Written by Juhi Mattekatt.
Edited by Abby Arora and Paula Magbor.
ITR season is finally upon us! For many students, especially those in 2nd year, big decisions are being made. We here at Western One Health Club understand how overwhelming it can be to navigate this process, which is why we want to help make things easier for you. We've put together a concise information guide on One Health at Western that aims to provide you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions. Keep on reading to learn more about what One Health has to offer!
What is One Health?
This is the question that pretty much every person asks when they hear about One Health. Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer, but the important thing to remember is that it’s an approach that considers animal and environmental health in conjunction with human health. It also considers culture, economics, and global context to target health at a population level as opposed to an individual level. Essentially, One Health is an interdisciplinary approach that thrives best when different perspectives and views are considered. Looking into descriptions from the WHO and the CDC can further explain the concept. This comes into practice with issues like Lyme disease, which spreads to humans through tick bites. While this was once a relatively uncommon issue here in southern Ontario, there has been an alarming rise in Lyme disease rates due to urbanization, the growing range of ticks due to climate change, and increasing interactions between humans and tick-carrying wild animals. A One Health approach would be needed to tackle all the facets of this issue.
Is One Health the right fit for me?
The answer to this question ultimately depends on your personal preferences and interests. For example:
Do you prefer writing essays over taking exams?
Are you more drawn to studying population health rather than cell biology or biochemistry?
Are you interested in exploring policy or cultural practices?
Do you have a passion for ecology?
Are you curious about the impact of climate change on human health?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, then One Health may be a great fit for you!
Of course, there are many other reasons to go into One Health. When asked why she chose One Health, Karshana Suthakaran, a 3rd year double majoring in One Health and Physiology, said: "I like the interdisciplinary approach that One Health takes to the concept of health. In an anthropogenic society, it is imperative that health is looked at through the lens of animals and the environment as well. I also think that One Health is unifying and recognizes the connection we have to everything around us.”
Jordan Ramnarine, who’s in 4th year doing HSP One Health with a Major in Gender Studies, said: “I chose One Health because of the program's unique macroscopic and interdisciplinary approach to health. With a passion for improving the health and well-being of all living beings, I was interested in the idea of working collaboratively across disciplines to address global health challenges. Additionally, I was intrigued by the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in addressing complex health issues by conducting my own research. At the intersection of public health, veterinary medicine, and environmental science, this program provides a framework for understanding the interconnectedness of these fields and working towards improved health outcomes for all. Overall, the One Health program offers a unique and valuable perspective on health that can be applied to a variety of career paths.”
What courses will I have to take?
If you do an Honours Specialization (HSP) in One Health, you will undertake a fourth-year research project along with certain required courses listed here under Module/Program Information. For those doing a double major, fewer courses have to be taken, but there are still some requirements that must be completed. To get into either stream, you will need to take Biochem 2280, Bio 2382 (Cell Bio), Chem 2213 (Orgo 1), and Stats/Bio 2244 in second year. If you plan to do an HSP, it is recommended that you take Bio 2483 (ecology) and Chem 2210 (chemistry of the environment) before your third year to give you flexibility in your schedule later on. Chem 2210 must also be completed for the double major module.
The main modular courses you’ll take are One Health 3300, One Health 3600, and One Health 4100. These are all essay-based courses, with One Health 3300 and One Health 3600 both forgoing an exam and instead having a group project (which usually involves an essay and a presentation). HSP students will also take One Health 4980E, which will be the research project course.
Karshana’s favourite course was One Health 3600 with Dr. Frisbee, saying, “it opened my eyes to the concept of One Health, and I really like the way the lectures were set up. Each week, we were able to look into one topic in detail and discuss not only how it contributed to the overall One Health approach, but also how we could use it in our own projects.”
For those of you wondering what it’s like to write a thesis, Jordan has some experience: “Writing an undergraduate thesis project is an intensive process that involves a significant amount of research, analysis, and writing. However, despite its challenges, I think that the experience of being in direct control of the project can be incredibly rewarding. One of the benefits of working on a thesis project is the ability to gear your research to your own interests. For example, with my interest in Indigenous health equity, I tailored my project to focus on ecofeminism and queer Indigenous health within the climate crisis. I have even been able to use concepts and theories from various classes, such as One Health and Gender Studies, to provide new perspectives in my writing. However, the workload associated with the thesis can be overwhelming, particularly when combined with other academic and extracurricular commitments. As such, it is very important to understand your limits and prioritize appropriately when deciding on courses and extracurricular activities. Overall, while the thesis project can be challenging and demanding, it can also be a rewarding and enriching experience. By leveraging the freedom to explore your interests, you can truly create a unique and valuable contribution to your field(s) of interest."
Apart from a few pathology courses, One Health classes cover a wide range of subjects that diverge from the typical memorization-heavy, human-specific content found in many Med Sci courses. You can expect to take classes on topics such as Ecology, Environmental Science, and even Geography.
Maria Luiza Daniel, who is in 3rd year HSP One Health, found that her favourite course was actually Ecology 2843. She said about the course: “I really enjoyed learning about how important the interactions within ecosystems are for everyone (humans, animals, and the environment). I also enjoyed the conservation of biodiversity unit, because it really tied in with my interest on the role of the environment on human health.”
We get it, it’s a big decision to make, and you want to be sure that you’re making a good choice. There is no "one reason" to choose One Health, and it really is up to you. Maybe you liked the non-math parts of EPID2200, or maybe you liked learning about different diseases in MICROIMM 2500 but didn’t really like the nitty-gritty aspects of the immune system or having to learn all the disease names. Maybe you thrive in a group setting and love giving presentations. Or maybe, you just want to explore some new perspectives.
Maria has this to say about it: “Take the chance to explore a broad variety of courses that you have an interest in since One Health gives you many options. Don't be scared to enter a course which is from a subject you have not explored before. Many people will be in the same boat, and you might discover a new passion.”
Jordan has similar advice: “this module is an excellent choice for individuals who are interested in pursuing a holistic approach to health. Unlike other BMSc modules that focus on specific disciplines, such as anatomy, physiology, or pharmacology, this module explores the broader concepts and theories that underpin health. By gaining a foundation in One Health, you may discover a passion for medicine, research, public health, or other related disciplines that may not have been previously considered. Overall, this module is an excellent choice for anyone seeking to broaden their horizons and gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of health."
There are a lot of reasons to choose One Health, and if you don’t want to commit to the entire module, consider taking One Health 3300 in your third year to broaden your horizons a bit. Whether you decide to take the entire module or just one course, your individual perspectives and insights on the health-related challenges facing our world will undoubtedly be valuable contributions to the One Health approach. By participating in this interdisciplinary field, you will gain a better understanding of the complex interactions between human, animal, and environmental health, and develop the skills necessary to make a positive impact on the health of our planet and its inhabitants.