Three veterinary students decide to earn a master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree while paying for a DVM degree
They come from different states and took different paths to get accepted into the DVM program at Oklahoma State University. And somewhere along the way, Kaitlin Agel of Yukon, Oklahoma, Cyrena Neill of Hudson, Colorado, and Mandy Odgers-Hall of The Woodlands, Texas, decided to do something their predecessors hadn’t done. They decided to earn a MPH degree while enrolled in the DVM program. There is no extra financial burden—just a huge time commitment.
“The biggest challenges have been time management and being the ‘guinea pigs’ of the program,” said Odgers-Hall. “It’s a brand new program so we are all figuring out the kinks together. I like staying busy and this definitely keeps me busy!”
Neill agreed and Agel added, “I think it would have been easier to start during our second year. In your third year you have surgery schedules to work around and hope that DVM tests don’t fall the same time as the test schedules in the master’s classes. And remembering how to write papers is also challenging. It’s been a long time since I had a 10-page research paper due.”
Neill wanted to become a veterinarian for as long as she can remember. Her two classmates were on different career paths when the ‘bug’ hit them to study veterinary medicine.
“I was involved in theatre growing up and always wanted to be an actress,” said Hall. “That transformed into news anchor. While earning my bachelor’s degree in Communications, I worked part-time as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic. I felt purpose in that job; purpose that I had never felt before. The veterinarians and veterinary technicians at the clinic were amazing. Their compassion and passion for their work inspired me to pursue veterinary medicine.”
For Agel, it was after she had completed her undergraduate degree and was working as a teacher that she decided to pursue a DVM degree.
“I taught high school for four years after earning my bachelor’s degree in Zoology,” Agel recalled. “While in college, I worked at the WildCare Foundation in Noble, Oklahoma, and enjoyed the medicine. I liked treating, bandaging, suturing, performing surgeries—the parts of working there that were very medically driven. So when I wasn’t teaching during the summer, I would work at small animal clinics to gain experience and learn more about the veterinary medicine profession.”
So once in veterinary college, when Dr. Chris Ross, associate dean for academic affairs, mentioned the dual DVM/MPH degree, what made these students decide to take on the extra burden?
“In the summer of 2014 I was completing a lab animal fellowship at MIT,” Agel said. “When I mentioned the MPH program to my mentor, she immediately said she wished that she had had that opportunity. So it made me think about it. The only extra cost is your time as it adds classes to an already full schedule.”
“I suppose I had never considered the global impact that veterinarians have,” stated Odgers-Hall. “As part of the vet med curriculum, we are required to take an Epidemiology class along with one or two food safety lectures. I was thoroughly intrigued. I am very passionate about One Health and think it should be all healthcare providers’ mission to live by it. When I found out OSU offered a joint MPH/DVM program, I felt that it not only would help me to better incorporate the One Health mission, but also expand my knowledge base on things like food safety that are very important to me.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website, One Health is the integrative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Veterinarians play critical roles in the health of animals, humans and even the environment. Veterinary medicine is the only profession that routinely operates at the interface of these three components of One Health.
“For me, it was about opening more doors and more job opportunities,” added Neill. “And the One Health concept interests me also. I hope to work where I can make a difference and help others understand why One Health is so important.”
During the spring 2015 semester, Agel, Neill and Odgers-Hall had the opportunity to visit with Gregory Parham, DVM, assistant secretary for administration with the United States Department of Agriculture. Parham was in Stillwater to visit USDA employees and spent time with a small group of faculty and students at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences talking about opportunities in public health for veterinarians.
Pictured above (left to right) are: Kaitlin Agel, DVM/MPH student; Dr. Tamara Gull, infectious diseases instructor; Ellen Jackson, DVM/PhD student; Dr. Jared Taylor, a MPH degree holder and epidemiology instructor; Dr. Gregory Parham, USDA; Lisandra Keller, Dean's office; and Cyrena Neill, DVM/MPH student. Also attending but not pictured were Dr. Robert Fulton, virologist and Regents Professor; Dr. Chris Ross, associate dean for Academic Affairs; and Mandy Odgers-Hall, DVM/MPH student.
"We (USDA) need veterinarians," said Parham. "The USDA is the largest employer of veterinarians in the country. While many veterinary students want to go into private practice, I tell them that in the USDA you will be in practice--public practice."
And once they graduate in May 2016 with their dual degrees, where will it lead these future veterinarians?
“Getting the MPH degree is opening an entirely different door for me,” Agel said. “I don’t think I will follow a traditional veterinary medicine career path in the future. For now, I’m pretty much doing what everyone else is; we are all in the same classes. I’ve gained experience in the lab animal field. I participated in the Centers for Disease Control day. Public health is very appealing to me and from what I’ve seen career wise, it is smart to get a master’s degree. So, why not get this master’s degree that could lead to a job with the Food Safety and Inspection Service or any other USDA program?”
“After graduation I hope to work in a rural area where I can make a difference,” Neill stated. “However, I haven’t ruled out working for government organizations like the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
“I’d like to go home for a bit and get some experience in private practice. Although, I have been looking into government programs that are currently looking for veterinarians,” added Hall. “I’ll be doing an externship with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in the summer of 2015 and with the CDC in the spring of 2016, so maybe I’ll have something figured out by then. I would like to use my MPH to help me gain entry into public service but I want to be in an environment where the people are just as passionate as I am.”
Agel, Hall and Neill are the first veterinary students to enroll in the DVM/MPH dual degree designation. All three are on track to graduate in May 2016. For more information about the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, visit www.cvhs.okstate.edu.