The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) and the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMB) have established a collaborative new program that will enable veterinary students and working veterinarians to earn a Master in Public Health (MPH) degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore and expand research opportunities.

“This is a significant new partnership, both for our regional college of veterinary medicine and for Virginia Tech,” said Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the VMRCVM. “In an age characterized by the threat of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases, we are going to see veterinary medicine and human medicine working more closely together than ever before to protect public health.”

Disease threats like Avian Influenza, West Nile, Mad Cow Disease and others that can either directly affect human health and well-being or threaten the nation’s food supply provide a vivid glimpse of the many inter-relationships that exist between human and animal health, Schurig said. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 70 percent of the known bioterrorism agents are diseases that can be transmitted between people and animals.

Announcement of the program comes just weeks after the release of two major studies authored by the National Academy Academies’ National Research Council that acknowledge the critical role veterinary medicine plays in public health and outlines the need for increased veterinary research and greater coordination between the animal and human health communities.

The new Collaborative Program in Veterinary Public Health and Comparative Medicine will provide enhanced opportunities for professional education and training, develop critical research projects in veterinary public health and comparative medicine, and respond to national research initiatives on bioterrorism and emerging diseases, according to Schurig.

The program has been established in cooperation with the new School of Public Health at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, which emerged on July 1, 2005 from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine in the University of Maryland College of Medicine at Baltimore (UMCMB). It is also fully associated with the medical college’s Comparative Medicine Program.

J. Glenn Morris, professor and interim dean of the new School of Public Health, has been actively working with Schurig over the past two years on the establishment of the combined university program.

The new program will offer Blacksburg-based Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students the opportunity to earn a DVM degree from the VMRCVM and a MPH degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Working professionals will also have an opportunity to earn a MPH degree through the new program.

Students enrolled in the University of Maryland at Baltimore’s MPH program will gain an opportunity to study through the VMRCVM’s Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland at College Park, which enjoys close working relationships with a number of federal agencies and laboratories in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area.

The program is being directed and coordinated by Francois Elvinger, a veterinary epidemiologist and associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Virginia Tech, and Laura Hungerford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Elvinger will oversee all aspects of the developing program, including the recruitment of a tenure-track VMRCVM professor who will be based on the University of Maryland at Baltimore campus.

“Each of the institutions and departments involved with this venture bring something unique to the equation,” said Elvinger. “The School of Public Health and the medical school’s momparative medicine program bring a comprehensive research and instructional program in epidemiology, foodborne and infectious diseases. The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine brings an understanding of animal pathogens that affect humans, as well as access to livestock, companion animal and wildlife populations.”

Together, Elvinger said, the schools are poised to make important public health contributions at the nexus of this urgent and emerging intersection between human and animal health.

Schurig, appointed the college’s third dean in 2004, said the program has been developed in alignment with goals articulated by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), which has recently produced several studies and reports that suggest the profession of veterinary medicine must focus more vigorously on meeting its responsibilities in biodefense and public health in these opening years of the 21st century.

This fall, Congress will consider the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act of 2005, which seeks to identify $1.5 billion over the next ten years to expand the size of the nation’s veterinary colleges and increase research and training capacity in public health and biomedical research. Resources would be allocated to the nation’s colleges of veterinary medicine based upon a competitive grant process administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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