While veterinarians are largely associated with caring for household pets, they are very much at the forefront of human health as well, overseeing the quality of food that is harvested, purchased, and consumed. One St. George’s University veterinary student, Abigail Maynard, enjoyed the unique opportunity to spend part of her summer with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Volunteer Student Program (VSP).
Established to provide training to students with an interest in food safety and public health, the Volunteer Student Program enabled Ms. Maynard to shadow a veterinarian for four weeks. She visited several plants and witnessed firsthand the basics of meat inspection from a veterinarian point of view.
“Without public health veterinarians doing this job, you couldn’t eat a hamburger, a hot dog, or even a chicken nugget until each one had been individually inspected and passed for human consumption,” said the Term 5 SVM student.
The field of food safety and inspection highlights the large impact that public health veterinarians have on human health. Veterinarians are trained to know what a healthy animal is supposed to look like. They have spent years studying the pathology and all the various zoonotic diseases associated with animals.
Like many students, Ms. Maynard didn’t initially think of food safety when she decided to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. Raised on a farm in Barbados, she remembers growing up around animals and always wanting to ensure that they were healthy. It wasn’t until later when she became aware of the relationship between human medicine and veterinary medicine that she realized the importance of public health veterinarians and the impact they have on the safety of our food.
As the President of the Production Animal Medicine Club under the Large Animal Society at SGU, Ms. Maynard jumped at the chance to take part in the VSP. She wanted to be able to later share what she’d learned with her fellow club members about the importance of public health veterinarians from a student and not a lecturer’s perspective. By sharing her experience, Ms. Maynard hoped that she would generate interest not just amongst veterinary students but in the One Health One Medicine initiative with medical students as well.
“With all of the advances due to globalization, there is now an increase in animal transportation and the importation of beef and chicken, therefore it’s critical to maintain the security of the food we eat because without it we can all become very sick,” cautioned Ms. Maynard. She hopes that by highlighting the need for more public health veterinarians she can encourage her fellow vet students to also choose a career in food safety, especially since the USDA, FSIS and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are all grossly underserved areas in veterinary medicine.
After making some great contacts this summer, she feels that she now has one foot in the door for her potential dream job with the USDA after she completes her degree.
“Not only has this experience been a great boost for my resume, it has also provided me with the necessary training in order to do this job,” she said. “I feel like I have a head start compared to other students and I can start working at my dream job straight out of school.”
By Ray-Donna Peters