As the gatekeepers of the interface between humans and animals, veterinarians have many roles.
While the local ‘pet vet’ who vaccinates and treats beloved Fido may be the most recognisable, veterinary practice in Australia encompasses much more diverse fields, including small and large animal practice, emergency medicine, animal production, public health and disease control, quarantine and biosecurity, research and education, pharmaceuticals and commercialisation, animal welfare and therapeutic treatments, and wildlife conservation.
Over the last decade, the veterinary profession has progressively shifted its focus to a more holistic and integrated approach, which links animal, human and ecosystem health to promote all components through interdisciplinary cooperation.
Concepts of One Health have gathered momentum from an initial focus on understanding and controlling significant recent Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) such as Ebola, Avian Influenza, and Hendra viruses.
Many recent EIDs originate in animal populations and pose threats to human and environmental health. Veterinarians are playing vital roles in collaborative teams to combat these diseases.
The scope of One Health activities is now extending to embrace broader issues that span animal, human and environmental health, such as sustainable food systems, climate change, biodiversity, animal welfare and many others. A truly integrated approach requires multidisciplinary expertise, including sociological, agricultural, ecological and non-technical knowledge and skills.
An example of such an approach being used to combat recent challenges is the work UQ School of Veterinary Science epidemiologist Dr Ricardo Soares Magalhaes has been conducting, which informs disease control policy by better understanding the link between geographical distribution of animal and human infections and their associated morbidity.
One of his recent projects has involved studying avian influenza – better known as ‘bird flu’ – and rabies with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the China Animal Health Epidemiology Centre and the China Centres for Disease Control.
Dr Magalhaes is also currently using Big Data to map and develop rapid responses for the West African Ebola virus, with important applications to other emerging infections such as the South American Zika virus.
Researchers from the School of Veterinary Science are also investigating the prevalence and molecular epidemiology of antimicrobial drug resistance in pathogens and commensal organisms in food producing and companion animals in Australia and overseas (in Vietnam and the Philippines). Beyond their human health impact, antimicrobial resistant bacteria threaten the health and welfare of animals and people’s food security and livelihoods.
This research has already improved veterinary teaching methods.
Students in developing countries are now taught improved antimicrobial awareness and mitigation, and have increased awareness of usage of antimicrobial agents (such as antibiotics) and resistance in the pig industry and in avian species.
Life-long learning key to success
To keep up in an ever-changing industry environment, veterinary education increasingly focuses on self-sufficiency.
UQ’s Professor Paul Mills has worked across many sectors of the industry in the last three decades, including government, emergency medicine, and education, and knows first-hand that students need more than just scientific or practical skills to succeed.
“Setting up our students for success means teaching them not only the vital skills they need to hit the ground running from day one, but also how to learn for themselves so they can continue to develop as veterinarians, but also more broadly as scientists, for their whole careers,” says Professor Mills.
Part of this process involves regular training throughout the five-year veterinary science program in skills that are vital to success after graduation.
“From the beginning of their degree, students must participate in activities that prepare them for day-to-day life as a practitioner,” says Professor Malcolm Jones, a parasitologist who works closely with students in the veterinary science program.
“This includes a boot camp called Vets for Life at the beginning of their degree that establishes their expectations and provides them with support mechanisms for their studies.
“Later in their coursework, they conduct mock interviews to prepare them for dealing with difficult clients; take courses that develop their business-management, client-management and people skills; and learn techniques to help them manage their feelings and actions in a high-stress environment.
“We are really keen to support our students’ development as resilient, critical thinkers.”
Student Sarah Babington is completing a Bachelor of Veterinary Science and says UQ has prepared her well for a career after graduation.
“Studying veterinary science at UQ has not only taught me the importance of practical skills, such as client communication and business management, but also the essential role veterinarians play in today’s world of human public health on an international scale.”
To learn more about the Vets for Life program, visit veterinary-science.uq.edu.au/student-life
A global approach
The changing nature of the student cohort in recent years has in many ways shaped the way institutions teach and reach out to meet their needs.
UQ’s School of Veterinary Science has been accredited with Australasian, American and European veterinary associations, meaning graduates can work anywhere in the world, which both attracts international students and promotes international partnerships.
For example, since 2010, UQ and Nong Lam University (NLU) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, have collaborated to improve veterinary education in Vietnam through an advanced, English-speaking program.
“We are trying to make sure that they have got the curriculum, they can adapt to Vietnamese conditions and make sure everything flows smoothly, making it a centre for excellence for veterinary education in South-East Asia,” says Professor Mills.
Lecturers from both institutions have transferred knowledge with students in the other country. To this end, a group of UQ students headed to Vietnam earlier this year to learn more about the country’s production animals.
Funded by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Mobility Program, this project provides students with direct experience of animal production systems and animal health
in our near neighbours.
Another group of clinically focused final-year students will travel to Brazil this year under the Endeavour Awards Scheme to gain experience in clinical practice and working with native Brazilian animals, broadening their skills and seeing how veterinarians in Brazil function in their practices.
So where does this lead?
The Head of UQ’s School of Veterinary Science, Professor Glen Coleman, believes the intersection between human and animal medicine can only become more closely entwined as scientists and practitioners from all disciplines work together to address new challenges as they arise.
“Animal and human medicine will mutually benefit from shared One Health research outcomes to overcome increasingly challenging medical issues of our time,” he says.
To learn more about the collaboration with Nong Lam University, visit veterinary-science.uq.edu.au/vet-school-activities.
To contact the school, visit veterinary-science.uq.edu.au or phone +61 7 5460 1834.