Vet Degree Versatility on Display at CDC

ATLANTA, Ga., February 21, 2014 — Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invites veterinary students from across North America to visit their Atlanta headquarters for a one-day conference on veterinary inputs in public health. The 5th biennial “Day at CDC for Veterinary Students” was held on January 27, and 10 students from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine were selected to attend.

Virginia-Maryland Vet Med's representatives for the 5th biennial "Day at CDC for Veterinary Students," with alumna and CDC epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer McQuiston (DVM ’97, MS ’98)

From Left to Right: [Front Row] Kaitlyn Childs, Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, Orr Rozov, Lucy Lee [Middle Row] Keren Rozensher, Larisa Niehaus, Betsy Schroeder, Debora Weiss [Back Row] Dr. Kevin Pelzer, Sarah Krones, Charlie Alex, Robert Fathke

We were accompanied by Dr. Kevin Pelzer, professor in production management medicine and epidemiology. The students, all of whom are following the college’s Public and Corporate Track, included Kaitlyn Childs (’15), Robert Fathke (’15), Sarah Krones (’16), Lucy Lee (’15), Larisa Niehaus (’16), Keren Rozensher (’15), Orr Rozov (’16), Betsy Schroeder (’16), Debora Weiss (’15), and myself (’15).

The CDC is a federal public health agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It began in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center, an offshoot of a small wartime malaria control agency. Its office was housed on a single floor of an office building in Atlanta, and its primary mission was to control the spread of malaria in the United States. The 400-employee staff was comprised mostly of engineers and entomologists, and just seven medical officers.

Since then, the CDC has grown dramatically in scope and mission. It now operates multiple offices and centers devoted to various aspects of public health including global health, occupational safety, infectious diseases, environmental health, and public health preparedness. The CDC now employs some 15,000 employees, with an annual operating budget of nearly $7 billion and officers stationed in all 50 states and over 50 countries. It is truly an impressive institution, and we were honored to be invited to visit.

Virginia-Maryland Vet Med students and Dr. Kevin Pelzer (far left) at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia

After a seven-hour road trip from Blacksburg, we arrived in Atlanta late on Sunday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we walked across the street to CDC’s Clifton campus for an evening reception. In all, over 300 veterinary students attended the event from schools across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. After a few introductory remarks from the event organizers, we spent the evening meeting and networking with our future colleagues, discussing our mutual interests in public health, and marveling at the towering, emerald-tinted offices and expansive grounds that make up CDC headquarters.

Monday’s ambitious program included opening remarks from Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, a Virginia-Maryland Vet Med alumna (DVM ’97, MS ’98) who is a CDC epidemiologist and a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, currently working for the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Dr. McQuiston’s welcome was followed by a series of presentations describing CDC’s work and demonstrating the various opportunities available for veterinarians in the field of public health.

The “Day at CDC for Veterinary Students” also included opportunities to tour the main campus, the Emergency Operations Center, and the CDC Museum. In the afternoon, veterinarians in the Epidemiology Intelligence Service presented a “Public Health in Action” seminar and an interactive mock outbreak investigation.

(L-R) Kaitlyn Childs, Lucy Lee and Orr Rozov were impressed with what they saw at the CDC Emergency Operations Center.

We learned about the various opportunities available for veterinary students at the CDC, including their Epidemiology Elective program and the prestigious CDC-Hubert Global Health Fellowship, as well as their post-graduate opportunities with the Epidemiology Intelligence Service. We also learned that, of the CDC’s 15,000-odd employees, approximately 90 are veterinarians. These vets serve in a variety of capacities such as field epidemiologists, outbreak investigators, lab animal veterinarians, and pathologists.

The day’s activities demonstrated the tremendous versatility of a degree in veterinary medicine, and underscored the benefits of collaborative “One Health” approaches in achieving public health goals. It was inspiring to see just how much veterinarians can contribute to maintaining healthy communities. Each of us left the CDC with a stronger understanding of the nation’s public health infrastructure, and the roles that veterinarians play in it.