Alumni Spotlight: At the Intersection of Human and Animal Health

By Cayla Saret

“There’s so much overlap between humans and animals in many different contexts,” says Marieke Rosenbaum, DVM ’14, MPH ’14, MS ’14, Director, DVM/MPH Pathway, Research Assistant Professor of Infectious Disease and Global Health at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed the Tufts Cummings School and Medical School’s combined degree track in veterinary medicine and public health and now serves as its director.

“I always wanted to be a veterinary medical doctor,” says Rosenbaum; family members recall her saying so since before she can remember. Her father was a landscaper who would sometimes bring home baby animals. “If they cut down a tree, and there was a nest,” she recalls, “or sometimes [they would] find possums in the trash…he’d take them home, and we used to raise them and release them.” She attributes her passion for wildlife to these encounters. Her interest in public health developed as she worked in wildlife rehabilitation.

Rosenbaum was drawn to Tufts because of its strong program in public health, conservation, and wildlife medicine, which she says stood out when compared with typical DVM programs.  While in the combined program, she learned about the importance of practicing evidence-based veterinary medicine and critically reviewing public health publications. “I’ve always been a hands-on learner,” she says. “I wanted to get experience in the lab so I could better understand and evaluate data”. She paused her DVM/MPH after her second year and completed a Master of Science in Comparative Biomedical Sciences. Laboratory work allowed her to observe the techniques underlying tests she would order as a veterinarian.

After her third year, she took time away again, this time to conduct research in Peru as a Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar, a fellowship from the National Institutes of Health. She studied infectious diseases such as tuberculosis that might be transmitted between humans and illegally traded non-human primates. In collaboration with local researchers, she also studied leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, in the jungle. “The rice paddies are heavily irrigated and the rice farmers may spend six hours in the water every day,” she explains. Evidence suggests that in these conditions, the disease circulates among humans and animals, including pigs, cows, goats, and wild rodents.

After graduation, Rosenbaum worked in a small animal practice, navigating public health issues such as regulation of rabies vaccinations and educating clients about diseases than can spread between animals and humans. She had the unexpected chance to return to Tufts as a faculty member. “It was a wonderful opportunity to re-engage with academia,” she says.

One of her current projects, the CLUC Study (Chickens Living in Urban Coops), grew out of the Applied Learning Experience project of Daniel Mordarski, DVM/MPH ’17. It will examine exposure to lead in city dwellers who consume eggs from chickens in their backyards. Chicken ownership is increasing with growing interest in local, sustainable food. “They are very easy to keep,” says Rosenbaum. “You get delicious, fresh eggs.” However, chickens may take in lead when they forage in lead-contaminated dirt or eat contaminated food, and it accumulates in their eggs and body tissue. Rosenbaum and her colleagues will assess lead levels and the associated public health risk to owners and consumers. She hopes to encourage veterinarians to measure blood lead levels when providing routine veterinary care for urban chickens.

For students considering a similar multidisciplinary path, Rosenbaum notes that having an MPH leads to more options than a clinical degree alone. She encourages students to keep an open mind in a culture that often prescribes restrictive career paths, saying, “There are multiple routes to get to a common goal.” She supports her advisees through the challenges of balancing veterinary and public health coursework. “Getting the tools of an MPH education,” she says, such as theory, policy, and analysis, “just opens the door for more opportunities.”