On Nov. 7, the One Health Working Group based in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) 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 composed of 12 graduate and professional students representing VMCVM’s veterinary, public health, and biomedical and veterinary sciences programs. In addition, the group includes student liaisons from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). 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 competition, 60 students formed 15 teams. Participating were Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) students from VMCVM, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine students from VCOM, Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) students from VTCSOM, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students from VMCVM, master’s and Ph.D. students from VMCVM’s biomedical and veterinary sciences graduate program (BMVS),  and students from several other 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 who 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.

Each student team was scored according to 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 and VMCVM Dean Daniel Givens.

Members of the first-place team were M.D. students Shyam Bhatt, Ellen Shrontz, and Sarah Yosief and M.P.H. students Chapman Courtney and Kirsten Kohl, who noted the benefits of working in an interprofessional group to solve the cases.

“Having three M.D. students was extremely helpful in providing the human-health perspective that many of these cases needed, while having two M.P.H. 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 BMVS Ph.D. student Lauren Panny, M.P.H. students Madison Bautista and Livia Richards, and M.D. student Satya Vedula, 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, M.P.H. student Camelia Hahn, accelerated-undergraduate-to-M.P.H. student Mikayla Hearne, and M.D. students Caroline Kim and Doug Murray, emphasized the skills they relied on to be successful in the event, especially valuing cooperation, active listening, and communication.

“Throughout the competition, we were able to use our own perspectives and 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.

Written by Hannah Menefee, public health program coordinator