Adriana Fratz’s hometown of Accident, Maryland, may be small — with a population of 338 people, in fact — but her education at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has taken her far. 

"Ten-year-old me, raising pigs on my family’s farm, would not have thought that I would one day be in Mozambique learning about pig husbandry in a new setting. I would never have imagined that at midnight on a Friday night, I would be in Coney Island, New York, assisting with a gastric dilatation-volvulus surgery on a shark,” said Fratz.  

Fratz, a dual Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health student, was named the valedictorian of Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Class of 2023. The achievement has also earned her the Richard B. Talbot Award, named for the college’s founding dean.

Fratz grew up on her family’s grain and hay farm selling sweet corn and pumpkins at a farm stand and raising steers, pigs, and heifers through 4-H. Whenever a veterinarian came to the farm, a young Fratz would always watch, help, and ask questions.

When Fratz was 10, her show heifer colicked, requiring an emergency surgery, and when Fratz saw the veterinarian’s problem-solving skills in action and the heifer’s anatomy at work, she was officially hooked on veterinary medicine. 

"It's a helpless feeling when you know your animal is sick or suffering and you don't know what's going on. Vets really empower people to address their animal's health and to allow their animals to live the best lives they can. That was something I really admired,” Fratz said. 

Fratz went on to study environmental biology at Columbia University, where she developed an interest in disease research, climate-mediated diseases, and how they relate to animal health and food security. She considered pursuing a Ph.D., but because of her passion for medicine, she decided a veterinary degree was the right path.

At the veterinary college, Fratz could pursue her love of medicine as well as her other professional interests. 

"Going to vet school here, I've had the opportunity to balance a lot of different interests and to explore so many different areas of veterinary medicine,” Fratz said. “ As a public/corporate tracker, I've been able to take classes related to public policy, environmental health, and epidemiology. I've done statistical analysis and risk assessment and gained all sorts of skills that are useful for all veterinarians but are especially helpful for people with interests outside of clinical medicine. Not all of these classes are available at all veterinary schools." 

Soon after starting veterinary classes, Fratz decided to enroll in the college’s dual degree program, simultaneously pursuing a DVM and a Master of Public Health. The two degree programs complement each other well: the veterinary college is committed to One Health, the principle that human, animal, and environmental health are inextricably linked. 

As a capstone to the veterinary college’s public health program, Fratz traveled to Mozambique to work with public health research organizations Barcelona Institute for Global Health and Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM). The organizations are conducting a clinical trial to investigate whether administering ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that kills mosquitoes, to humans and livestock decreases malaria transmission to people by reducing the mosquito population.

Fratz met with human and animal health personnel in Mozambique to discuss resources, opportunities, and priorities for One Health work in the region and collated this information into a funding proposal for the establishment of a One Health research unit that would utilize CISM’s existing infrastructure to pursue more One Health projects. CISM is now in ongoing discussions with the United States Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as a collaborator on implementing Mozambique’s One Health strategic plan.

Her education also took her to New York, where she completed externships at the Bronx Zoo and the Columbia School of Medicine’s Institute of Comparative Medicine. Closer to home, Fratz also worked with Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Mark Ford assisting with bat ecology research and with the Virginia Department of Health looking at rabies and tick-borne diseases. 

Alongside other dual degree students, Fratz worked with the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition to create resources to educate people who use drugs on how to recognize signs of opioid overdose in dogs and how to administer naloxone — also known as Narcan — to dogs. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, and it could save the life of a dog accidentally exposed to opioids.  

"That project really reminded me why I love veterinary medicine and the ways that veterinary medicine can really impact people's lives,” Fratz said. “Through working with focus groups, it was so clear how strong the human-animal bond is and how valuable the relationships people have with their animals are. It illustrated the value of the work that vets do, because we're working to maintain those relationships and support that bond."

For students just starting their veterinary education, Fratz said it’s essential that students build community with their classmates and support each other when things get difficult. 

Fratz said that one of the most challenging parts of veterinary school has been putting theory into practice during clinical rotations. "We as vet students have spent years accumulating a massive amount of information, and when faced with a case, we do have the knowledge we need to work through it, but it can still be difficult to feel confident that the plan you're creating is the best course of action for the patient. I’m grateful for the clinicians who have pushed me to really take charge of my cases and be the one making the clinical decisions. This has really helped me to build that confidence." 

Following graduation, Fratz plans on working in disease surveillance with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for the summer before starting work with a small animal practice in New York. After a few years of clinical work, she intends to move on to disease-related work in policy or research.   

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