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Reflections on planetary health: WashU offers One Health

Written by Leah Fine, undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis

Fall 2018 was the first semester that Introduction to One Health (EnSt 250) was offered at Washington University. Using an interdisciplinary approach, this course allowed discussion of the multitude of fields that are necessary as we approach conservation and public health challenges and work for planetary health, including politics, economics, and religion.

Taught by two leading One Health professionals, Dr. Sharon L. Deem of the Saint Louis Zoo and Dr. Solny Adalsteinsson of Washington University’s Tyson Research Center, this course helped expose Washington University students to the significant planetary health challenges and how these challenges are usually, if not always, interconnected. Guest lecturers also helped students see the variety of health-related career opportunities in fields spanning public health, microbiology, and journalism. Students were also given multiple opportunities to practice the skills discussed in class that will help them as the next generation of One Health practitioners.

Students worked on a variety of projects that included research on human, animal, and environmental—the One Health Triad—components of planetary health.  Topics included human lead poisoning in St. Louis, chytridiomycosis in amphibians, food waste, and palm oil production and usage, among many others.

The projects were completed in groups of six to seven students, which also helped students practice their teamwork skills, which is essential, given the importance of interdisciplinary teams when tackling One Health problems.

As a student in the course this past fall, what I most appreciated about the course, and what I think many other students will appreciate, is how One Health encourages uniqueness and creativity. I have found that these values can often be discouraged, especially among the sciences, in which extreme specialization is often encouraged. This course emphasized the importance of being aware to how everything is interconnected. So, although no one person can be an expert in every health-related field, they should be open to and proactive in building a team of experts to tackle One Health challenges.

I think an important take-away message from this course was to study and pursue a career that you love, no matter what that may be, because there will be a place for you on a One Health team.

Co-instructor Dr. Sharon Deem co-authored the book “Introduction to One Health: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Planetary Health.” This book offers an accessible, readable introduction to the burgeoning field of One Health with a thorough introduction to the who, what, where, when, why, and how of One Health. The book presents an overview of the One Health movement viewed through the perspective of different disciplines; encompasses disease ecology, conservation, and veterinary and human medicine; includes interviews from persons across disciplines important for the success of One Health; and case studies in each chapter to demonstrate real-world applications.