Interview with Dr. Valerie Ragan, Director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at VMRCVM

When I was doing research for my list of DVM programs with the best options for students interested in global vet med, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine was clearly one of the schools at the top. Along with solid offerings in the core curriculum, VMRCVM utilizes “tracking,” where students get to choose a branch of veterinary medicine and focus most of their time on classes pertaining to that field. One of the track options is Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, a program overseen by Dr Valerie Ragan, where she also teaches many courses. Dr Ragan has worked all over the world, from Egypt to Bolivia, as well as with the USDA/APHIS in the states. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for aspiring global veterinarians.

Did you originally go to vet school with an interest in public health, or did experiences along the way inspire you in that direction?

No, when I started veterinary school, I had no idea this aspect of veterinary medicine even existed. I “stumbled on to” this work, and am thankful that I did. I started off in small animal practice, and after a few years, I realized I wasn’t feeling that challenged any more, and was also looking for ways to get out of working in the same building every day, while still working in veterinary medicine. I ended having a great mentor who helped guide me a bit with career choices, and I was a participant in a Public Veterinary Practice Careers program with USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services program that gave me great experience and training in the public practice area of veterinary medicine. That was the basic framework that my career was launched from.

You teach a course on Vets in the Global Community at VMRCVM for vet students on the Public and Corporate tract. What does the class involve and has the coverage evolved over the years?

This course provides an overview of the role of veterinarians in global veterinary medicine, including important environmental and social global trends and issues in international veterinary medicine. The roles of governmental agencies, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations in international relations, development, conservation, disease control and prevention, and trade are discussed. The course examines issues related to emerging disease threats, globalization and impacts on food safety and security. Student have the opportunity to practice oral and written communication skills by role playing, and preparing and delivering a short issue paper at the conclusion of the course. The coverage of the course changes a little every year to address current global issues.

What do you find most rewarding or interesting about teaching this class?

I grew up overseas, and spend a lot of time working internationally now as a veterinarian, so this subject area is one of my passion areas. Since I do a fair amount of work in other countries, I bring home those stories and photos and use them to illustrate issues we are discussing. I am always amazed at how engaged and enlightened the students are, and what how quickly they grasp and embrace the concepts. I really enjoy watching the students learn and grow, and to see them using the international lingo with ease at the end of the course. Of course, many of the students then go on to gain international experiences later and share those experiences back with me, which I truly enjoy.

If you could dispel a misconception or give a “reality check” to students who think they are interested in international public health veterinary medicine, what would that be?

It is difficult to go directly into working internationally right after school if you have no experience. It will be important to create networks, learn about who the important international organizations are such as OIE, FAO, and WHO, and what their different roles are. Recognize that many of the initial opportunities may need to be volunteer opportunities, and focus on what you can contribute as well as what you want to learn. Too many students focus on wanting to just have fun, or what they want to learn. It is important to recognize that whoever is hosting you is contributing a lot of time to mentor and host you. Be sure to let them know that you want to contribute and help them too – it needs to be a two-way street.

What are the journals, web sites, blogs, books, and other resources that students interested in public health and international veterinary medicine should be reading?

I would suggest keeping up with websites for the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), CDC, the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA), and the World Health Organization. ProMED is also a great information source – you can sign up for news alerts on otubreaks around the world. Finally, a great book to read is Tending Animals in the Global Village: A Guide to International Veterinary Medicine, by David Sherman.

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