Kelley Steury (left) and Andrea Perkins (right) are pictured at an event promoting the Public & One Health undergraduate degree program in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine launched a new undergraduate degree program this semester that aspires to prepare students to solve pressing local and global health issues.
Public & One Health (PAOH) degree program Co-Developer Dr. Andrea Perkins explains that first and foremost this is a public health program. Public health is a scientific discipline that focuses on preventing illness and promoting health in populations.
But it has a unique spin with One Health acting as its guiding principle, which means the program “emphasizes the interconnectedness and mutual interdependency of humans, animals and the environment,” according to the PAOH website.
“We are hoping this program is an important way Auburn University can meet a critical societal need,” said Perkins.
Materials distributed at a Public & One Health undergraduate degree program event are pictured.
The need for a Public & One Health major
Developing an undergraduate degree program was outlined in the college’s strategic plan. Amid the pandemic, Perkins and Co-Developer Dr. Kelley Steury started formulating program ideas. They brought their diverse public health backgrounds to the task but with similar goals.
“We worked with several groups across campus. We wanted the concept of One Health and collaboration to be built into the program’s fabric. We didn’t want to just say things, we wanted to do them,” said Perkins.
After conducting an external market analysis, Perkins and Steury realized the need for the PAOH degree program.
They learned there’s a strong regional and national need for public health professionals with bachelor-level training to enter the workforce. Also, they understood this program would serve the state of Alabama, which consistently ranks as one of the nation’s least healthy states.
Andrea Perkins (left) and Kelley Steury (right) are featured teaching students about the Public & One Health undergraduate degree program in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
One Health as guiding principle
One Health is the guiding principle for the PAOH program, but what is it?
Perkins said, “One Health focuses on addressing health challenges by exploring human, animal and environmental factors that may contribute to different problems. It seeks to improve the health of all species in our ecosystem — not by working in silos, but by collaborating, communicating and coordinating to explore all facets of a problem, not just one component.”
Perkins also promotes the concept’s emphasis on taking meaningful action to improve local and global health.
“One Health is very focused on action: how we need to develop, implement, assess and modify. Ideally, we aim to promote more meaningful and actionable steps toward the long-term improvement of health,” said Perkins.
Drawing on knowledge and expertise from different disciplines to understand health problems is what One Health is all about. And that’s exactly how Perkins and Steury went about creating the program.
Reaching out within Auburn
The development of the program started with simple conversations. “This is how it happens,” said Perkins. “You reach out, talk to and engage people, see what they are offering. We have lots of space for people to contribute with different expertise.”
Diverse expertise is exactly what the program offers. Eight different colleges within Auburn University contribute important courses that cover various topics including health communications, data skills, social and behavioral health, disease ecology, environmental health, food safety and security, zoonotic diseases and more.
Perkins said, “Working with other experts makes us a stronger program. People were enthusiastic and excited to participate.”
“This program will play a critical role in inspiring a younger generation to improve the health and wellbeing of society.”
The PAOH degree program officially starts fall 2024. However, current Auburn students looking to change their major or add a second major can join the program now, with some students already enrolled.
Students interested in health and science are well-suited to this major. Within this degree, students may complete all courses required for entry into medical, veterinary, or other professional school, or graduate studies in public health or biomedical sciences. Graduates of this program also have the option to begin working in entry-level careers in public health.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is to enroll students who truly want to be in this program — they must be passionate about public health,” said Perkins.
Perkins is excited about what this program means for Auburn, its students, the state of Alabama and the world beyond.
“I am excited about offering something new that is important,” said Perkins. “This program will play a critical role in inspiring a younger generation to improve the health and wellbeing of society.”