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Annual event brings together interprofessional student teams to solve cases using a One Health approach

On Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s (VMCVM) One Health Working Group held its annual One Health Case Competition in conjunction with International One Health Day, which falls on Nov. 3 every year. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s event was held virtually on Zoom. 

The One Health Working Group is made up of 12 graduate and professional students who represent VMCVM’s veterinary, public health, and biomedical and veterinary sciences programs. In addition, the group includes student liaisons from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM). The group’s goal is to host events and activities that improve interprofessional communication and collaboration among students and promote a One Health approach to understanding and solving complex health issues.

For the 2020 competition, 60 students representing public health, medical, veterinary, and graduate programs formed 15 teams. Participating were MPH students from Virginia Tech, DO students from VCOM, MD students from VTCSOM, DVM students from VMCVM, MS and PhD students from VMCVM’s Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences (BMVS) program, and students from several Virginia Tech graduate programs, including Science Technology and Society, Biological Systems Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Economics, and the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.  

Using a One Health approach, the student teams worked to solve three cases created by the One Health Working Group: assessing the potential environmental and public health risks of a dam construction; developing a risk communication and disease mitigation strategy for a possible connection in outbreaks among poultry and poultry workers; and determining the cause of an outbreak among livestock and if a link existed with cases of unusual illness among individuals that process the livestock for food. For each case, student teams were allotted one hour to discuss the case, devise a solution, and determine how to present their findings to the judges.

Screenshot from the One Health case competition
Some of the participants and judges for the 2020 One Health Case Competition. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event was held via Zoom.

Each student team was scored via established criteria, including teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity, by a judging panel of Virginia Tech and VCOM research and administrative faculty and public health professionals from external agencies and organizations, including the New River Health District. Joining the judges this year were VTCSOM Dean Lee Learman VMCVM Dean Daniel Givens.

Members of the first-place team were Shyam Bhatt (MD student), Chapman Courtney (MPH student), Kirsten Kohl (MPH student), Ellen Shrontz (MD student), and Sarah Yosief (MD student), who noted the benefits of working in an interprofessional group to solve the cases.

“Having three MD students was extremely helpful in providing the human health perspective that many of these cases needed, while having our two MPH students offered a big picture perspective on community health,” said the first-place team.

“Our diversity of backgrounds allowed us to collaborate efficiently and fully evaluate every case in its entirety in addition to just health aspects.” 

When asked how interprofessional skills are important for their respective professions, the team members said, “In our future careers, we will absolutely use interprofessional team skills just as we did in the case competition. Interprofessionalism allows for more extensive understanding of real-world problems and provides more knowledge and solutions. As future doctors and public health professionals, we know that interprofessionalism will continue to be pertinent in solving health-related issues.”

Earning second-place were Madison Bautista (MPH student), Lauren Panny (BMVS PhD student), Livia Richards (MPH student), and Satya Vedula (MD student), who echoed the appreciation for working in an interprofessional group to evaluate the cases.

“It was really enlightening to see how each of us was able to bring in background knowledge of our field and use it to shape our argument. Even as we made individual contributions, that balance gave us the chance to work as a cohesive unit,” said the second-place team.

Members of the third-place team emphasized the skills they relied on to be successful in the event. Camelia Hahn (MPH student), Mikayla Hearne (accelerated undergraduate to MPH student), Caroline Kim (MD student), and Doug Murray (MD student) valued cooperation, active listening, and communication. “Throughout the competition, we were able to use our own perspectives, past experiences, and learn from each other's viewpoints,” said the third-place team. “Doing so allowed us to think critically about micro- and macro-level aspects of each case and really consider options that we would have otherwise overlooked individually.”

Upon announcing the winning teams, the judges noted how impressed they were with the quality of work that the students were able to put together in such a short amount of time and how the event provided great examples of interdisciplinary teamwork. 

One judge noted that the students seem “ready to protect us from the next pandemic!” while another highlighted the excellent interactions across the groups, each of which contained a blend of backgrounds and levels of expertise. The organizers also received praise for successfully moving the event to a virtual format and managing the complicated logistics inherent in a virtual competition.