The College of Veterinary Medicine opened its new Department of Public Health and Ecosystem Health on October 25th after extensive campus deliberation. This is the sixth academic division in the college and the first new division in more than 20 years.
“This department brings together the College of Veterinary Medicine’s programs and activities that are already pursuing a one-health approach, and will combine interdisciplinary work that benefits human, animal and environmental welfare,” said Lorin D. Warnick, DVM , Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “The division brings together veterinarians, researchers, and public health practitioners to address critical health problems through education, research, and community engagement.”
“The establishment of this division at the College of Veterinary Medicine is an important step for Cornell to prepare the next generation of scientists for the complex health challenges posed by changes in climate, animal habitats and human behavior. The new department will house Cornell’s outstanding public health program, ”said Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff, who served as Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine from 2007-2015.
Founding chairman will be Dr. Alexander Travis, professor of reproductive biology and director of the Cornells Master of Public Health Program.
“It’s an honor to help build this unique department,” said Travis. “Most academic departments are organized around either a specific subject or a common disciplinary approach. Instead, we’re bringing together lecturers from different professions and disciplines to work together to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. ”
The challenges are grouped around three main themes: healthy food systems, which encompass everything from food production to consumption and the related effects on nutrition and health; emerging health threats addressing issues such as novel infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance and climate change; and the conservation of the biodiversity necessary to sustain the systems on which all life depends.
These challenges effectively boil down to two things, Travis said – sustainability and equity. “Many of the worst problems that plague us today result from unsustainable ways people interact with other species and the environment and the unjust way we interact with one another,” said Travis.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic shows the need for a division to focus on these interrelated issues, he said.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a great example of how unsustainable wildlife use and unsafe food systems combined have enabled a new infectious disease to emerge,” said Travis. “And we’ve seen the worst effects of the pandemic have been borne by the most vulnerable among us, here in the US and around the world.”
In addition to emerging infectious diseases, the three topics of the department encompass a multitude of interrelated problems facing humanity. Climate change affects human health and food production, and increases the frequency of historical disasters such as fires and floods, which can harm people and lead to the extinction of wildlife. Poverty and discrimination affect people’s diet, environmental pollution, stress and more. And biodiversity loss is decreasing human sources of food and medicine, making people more susceptible to disease, and reducing services that range from pollinating food crops to protecting people from storm damage to keeping the air and water clean.
Dealing with these complicated problems requires a wide range of disciplinary expertise – not only in veterinary medicine and healthcare, but also in the fields of ecology, social sciences and politics.
“Cornell has experts who are among the best in the world in their fields. We plan to build on this excellence in research, teaching and practice through university-wide collaborations so that we can maximize our impact in New York and beyond, ”said Travis.
The new department comprises 26 founding faculty members, all of whom come from other departments of the University of Veterinary Medicine. Each teaches in the veterinary curriculum and / or Master of Public Health Program, oversees graduate and professional undergraduate students in scientific research, and engages in clinical or public health practice.
The faculty plans to expand its programmatic offering for students, including combinations of degree programs – such as DVM / MPH, MS / MPH, and Ph.D./MPH – as students increasingly need to take a multidisciplinary, systems-based approach while attempting the Tackle the world’s problems in their careers.
Travis is well suited to lead a department that combines many different focuses for comprehensive problem solving. His research covers a wide variety of topics, including human and animal fertility, and efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries, work that indirectly benefits local wildlife. He was the college’s assistant dean of international programs and public health and is the founding director of the Masters of Public Health program.
Warnick said, “The Department of Public and Ecosystem Health builds on our college’s roots and long history of contributing to advances in public health – and is another way that Cornell addresses the challenges facing humanity, animal life and ours Planets. “