Want to Make a Global Impact? Consider the Growing Field of Conservation Medicine

Image Source: Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

By Taylor Smith

Many veterinary schools are now offering education tracks in wildlife medicine, which is an interdisciplinary study that involves work in wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife medicine, and conservation medicine. Conservation medicine is concerned with looking at the interplay between environment and health.

The relationship between human and animal health is a complex one. Clinical treatment of many infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, malaria, and avian influenza, stem from the impact of zoonotic diseases and the human biome. A familiar form of disease that involves direct animal to human transmission is rabies. Other strains of infection are less direct, and involve extensive collaboration and scientific investigation.

Conservation medicine practitioners typically do extensive field work alongside interdisciplinary teams that may include physicians, veterinarians, anthropologists, pathologists, climate scientists, political scientists, and economists. Landscape analysts, marine biologists, and toxicologists may also come into play.

On a human scale, conservation medicine has a direct impact on the maintenance of our soil, the purity of our drinking water, and the quality of the air we breathe. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (https://vet.tufts.edu) founded the Center for Conservation Medicine in 1997. According to its website, “Our work is designed with the ultimate goals of affecting change toward a secure quality of life for all species and developing solutions for humans to harmoniously and sustainably coexist with other species.”

Notably, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (https://www.jhsph.edu) operates both the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (http://caat.jhsph.edu) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health (https://ehe.jhu.edu/water). Although these centers do not fall under the umbrella of veterinary medicine, they are ecologically-minded degree offerings with the potential for a Master of Science in Public Health and a Master of Arts in Public Health Biology, among others.

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at University of Edinburgh in Scotland (https://www.ed.ac.uk/vet) is one of the world’s leaders in veterinary education, research, and clinical practice, regularly attracting students from around the world. The school offers international accreditation, and veterinary students from the United States can pursue a four- or five-year veterinary medicine degree. University of Edinburgh operates a hospital for small animals, equine veterinary services, clinical postgraduate training, and a focus in conservation science. They state, “The Conservation Science group is an inter-disciplinary collaboration between wildlife veterinarians and geneticists, operating from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. Our focus is on the transfer and application of science and clinical practice to wildlife conservation, both here in Scotland and internationally.”

Current students are involved in a variety of field work that ranges from wildlife disease surveillance to zoonotic disease research and species conservation, specifically translocation or reintroductions.

For those interested in learning more about how veterinary medicine can help to preserve biodiversity, Dr. Sharon L. Deem’s TEDx talk, “The Ties That Bind: One Health,” can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/2JmW2O7. Dr. Deem is a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist who has conducted conservation medicine projects in 30 countries around the world. Her research includes a health-monitoring program for gorillas in central Africa, health assessments of sea turtles in Africa and the Americas, health care of working elephants in Myanmar, ecological studies of maned wolves in Bolivia, and more. Learn more about Dr. Deem’s fieldwork and read her current articles from abroad at http://www.drsharondeem.com.