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Best and brightest

  • Goldy Gopher leaning on the block M from the University of Minnesota logo

    Best and brightest

    After nearly 20 years, the DVM/MPH program maintains an expansive tradition of excellence. 

Since 2002, the University of Minnesota’s DVM/MPH dual degree program has given students the opportunity to combine their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) studies at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) with the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University’s School of Public Health (SPH). This dual degree allows students to gain expertise and experience in areas such as community health, epidemiology, zoonotic diseases, food safety, and emergency response. Today, under the direction of professor Larissa Minicucci, DVM, MPH, the program has four official partner universities and enrolls roughly 25 U of M CVM students. In addition, nearly 150 students are enrolled remotely from 19 different universities nationwide. It is by far the largest program of its kind in the US. 

Sarah Summerbell
Sarah Summerbell, major coordinator for the DVM/MPH program

But how do students arrive at the crossroads of veterinary medicine and public health? And what do they find there? 

“We find that either our students are already passionate about public health, so they apply and start the MPH at the same time as they start vet school,” says Sarah Summerbell, major coordinator for the program and education specialist at the CVM, “Or they get into vet school and they start learning all the different things that a veterinarian can do and they think, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know this was an option—I’d really like to get some public health training!’” 

Igniting interest 

One such student was Tatum Odland, now a third year DVM student at the CVM. Odland became interested in serving the public as a veterinarian—ideally working for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or Food Safety Inspection Service. Luckily, DVM/MPH students gain the experience and knowledge needed to pursue public service careers. 

“It all started in the Production Animal Medicine Club,” Odland says. “They hosted a veterinarian who works for USDA. She did a presentation on how vets are involved in disease outbreak investigations. I remember after that, I called my dad and said, ‘I think I know what I want to do now!’ So I applied to the DVM/MPH program after talking to some people and realizing that you really need an MPH to be competitive in the public service field.” 

Until that club meeting, Odland never realized public service was a field veterinarians contributed to. But since the US exports more food animals than it imports, public service veterinarians are vital in keeping the economy flowing. “Public service vets help make sure that other countries continue to accept our animals,” says Odland, who feels she will be best equipped for a career in public service with a background in public health and tacked an MPH on to her DVM. 

Tatum Odland, a DVM/MPH student, at USDA-APHIS

Photo courtesy of Tatum Odland

Odland spent a week in Washington, D.C., this summer for the Smith-Kilborne Program through USDA-APHIS (pictured above). The program, which is designed to acquaint veterinary students with various foreign animal diseases that could potentially threaten the domestic animal population in the United States, includes both laboratory experiences and classroom presentations on diseases and their implications. She heard of the program through Summerbell, who advertised the opportunity to students currently pursuing their DVM/MPH at the U of M.

The sky’s the limit 

The program’s alumni travel many different career paths. According to Summerbell, roughly one-third become private practitioners. “Some want to practice for a couple of years after graduation because that’s what they went to vet school for,” she says. “Then we have one-third who go into government. Some graduates go into residency and other training programs.” Sometimes alumni interested in more academic specifics, such as epidemiology, pursue PhD’s. 

Recent program graduates run the professional gamut, including conducting women’s mission work in Ethiopia, acting as the state of Michigan’s wildlife veterinarian, and serving in the US Army in food safety. 

Shannon Mesenhowski
Shannon Mesenhowski

Shannon Mesenhowski, ’10 DVM, ’11 MPH, is now a program officer for the Livestock and Agriculture Development Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, Mesenhowski completed a one-year fellowship in the Bureau for Food Security at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where she worked on Feed the Future, a presidential initiative. The fellowship was made possible by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. “The reason I got this fellowship was because I had the DVM/MPH degree,” she says. “I knew plenty of highly capable veterinarians previously not accepted, and the degree really gave me a leg up.” 

After the internship, Mesenhowski joined USAID’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance as a livestock advisor on droughts, disease outbreaks, and famine. “I spent most of my time in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak serving as a health advisor, which is a role typically held by a human physician or a public health professional,” says Mesenhowski. “That was one role I know I got specifically because of the DVM/MPH after my name.” 

No matter where they end up, Summerbell says the vast majority of alumni are glad they did the program. Alumni in private practice, for example, sing its praises despite not working in public health directly. “They think about their medical practice differently because they are thinking more about populations and how diseases impact community health, which is different than your standard clinical medical training where you are looking at one animal at a time,” says Summerbell. 

Front-runners in the field 

Goldy Gopher running

What sets the U of M’s program apart is that it does not require students to commit up front, which frees them to explore their academic and professional interests before applying. “There isn’t really another veterinary public health DVM/MPH program out there with the same flexibility we have,” Summerbell says. 

While other universities may have veterinary public health programs, they are usually administered quite differently than the U’s DVM/MPH program. Students from these universities often end up applying to the U instead because of the program’s flexibility. They can then complete their coursework remotely. 

“We often had the chance to interact with students from across the country, which was really cool,” says Mesenhowski. “I have crossed paths with these classmates in different ways over the course of my career, especially as I have relocated—I run into people all the time. The University of Minnesota is really at the forefront of the DVM/MPH because the U's program creates a lot of opportunities for connections and networking.” 

A requirement specific to the U of M’s program is that students must attend one Summer Public Health Institute (PHI) while pursuing their DVM/MPH. PHI is a three-week summer intensive session, hosted by SPH, that offers courses for students and practicing professionals in public health and related fields. Participants can build or expand their professional expertise, learn best practices, embark on field trips, broaden their career options, network with other professionals, or explore new areas of interest. Students remotely enrolled in the DVM/MPH program may have to travel far to attend, but Summerbell says they are always glad they did after mixing and mingling with veterinary educators, professionals in the field, and fellow students. 

As long as students apply to the MPH program while they are enrolled in a DVM program, participate in one Summer Public Health Institute, and complete the program’s degree requirements in five years, they are awarded their degree. Whether they use it to round out their clinical skills, advance international trade and the food animal industry, or mitigate infectious diseases that cross human, animal, and ecosystem health boundaries, students from all over the country will benefit from this preeminent dual degree program. 

Headshot of Sarah Summerbell by John Stromberg
Headshot of Shannon Mesenhowski by Amanda Stombaugh

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