In an effort to lighten the course load ahead of what is affectionately referred to as “the toughest exam of vet school,” us first-years were pleasantly surprised by the advent of a block filled with nothing but ungraded lecture classes. Because past classes had requested more time to prepare for the gross anatomy exam on the neck and head structures, the faculty had listened and complied by making attendance at the other three courses mandatory, but emphasizing discussion participation over quizzes or exams. This worked extremely well, as the topics of the lecture courses— International Veterinary Medicine, Human-Animal Relationships, and Applied Veterinary Biotechnology— lean toward big-picture thinking when considering the issues, solutions, and applications of a particular problem.
Take, for instance, the role of veterinarians in disaster relief. This subject was actually discussed in both the international vet medicine (IVM) and human-animal relationships (HAR) class. IVM considered pandemics like rinderpest (now eradicated due to the contributions of a Tufts alumna) and control of stray animal populations after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. HAR discussed the ethics behind the evacuation of pets during Hurricane Katrina, and the decision behind quarantining and caring for the dog of the Dallas, TX, nurse who contracted Ebola.
All four of these topics were real examples talked about by people who had the first-hand experience of being there, and it was fascinating to hear about all the things you had to think about when coordinating disaster relief…Like how the lack of infrastructure proved to be a harder problem to overcome than developing a heat-stable rinderpest vaccine. Or that native Haitians and other relief organizations alike had a hard time realizing that by controlling disease and reproduction rates of stray animals, veterinarians were directly improving human health as well as animal health. Or that the reason why dozens of people didn’t evacuate their homes in advance of Hurricane Katrina was because they weren’t allowed to bring their pets—the relief organizations hadn’t thought to make accommodations, and since there was no room for animals at the shelters, pets weren’t allowed to accompany their owners. (That policy has now been changed.)
Through these discussions, I learned that it’s important that veterinarians take a step back and truly understand their role in the global scheme of things.