A New Breed of Vet
Alumni from the U of M Center for Animal Health and Food Safety address far-ranging problems that arise where animals and humans meet.
Animal and human health have long
been deeply intertwined. For instance,
with the ongoing Covid pandemic,
the importance of studying zoonotic
diseases—those that “spill” from animals
to humans—has moved to center stage.
But as populations across the globe
soar, helping ensure the world can
continue to safely raise animals while still
protecting both animal and human health
has become increasingly complicated.
The Center for Animal Health and Food Safety
(CAHFS) in the U of M’s College of Veterinary Medicine
(CVM) dedicates itself to these issues. CAHFS graduates go on to collaborate with partners across the
globe to ensure food safety and sustainability, as well as
Over the past 20 years, the Center has trained 350
graduate students, and its two-year residency has
graduated 50 specialized Veterinary Public Health and
Preventive Medicine (VPHPM) Residency alumni who
manage, anticipate, and mitigate complex problems
where human, animal, and ecosystem health meet.
Certified by the American College of Preventive
Veterinary Medicine Practitioners, the residency offers
training in food protection and defense, infectious
disease management, epidemiology and biostatistics,
public administration and education, and environmental
health and toxicology. The CAHFS residency is one
of only two of its kind in the nation. It also turned 20
in 2021, making it the oldest center of its kind in the
Nestled within the St. Paul campus, CAHFS is
currently working on 16 major projects in 13 countries
across five continents. Twenty-five partner countries
collaborate with the center on projects, as well as other
research and training.
And when residents finish their two-year stint, they
take their wide-ranging skills across the world, to industry, academia, government, think tanks, and more. One currently leads the CDC One Health unit in Thailand.
Another is embedded in U.S. Homeland Security. (Rene
Russo’s character in the 1995 pandemic film Outbreak
is also said to be based on a graduate of the U of M
On the front lines
CAHFS accepts veterinary professionals who want to
transition from a clinical career to more of a system-based, preventive medicine, public health-focused
career. Residents may unsnarl health hazards like E.
coli in leafy greens, tuberculosis, antibiotic resistance,
diseases like Covid-19, and more.
Auguste “Gus” Brihn (B.A. ’10, M.P.H. ’20) is a second-year CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer
in the Los Angeles County Department of Public
Health’s Acute Communicable Disease Control. He’s
been working on the Covid-19 response in Los Angeles
since graduating from the CAHFS residency.
“My role shifts depending on the need of the department,” he says. So far, it has included investigating how
the pandemic has impacted novel multidrug-resistant organisms in long-term care facilities; comparing
SARS-CoV-2 Laboratory PCR tests and point-of-care
antigen tests; assisting with the Covid vaccine roll-out;
and working with the Corrections and Detention Facility and Law Enforcement Covid-19 unit. Brihn has also
worked on both a giardia and canine influenza outbreak.
“[This EIS] program provided unparalleled training in applied epidemiology, which I was looking for,” he says, adding that CAHFS gave him foundational training in veterinary preventive medicine and public health.
Brihn says his wide-ranging studies taught him to
ask, “Who are the players (pathogens, government
agencies, regulations, surveillance databases, etc.)?
What roles do they have? And how do they interact?”
His basic understanding of these helped create a
jumping-off point for almost every scenario Brihn has
encountered so far in his role.
A far-flung network
“What drew me to public health were some of the
cases I handled when I was a clinical veterinarian,”
says Michael Mahero (M.P.H. ’14). He’s another of the
board-certified public health and preventive medicine
veterinarians who graduated from CAHFS. He’s also
dedicated most of his career to understanding the
dynamics of disease transmission among humans,
animals, and the environment. Today, he’s the VPHPM
“We are training emerging leaders who can step
into increasingly complex problems [and] can lead
us in generating solutions,” Mahero says. “It’s not just
training people to be technically proficient. It’s also
developing leadership potential. You need people with
different perspectives, and that is one of the unique
things about the residency. It brings together a cohort
of professionals … from environmental health, public
health, and human health.”
“We interpret veterinary public health in a broader
sense—not just zoonotic diseases,” says Andres
Perez, endowed chair of Global Animal Health and
Food Safety at CVM and the director of CAHFS. This
includes diseases or situations that don’t necessarily
impact human health directly but may negatively
impact the food productivity of animals.
Diseases like African Swine Fever (ASF)—a
contagious and deadly virus that infects swine, but not
humans—is one. ASF affects trade and food production and also batters ag economies in countries like
Vietnam, China, and the Dominican Republic.
“ASF is a huge concern for [swine] producers,”
Perez says. CAHFS researchers have spent years
learning more about the disease and collaborating with
countries like Vietnam to bolster the global capacity
to control ASF’s spread. The U.S. swine industry needs
those ties to Vietnam for trade as well as ASF tracking.
“We’re setting expectations, bridging cultures,
and navigating different agendas,” says Perez. “The
residents and graduate students we train are part of
the workforce that helps us implement those projects.”
A focus on equity
Lauren Bernstein (M.P.H. ’19, left) finished her CAHFS
residency in July 2020. Now an assistant professor
in community medicine at the CVM, Bernstein has
a background in companion animal practice and
community-engaged public health research. After vet
school, Bernstein worked in private practice for five
years. “But the residency was still top of mind,” she
says. “What really drove my interest in public health
was health disparities among humans and I wanted to
see how that came across in animals.”
Bernstein is particularly interested in understanding
how structural social, economic, political, or cultural
barriers affect access to information and care in a
veterinary setting. She also wants to address equity
challenges people face in accessing pet care. Transportation, language barriers, differences in cultural opinions
of pet ownership, transparency, trust—the list goes on.
As a result, Bernstein helped establish a partnership
with the Animal Humane Society and co-created a new
fourth-year clinical rotation for student vets there. The
AHS is a shelter system but also has two nonprofit vet
clinics, including one in the Frogtown neighborhood
in St. Paul, an area historically excluded from vet
resources, what Bernstein calls “a vet desert.”
The clinic is strategically placed on a key public
transit line near other community health resources. It’s
also a nonprofit and operates on a three-tiered pricing
structure, and costs are subsidized by external funding.
“People qualify for services based on income and
social services,” Bernstein says. “So, quality of care and
customer service are not sacrificed.”
Meanwhile, students in the rotation learn about
equitable vet care, how to practice within a budget, and how to serve clients with diverse needs, abilities,
access to information, and care interests.
Bernstein’s role at the CVM has all her favorite things,
she says; epidemiology, understanding disease trends
in communities, examining how active care impacts
disease trends and treatment outcomes, and research
and teaching. She started her CAHFS studies working
on a community project led by Tiffany Wolf (Ph.D. ’15),
a wildlife epidemiologist and CVM assistant professor.
Wolf collaborates with four tribal nations in Minnesota,
and one project included investigating a parasite that
could spill over from wildlife to domestic dogs.
Bernstein also serves as the adviser for the Student
Initiative for Reservation Veterinary Services (SIRVS), and
co-adviser for the Veterinary Treatment Outreach for
Urban Community Health (VeTouch). In these student-led
organizations, students run free clinics providing veterinary care to communities. SIRVS focuses on partnerships
with tribal communities across the state while VeTouch
works with local partners in the Twin Cities area.
“I feel so grateful to be in this work,” Bernstein says.
“I love getting us all to think about not just an individual
animal or population of animals, but about people,
communities, and societies that are a part of that
relationship. People are such a huge part of what we
do, so not talking about socio-political elements of that
limits the vet profession.”
Carolyn Bernhardt is a freelance medical and science writer based in Portland, Oregon.