“They learn to work as teams, veterinarians with physicians and agricultural scientists, on the same problems,” said Wilkes, one of the program’s organizers.
This on-the-ground experience can bring some fresh insights. For example, when UC Davis veterinary student Taylor Calloway visited a Tanzanian fishing village, she assumed the villagers would need clean water and better housing. Instead, the locals’ main concerns were attacks by hippos and crocodiles that prevented them working.
At the undergraduate level, UC Davis’ major in global disease biology exposes students to the complexities of health care in a dynamic and complex world. David Rizzo, professor of plant pathology who helped spearhead the major in 2014, described it as a “super-sized public health major.”
The major capitalizes on the unique opportunities present on the UC Davis campus. Through transdisciplinary courses taught by professors in different departments across the schools of medicine and veterinary medicine and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, students learn about changing environments, infectious diseases, health policy and different cultures — and how these seemingly unrelated threads intertwine in a global health network.
“In order to solve some of these really big picture health issues, we can’t just consider human health,” said Rizzo.
Students complete a senior research project that allows them to bridge disciplines, receive faculty mentorship, and get behind the lab bench or out in the field. Gaining tangible experience augments their understanding of disease.
In February 2018, the World Health Organization updated its Blueprint list of diseases that should be a priority for accelerated research and development. These are diseases that experts judge could cause a public health emergency but lack effective vaccines or treatments.
Among those on the list were Ebola and Marburg viruses, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus and SARS virus, Zika virus — and “Disease X,” representing “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” according to WHO.
UC Davis is a leader in training a new generation of health workers and is continually collaborating and innovating to find and stop future pandemics.