Jennifer Lane, Field Director of the Rx One Health Field Institute, has long wanted to offer a version of the typically four-week institute, usually held in Tanzania and Rwanda, in California. The pandemic has pushed that to happen sooner than she’d thought: this July.
“California has some of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, and we’re also faced with some of the greatest global challenges with regards to wildfire and climate change and issues around equity and health care,” said Lane. Lane is also a field veterinarian with the UC Davis One Health Institute, which runs the field institute.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to bring a One Health approach, knowledge, and expertise to some of the challenges that we experience right here, domestically, in this state that I care a lot about,” she added.
One Health views human health as intertwined with the health of the environment and the plants and animals that live in it. Solving or coping with challenges caused or exacerbated by climate change, such sea level rise, drought, and food insecurity, will require experts from a variety of disciplines working together and with communities globally.
The application process for this year’s institute is open until January 31, 2021. Typically, 22 graduate students and early to mid-career professionals from around the world are selected. Disciplines represented have included medicine, public health, veterinary medicine, basic sciences, agriculture, animal science, international development, environmental resources, wildlife conservation, law, and engineering.
In years past, participants have come from five continents and a mix of low- and high-income countries. Due to anticipated COVID-related travel restrictions, the organizers expect to have Americans more heavily represented this year, but will work to create a diverse group, Lane said.
The institute takes a multidisciplinary approach to covering topics that include epidemiology, ecosystems, conservation, biosecurity, and laboratory and research methods. Participants are also taught how to translate research into policy and engage with communities, and how to work in teams and develop leadership skills.
In the process, the institute provides an invaluable immersion learning experience and fosters a professional network and partnerships that prove important for participants’ careers long term, said Woutrina Smith, Co-Director of the UCGHI Planetary Health Center of Expertise.
“Bringing together graduate students and early career professionals from different areas of expertise, to really spend time together talking about the One Health approach and action; being able to see it and talk with stakeholders and community members about their challenges, is very powerful,” Smith said. Students learn that “not just one person has all the answers” and how to work together for sustainable solutions.
“That’s been a really special thing and has changed a lot of lives and career trajectories for participants in the past,” she added.
The institute grew out of an earlier program, Envirovet, co-led by the University of Illinois and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine from 1991 to 2015. When researchers at UC Davis realized Envirovet would sunset, they worked to start a new program inspired by it. The first institute was held in 2017.
How important it was to continue Envirovet’s goals came home to Smith through her role as the Principal Investigator of the USAID-funded One Health Workforce—Next Generation Project, a program to train health professionals around the world, with a new phase that launched in 2019.
For example, Dr. Irene Naigaga, the Program Manager for AFROHUN, the regional hub for One Health university training across nine countries in Africa, is an Envirovet graduate, Smith said.
“This type of experiential learning, and building a network of colleagues that you can stay in touch with over time to really help inspire each other and share lessons learned, has been very motivational,” for Dr. Naigaga, Smith said. “It has turned into a job that she loves, where she can really help foster the One Health approach all across Africa.”
For Lane, that students learn through the institute exactly how they can make a difference in the world is another valuable part of it.
“A lot of students know that they want to work towards earth being a better place, but they don’t necessarily know how to align their training and their skill sets in the right way yet,” she said. “This course offers them a wide range of experiences so that they can align what they like with what they have been trained to do and what there’s a need for.”
In this year’s institute, participants will start a two-week program July 11, 2021 with a course introduction at UC Davis. They will then move on to the northern Sierra Nevada mountains for hands-on work in wildlife diseases, ecology, and watershed restoration. Next, they’ll head to the Hastings Natural History Reservation on the Carmel River for a week to study coastal ecosystems.
The reservation is near the agricultural center of Salinas, which will provide an opportunity to also cover food security, food systems, local food production, and farmworkers’ health.
“California has lot of fantastic stakeholders and really big challenges: we’re providing food for the world,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of issues around farming in the 21st century that we can really explore in California.”
During the final days of the institute, participants will work together in small groups on capstone projects.
For Lane, while COVID-19 has derailed the usual plans for the institute and forced it to be shortened, the pandemic illustrates why the work she and other institute organizers do is so important.
Preventing future pandemics will require groups that have traditionally been in silos, such as health care providers, environmentalists, wildlife conservationists, and veterinarians, “to work together at the interface of complex problems, instead of solving for individual issues.”
“The importance of a One Health approach has never been more obvious,” she added.