Envirovet Summer Institute
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What do you think the ultimate impact of the Envirovet Summer Institute will be on the welfare of animals?
Globally, veterinary medicine has greatly improved the health and productivity of animals used in food production, as well as the soundness of horses and other species used both to pull the plow and to provide transportation. In the West and increasingly worldwide, veterinarians have actively contributed to the well-being of companion animals. Veterinarians also have become leaders in a range of basic and applied biomedical research endeavors, as well as in health-related regulatory agencies. However, the profession has not succeeded as broadly in the area of wildlife protection. Recognition of this shortcoming resulted in the development of Envirovet as well as its evolution. With the support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and its director Delora Weese-Mayer, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Howard Gilman Foundation, White Oak Conservation Center, the Bay and Paul Foundations, and corporate sponsors, including Eli Lilly and Company, Monsanto, and Dow AgroSciences, Envirovet is helping to catalyze a change so that the veterinary profession goes beyond its established roles into the difficult issues of ecosystem health. The major impact will be that young veterinarians will change career directions, undertake further education and training, and gain on-the-job experience so that they transform their strong environmental commitments to brighter environmental realities. Combining biomedical and ecological knowledge and skills, Envirovet participants will work in concert with other professionals to restore the health and well-being of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and their resident wildlife populations.
During the course, students will study the biota not only of pristine sites but also of sites where stressors have created a depauperate ecosystem. Through these field exercises and coupled lectures and laboratories, students will gain an understanding not only of direct impacts of infectious agents and toxicants (the usual veterinary medical approach), but also of their important indirect effects on other species and thus ecosystems. In addition, the program will provide a greater understanding of the impacts of habitat loss, altered predator prey relationships, and exotic species invasions. These stressors will be considered in concert with related environmental regulations, policies, and laws that influence the integrity of wildlife populations. Thus, Envirovet will develop a force of visionary young veterinarians to deal with the complexity of real-world, transdisciplinary environmental problems that threaten wildlife. Long-term, Envirovet will put more veterinarians into decision-making roles where they will effectively prioritize the problems and address the requirements of wildlife and the ecosystems on which their health and reproduction depend.
Envirovet will help provide wildlife specialists who understand the strengths and limitations of modern environmentally-relevant technologies, from geographic information systems to sophisticated electrophysiology and from analytical chemistry to ecological engineering. Moreover, it will help connect these areas of expertise to the methods of risk assessment/risk management and the broad area of environmental policy. The USA is a world leader in developing environmental technologies but it must become a much better role model for ecosystem management for the rest of the world. Envirovet will contribute to the vision and capabilities of young people who will work toward this aim.
By understanding the interdisciplinary context of environmental sciences and management, Envirovet participants will make more astute career plans and more rapidly contribute to ecological rehabilitation. Envirovet help reverse the negative impacts of modern western societies on ecosystems and wildlife populations, and thus hasten the time when human populations collectively become astute stewards of ecosystems and the wildlife species they support.
Where does the Envirovet course fit into the larger spectrum of innovative educational opportunities in veterinary medicine?
Envirovet uniquely complements other educational offerings currently available.
The Canadian veterinary schools have established an ecosystem health program that takes a subset of students enrolled in their four veterinary schools, as well as other students from the USA, into the field to deal with a specific problem. Their program rotates among the schools such that the regional emphasis varies from year to year. The course helps reorient students into an environmental management/ecosystem focus. Students of the Canadian program would clearly benefit from Envirovet and vice-versa. Unlike the Canadian program, Envirovet educates students from schools throughout the world, including persons with DVM or equivalent degrees, many of whom are enrolled in advanced degree programs.
There are conventional graduate programs in veterinary toxicology at a number of U.S. veterinary colleges, such as the University of Illinois, Texas A & M, the University of California-Davis, and Iowa State University. These toxicology programs educate individuals who most often find careers in industry investigating the safety of foods, drugs, pesticides and other chemicals; in veterinary diagnostic laboratories where they focus largely on the food animal industry and small animal practice; and/or doing research in veterinary and medical schools teaching basic (molecular) toxicology or clinical veterinary toxicology. Veterinarians from conventional toxicology programs who participate in Envirovet are much more likely to choose educational, research, and regulatory positions that provide them with the opportunity to address wildlife and environmental issues on a daily basis.
