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Undergraduate masterclass in veterinary public health
  1. Lewis Grant

Abstract

Veterinary public health is essential for protecting and promoting human health and yet is rarely at the top of the list of career choices for veterinary students. To raise awareness of the opportunities available to them in this field, the Veterinary Public Health Association is continuing the week-long masterclass started by Jill and Geoff Nute, offering students the chance to learn about the food production pathway. Lewis Grant fills in the background

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IN the last two years of their degree courses, veterinary students can gain experience of meat production and processing by spending several days in appropriate premises under the supervision of Official Veterinarians (OVs) who attend such premises. Guidance in veterinary public health for UK veterinary students is contained in a publication called ‘Getting Experience in the Food Sector: Meat Production and Processing’, which is produced by the Government Veterinary Surgeons network, the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA) and the British Meat Processors Association (representing the UK meat industry). This gives participating students indicators regarding topics for consideration during their time spent at the various production sites.

Since 2011, visits to abattoirs and other food-producing establishments have been part of the core curriculum for veterinary students in the UK and not left to extramural studies alone. Practical experience in abattoirs is crucial to providing undergraduate veterinary students with the skills necessary to satisfy the Day 1 competences required for accreditation by the RCVS in the UK and by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education.

Veterinary public health is an area of specialty in the profession that is often overlooked by undergraduates who are more attracted to disciplines providing direct involvement with domestic pets and farm animals or horses. However, for several years, students who wished to develop their knowledge and expertise in veterinary public health have had the opportunity to participate in an excellent masterclass organised by Jill and Geoff Nute near their practice in Cornwall. Students from UK veterinary schools were offered the opportunity to attend the course, which benefited from some financial support and input from the VPHA. I attended the course in a VPHA capacity in 2012 and 2013 and was impressed by the levels of enthusiasm shown by the students, most of whom, as the course progressed, became aware of the opportunities that are available to those wishing to pursue a career in veterinary public health.

Following their retirement in 2013, the Nutes understandably felt they could no longer fulfil the role of running an annual masterclass. The VPHA took the view that it should continue to promote and support the event, and it was agreed that a new annual course should be created, although owing to the logistics involved it could not be held in 2014.

From 2015, the new annual course in veterinary public health will be based in Scotland, around Glasgow university, offering the opportunity to visit relevant sites throughout Scotland. The week-long course is being organised by Alex Seguino from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh and Noelia Yusta of Glasgow veterinary school, both of whom are VPHA council members. Initially, one student from each of the veterinary schools will be invited to participate. The course will be held in June or July 2015, and the students will be offered university accommodation at Glasgow vet school.

Visits will be organised to a variety of food establishments where public health issues are relevant. Premises to be visited include red and white meat abattoirs, to study a number of slaughter, killing and processing methods, as well as food processing in low-risk (cutting plants) and high-risk (producing ready-to-eat products) environments; dairy products premises; the fish industry, including hatcheries, fish farms, processing plants and shellfish producers; the wild game industry (estate, game larder and processing plants); a wildlife park; and the Highland Show if it falls within the week of the course.

By the end of the week, the students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge of the fish and wild game industries; apply HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) principles to a variety of scenarios; raise awareness of public health issues in facilities supplying food to the public; and describe the importance of the role veterinarians play in public health. Course activities will include applying auditing principles, presenting findings to the group, and assessing premises visited during the week.

The VPHA will contribute to the costs of the course, demonstrating its commitment to providing opportunities for veterinary students with an interest in public health to gain experience in, and understanding of, the food industry by visiting relevant premises that may show them potential career paths available to them after graduation.

▪ The article ‘Following the food production pathway’ by Jill Nute, is available online at vetrecordjobs.com/vetrecordjobs/advice/view-article.html?id=178

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