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Developing a career in conservation medicine
  1. Anna Meredith


The University of Edinburgh's online distance learning programme in conservation medicine leads to the award of a masters degree, a diploma or a certificate. Programme director Anna Meredith describes who the course is aimed at and what is on offer

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CONSERVATION medicine is an emerging discipline that studies the complex relationships and interactions between animal health, human health and ecosystem health. The University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies distance learning programme in conservation medicine is aimed at veterinary graduates worldwide (BVMS or equivalent) who wish to pursue a career in this rapidly developing field, in academia, research, governmental and non-governmental organisations and consultancies.

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There is rising global concern about anthropogenic impacts on ecological health, leading to loss of biodiversity and modification of ecological processes, increasing global toxification, pathogen pollution and global climate change. The emergence or re-emergence of infectious disease as a result of these anthropogenic changes has major impacts on human and animal health and on conservation of animal species. Thus conservation medicine shares a similar philosophy to the ‘One Health’ concept, but is also closely allied with the values of conservation biology and the management of endangered populations. It is interdisciplinary, requiring input from veterinary and human medicine, ecology, biology, epidemiology, public health and social and political science.

We launched the conservation medicine programme in 2012 to provide vets with the skills and knowledge required to be effective practitioners of conservation medicine, and to enable them to assist in the development of solutions to complex ecological health issues, and in the conservation of endangered wildlife. We aim to provide a dynamic learning experience by providing in-depth training in a modular flexible format. This makes it ideal for vets who wish to achieve an award while maintaining busy professional and personal commitments.

Programme aims

The programme aims to enable students to:

▪  Acquire knowledge about conservation medicine and the interactions between animal, human and ecosystem health;

▪  Acquire specific veterinary skills applicable to conservation medicine;

▪  Understand how a conservation medicine approach can be applied in a range of practical situations;

▪  Be able to interpret and communicate scientific results and information in research and other forms of social debate, across other related scientific disciplines and to other stakeholders.

Within the courses, ecosystem health, species conservation, applied epidemiology and interventions for conservation medicine are studied, alongside wildlife disease management, conservation genetics, wild animal welfare and zoonotic diseases. Participants can choose to study part time over one, two or three years to certificate, diploma or masters degree level, or up to six years by intermittent study. Using the interactive online learning environment allows students to communicate with expert tutors and fellow students from the comfort of their own home or workplace.

Years 1 and 2 consist of the taught element and year 3 comprises the written reflective element. Each year is made up of three 11-week terms structured into two blocks of five weeks of study, with a week in between for independent study and reflection. The written reflective element provides an opportunity to further develop scientific skills and use scientific theory; it allows a choice of a written dissertation, a casebook relating to relevant professional experience, a personal portfolio of reflective and practical activity, or a short research project.

Learning outcomes

In delivering this programme, we aim to:

▪  Enhance knowledge and understanding of conservation medicine from a global perspective, in order to enable effective veterinary participation in this complex interdisciplinary field;

▪  Enhance knowledge and skills relating to the diseases of wild animals and veterinary aspects of the conservation of endangered species;

▪  Assess, assimilate and apply scientific evidence, which may be limited or incomplete, to real-life situations and develop appropriate, timely and adaptable responses and solutions to conservation medicine challenges;

▪  Provide a first-class learning experience, leading to the development of proactive, independent, reflective and lifelong learners.

Programme delivery

The programme is delivered in an online environment that provides a dynamic and collaborative learning experience. Assessment of progress is achieved by presentations, essays, critical reviews of literature, student self-reflection activities, short answer questions, scientific posters, group wiki events and peer review activities. In addition to the core learning, the programme allows students to enhance their interpersonal, self-management, IT, team working and project management skills. More information is available at

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