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Professionals trained in environmental and global health study the impact of our surroundings upon human health. Given the global nature of our environment, this research often takes on an international perspective. Traditionally, environmental health research was defined exclusively to the study of environmental toxins and their potential linkage to human diseases like asthma, cancer, and food poisoning. However, increasingly, environmental health professionals are also becoming concerned with how infectious diseases in the environment can affect human health. Such emerging infectious disease research looks at how environmental exposures such as dengue, antimicrobial resistant bacteria, and cholera ultimately impact human health.
Environmental and global health professionals make up approximately half of public health personnel and the field accounts for about half of all public health expenditures. Students interested in environmental and global health typically have a background in biological or physical sciences, engineering, nursing, medicine, and veterinary medicine. Prior experience in chemistry, biology, and statistics is desirable.
At the University of Florida, the Department of Environmental and Global Health is growing rapidly and developing a broad portfolio of training programs. Our present training programs include:
Some disease problems are difficult to tackle when using only a traditional environmental health approach. Good examples of this include diseases which involve the environment, animals, and humans. The control of these diseases requires partnerships among multiple disciplines. For instance, some of the pathogenic E. coli are reservoired in animals. Controlling pathogenic E. coli contamination in food requires collaborations between veterinary, public health, environmental health, and food safety professionals.
In particular, emerging zoonotic infections (avian influenza virus, SARS virus, monkeypox virus, Nipah virus, shiga toxin-producing E. coli, etc.) are extremely complex problems. As the prevalence of these infections continue to rise, so too does the importance of their control. By utilizing a cross-disciplinary approach to control human, animal, and environmental risk factors for disease transmission, we can discover better solutions to these complex diseases. This interdisciplinary approach has been termed the One Health approach (Figure 1). The One Health concept is perhaps best summarized by this quote from the American Veterinary Medical Association:
Although new opportunities have emerged to promote health in the rapidly changing human, animal, and environment domains, our ability to protect, improve, and advance health cannot be based on strategies and mindsets in the past. Rather, we need to adopt an integrated, holistic approach that reflects both our profound interdependence and the realization that we are part of a larger ecological system—exquisitely and elaborately connected.
While many organizations call for a cross-disciplinary One Health approach, there are no US degree programs that teach students to lead these complex collaborations. Comprised of sixteen different health science, engineering, and agriculture colleges, the University of Florida is uniquely positioned with experts in a variety of fields. To address this need and utilize our distinctive capabilities, the Department of Environmental and Global Health is developing several new training programs. We have obtained approval for two new One Health training programs starting Fall 2012:
- Master’s of Health Sciences, One Health concentration
- PhD in Public Health, One Health concentration