Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lost in the Midst

Brain fog was heavy this morning until I took my first few sips of coffee. The synapses are sluggishly starting to fire now....

Since the brain is clearly struggling today, I'll go back to a topic that's frequently on my mind.

I often wonder how many practicing veterinarians went to veterinary school with the intention of working in conservation, but now find themselves working in private practice. A good 15 or so of my classmates are in this situation; some of them are content with their current work, but others are revisiting ways to break into the field after wondering how they got lost en route to a career in conservation medicine in spite of all the support and encouragement they received in school. At the time, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the burgeoning field of international medicine and conservation health, but little structured course work in place to guide students toward their goal.

In looking back on my own experience, it wasn't for any lack of ambition or resilience on my part or that of my peers that we got lost in the midst of a traditional curriculum trying to expand its focus in the context of changing societal needs. To boot, many of us graduated with the somewhat naive notion that we could break into the field of conservation medicine drawing soley on experience and contacts. I realize now that, as veterinary students in the ninties, we were struggling to find our way into a sector of veterinary medicine that was itself, in the embryonic stages of its development and acceptance. I commend those of my classmates who had the foresight to understand the future importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and sought to supplement their veterinary training with advanced degrees in areas of ecology, policy, and public health.

Fast forward to today, and the situation is much more encouraging. Over the past few days, I've been perusing the archives and more recent buzz of plans to restructure the existing veterinary curriculum in order to accomodate the increasing need for a stronger veterinary presence in public service work, policy making, research, and conservation medicine. Conversations on this subject have gained momentum, in part due to bioterrorism fears post 9/11, which brought global health and disease epidemics into the spotlight; yet, even back in the early ninties, veterinary visionaries, like those behind the envirovet program saw the need for advanced training in ecotoxicology and conservation policy.

In April of 2007, The Veterinary Workplace Expansion Act was passed, which offers grants to veterinary institutions looking to develop programs in public health and biomedical research. Definitely a step in the right direction. Additionally, many veterinary schools in the States and abroad have already developed advanced degree programs to address these needs and are gaining more attention. To get a taste of this, check out the "LEARN" section on the ecovet international website.

I'm most curious to chat with current veterinary students to get their take on the situation. Another big hurdle ahead is how to effectively prepare college students for a veterinary school experience that anticipates the need for collborations with other professionals in science and health.

Ahhh. Brain Strain.....more coffee beckons.