authorities on disease origins and spread, Ramirez adds.
"The human MDs are not well trained in the area of animal-related disease," he says. "As veterinarians, we can enlighten them."
Ramirez earned his MPH from an ISU program in conjunction with the University of Iowa. While the degree was completed separately from Ramirez's DVM, other universities offer concurrent programs.
At the University of Minnesota, DVM/MPH Coordinator Kate Hanson guides 76 students through the dual program. Squeezed into the standard four-year veterinary curriculum, enrollees often take the 42 credits of public health courses during summer breaks.
The program's first graduate earned his degrees this summer. Whether it's within the Public Health Institute or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, jobs are plentiful, Hanson says.
"This field is quite a target right now," she says. "I think it has a lot to do with the issues going on. People are realizing animal and human health is tied together; they're seeing emerging diseases. There's definitely a need for infectious disease investigation and control."
On the bandwagon
To grant veterinary students access to such jobs, Louisiana State University (LSU) is mulling a similar dual-degree program that partners with Oklahoma State University's health center.
The proposal presents an "excellent opportunity," says Dr. Joseph Taboada, LSU associate dean for student and academic affairs. In the next 10 years, the DVM need will be "incredible," he says.
"The DVM degree is ideal for a lot of public health jobs." Taboada says. "The MPH makes veterinarians competitive with MDs."