Climate change, zoonotic diseases, bioterrorism: our society is all too familiar with these terms. Each occupies a place at the intersection of public health and veterinary medicine, a nexus where you'll also find a group of specialized experts equipped to take on these problems: veterinary public health professionals.
According to Merck, today's veterinarians already provide crucial public health services. They control pet parasites, identify infectious diseases, facilitate guide dog programs for the disabled, and, most importantly, provide epidemiological insights that helps us respond to emerging zoonotic diseases. But earning a Master of Public Health, combined with your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, opens additional doors along this quickly expanding career path.
Long before COVID-19 and its debated origins, we faced the West Nile virus, rabies, Lyme disease, and countless other illnesses breaching the gap between humans and animals. As many animals lose their natural habitats, the UN predicts that zoonotic illnesses will continue to rise.
In addition to diseases, some government agencies worry about bioterrorism, food production issues, and the dangers of pollution to animals and humans. Who are they looking to for leadership? Veterinarians with highly focused training in public health may have the answers.
In this guide, we'll discuss what is an MPH in veterinary public health and whether it's the ideal specialization for this point in your career. We'll tackle the following popular topics:
Veterinary public health sits at the center of a Venn diagram. Animals, their environment, and human health all intersect in positive and damaging ways—a concept known as "One Health." If one circle of the diagram suffers or flourishes, experts see a difference in our overall global health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the links between veterinarian practice and our public health programs include:
Professionals in this area typically come from a veterinary background. They've likely attended a college of veterinary medicine, studying public health either after or during their veterinary training.
A quickly changing environment places these specialists at the forefront of some of today's biggest challenges, including food production management, unexplained illnesses, bioterrorism, and pollution. For these reasons, DVM/MPH programs are catching the eye of working professionals and young students alike.
With the rise of public health awareness—and its massive effects during the COVID-19 pandemic—organizations and private companies are now calling for greater funding for public health sectors. Public health programs saw a 20 percent uptick in applications in 2020, specifically for master's programs.
An MPH is a relatively broad degree that often includes a specialization. Career paths and coursework range from topics in the healthcare sector and social justice to research and even government work. Some students come from a background in medicine, biology, health sciences, veterinarian services, or the general public health sector.
One of the best things about the degree is its wide reach across so many students and passions. Depending on the school, an MPH program may offer specialties and electives in:
The vast majority of master's of public health with a specialization in veterinary health degrees are delivered through dual-degree programs. Students can complete their Doctor in Veterinary Medicine in tandem with the MPH degree, often listed as a VMD or DVM/MPH program.
This isn't always the case, however. Students who already completed veterinary school may also seek out an MPH with a veterinarian specialization.
For example, The University of Tennessee - Knoxville (UTK) offers related coursework and a practical internship toward the end of its MPH in Veterinary Public Health program. Professors approve internships with a related organization or research setting under the supervision of a mentor.
To expand accessibility, the university offers its public health degree in an online format as well as on campus.
The university's coursework covers:
Similar top programs, such as University of Pennsylvania's VMD/MPH program, offer finely tuned tracks within the specialization itself. In addition to a generalized track, students can choose from environmental health, global health, and the "One Health" concept. At the culmination of this program, candidates complete a capstone project in their specialization. This is in addition to related fieldwork.
The significant influx of MPH students may also be attributed to the upcoming opening of veterinary government positions. The University of Tennessee- Knoxville program page points out that nearly 50 percent of the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service will retire in the next few years.
Public health veterinarians find a wide range of specialized positions after private, public, military, and government organizations. The top employers include:
Salaries for those with a background in veterinary epidemiology range based on your organization or company. Glassdoor reports a salary of an average of $92,800 a year for public health veterinarian professionals.
Prospective students choose an MPH program after gaining experience in the field or selecting a DVM degree concentration. University of Tennessee - Knoxville students can enter the program after gaining their license as a licensed veterinary medical technician, through the school's dual DVM/MPH pathway, or from a complete graduate veterinary program.
Standard admission requirements include:
Many programs also require relevant work experience or coursework in related fields such as science and mathematics. In some cases, you may be required to hold a bachelor's in public health or have completed public health courses.
Tuition can be costly. You will need about four or five years to complete the full program. For example, the sample breakdown of costs for the DVM/MPH program at Tufts University runs $60,694 a year. Many programs offer significant financial aid to post-graduate students in the form of scholarships and assistantships. The University of Tennessee - Knoxville costs significantly less for both in-state and out-of-state students.
Though we've touched on this a bit, let's explain the dual degree format a bit further. Dual programs traditionally combine a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a Master of Public Health. Curriculum design intentionally cross-references coursework from one program to the other. For example, later in the curriculum, the school may introduce common public health topics like zoonoses and preventive medicine, but through the lens of their earlier veterinary studies. Classes either run in tandem or transition to vet-related issues as they progress.
These programs understandably take a bit longer than studying either topic on their own. Students may begin with two years of vet training before transitioning into related public health studies.
Much like independent MPH programs, choosing a dual-track requires students to earn practical experience in the field. Internships and externships allow trainees to apply what they've learned and transition into a career after graduation.
The sizeable increase of MPH students comes as no huge surprise after the past decade. If you are—or plan to become—a veterinarian , this is a unique career path that directly impacts many of the world's modern concerns.
Perhaps you've felt called to join the heroic epidemiologists, emergency management teams, and health educators in the past year. With many public health and veterinarian jobs opening in the public sector alone, now is a pivotal time to consider whether this path is right for you.
Tackling a four or five-year degree is no small decision, however, even with flexible online programs. It's essential to break down whether your schedule, budget, and career path currently meld with the demands of an MPH or dual program at this point in the road.
If so, the specialized training will not only open up a wealth of career options but also provide much-needed leadership in a field that will continue to expand and change as research develops.
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