There are a limited number of established graduate programs in wildlife diseases at veterinary schools, such as the University of Georgia and the University of California-Davis. Also, there is an exciting program on wildlife health in an international context at Tufts University. Such programs in wildlife health/disease develop expertise needed in diagnostic medicine, basic research, and epidemiology, most often with an emphasis on specific infectious and parasitic diseases. Envirovet Summer Institute breaks new ground by helping wildlife specialists, gain more understanding in the areas of regulatory practice, ecological risk assessment/management, and genetics of wildlife conservation, societal forces that influence wildlife and ecosystem health, and long-range planning for shared benefits in wildlife population health, public health and regional economies.
How does Envirovet change those who participate?
Many young people enter veterinary medicine because of their concerns for wildlife, but most of these individuals wind up settling on a job in companion animal practice. Generally, they encounter few opportunities to interact with veterinarians and other scientists skilled in ecology, risk reduction, conservation biology, environmental law or ecological rehabilitation. Such jobs wind up going to non-veterinarians who lack a detailed understanding of the potential health problems of wildlife. Until more veterinary students and young veterinarians have ample opportunities to become acquainted with the ecological and policy context of wildlife biology and management, they will continue to fail to recognize and apply for the many career paths open to them. By contrast, Envirovet participants understand the value of coupling their veterinary expertise with the capabilities of other professions (via additional education, as well as through collaborations) to restore wildlife populations and ecological integrity.
Envirovet builds upon the participants' need for both a mission and a career development/survival strategy. Because the faculty includes environmental specialists in industry, government, non-governmental organizations, academia, and consultancies, the participants gain a range of perspectives and role models. They begin to understand the ways that solutions to wildlife problems can reside within industries, through government programs, within non-governmental organizations, or through an academic career, teaching others about environmental problems and doing wildlife research. Envirovet helps participants match their personalities, aims, and resources to an educational plan and subsequent career that are truly workable for them.
Sometimes, society in general and veterinary schools in particular seem to send the message that human needs must always take precedence over animal needs. As a consequence, even the human need for appreciation of the wonders of other life forms is inadvertently demeaned. Envirovet reinforces the notion that it is wise and prudent for veterinarians to be concerned for, and to immerse their careers in, the problems of wildlife populations. The program directors convey the concept that veterinarians, like members of the medical profession, should be reasoned advocates for individuals under their care, and they should use good science to ensure increasingly successful wildlife programs over time.
What is your aim in offering the Envirovet course?
The long-range goal of Envirovet is to work toward a time when there are margins of safety in place for ecological function and wildlife health. Envirovet is intended to increase the numbers of veterinarians focused on environmental problems, and to enhance their effectiveness. We expect that participants in the course will: i) assume significant responsibility for a given wildlife species or species group; ii) assume major responsibilities for the well-being of wildlife in a given watershed, coastal area, forest, desert, agricultural region, or urban area; iii) become researchers studying the toxicologic, microbial, parasitic, nutritional orgenetic diseases of wildlife at the molecular, cellular, organ, organism, or population level; iv) become practitioners and researchers at the interface of wildlife and public health; v) apply an ecosystem health paradigm to fields as diverse as ecological economics, ecological engineering, and political science. Envirovet provides an understanding of the role of "bridge scientists" who can collaborate with others to apply needed forms of disciplinary expertise to overcome environmental problems. For example, among faculty of the Envirovet program are scientists who lead regional remedial action plans that coordinate ecosystem restoration efforts involving political, governmental, business, and university leaders. Through these efforts and through mentorship and networking, the Envirovet program helps create politically aware leaders capable of applying scientifically astute solutions to current and merging environmental problems.
Envirovet has an additional payoff: it reinvigorates and generates new thinking as well as vision in the faculty, including those from academia, industry, and government. Indeed, the faculty generally relish the opportunity to interact with the motivated Envirovet students and with one another.
How do the Envirovet Directors view the state of the world's wildlife and how Envirovet's existence contributes to solutions?
The world's wildlife populations are threatened as never before in recorded history. A major reason for this is the lack of mechanisms and personnel to anticipate, prevent, and overcome the adverse effects of modern societies on ecosystems and wildlife. Envirovet will provide society with a nucleus of young veterinarians who are educated about these issues and who understand how to develop transdisciplinary programs of research and intervention to create a brighter future. They will know people able to contribute different pieces to the environmental puzzle. The will have the skills required to work in, and with, industry, government, and academic as well as non-governmental organizations to effect positive change. Ultimately, a number of Envirovet graduates will play leadership roles in moving society toward long-term preventive medicine approaches that protect wildlife health and ecological function/services.
Examples of Typical Course Comments from Envirovet graduates.
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