Bringing One Health to life through education and advocacy
If you’re interested in One Health and the human-animal bond, chances are good that you’ve heard of Deborah Thomson, DVM. You may have seen her speak in person or over Zoom, or perhaps you’ve read her book, The Art of Science Communication: Sharing Knowledge with Students, the Public, and Policymakers.
She is the chair of the One Health Education Subgroup and an ad hoc member of the One Health Working Group of the World Veterinary Association, as well as being a member of The Mentor Project, and a Global Goodwill Ambassador.
In between her veterinary relief shifts, Thomson fills her days with teaching and speaking. On the day that we spoke, she had given virtual presentations in Iran and Switzerland. While many of her appearances and training events are over Zoom, she recently spent a month traveling to South Africa and Japan for speaking opportunities.
Thomson graciously invited me to observe one of her One Health Lessons over Zoom. It was a treat to see her in action as she introduced the concept of One Health to a third-grade classroom in California.
“Hey, kids, I’m Dr. Debbie!” she said, quickly establishing a rapport with her new students. “Do you know what a veterinarian is?”
Also on the call were veterinarians and veterinary students from all over the world, and we introduced ourselves to the class.
Thomson was comfortable, confident, and upbeat as she walked the children through scenarios that illustrated the relationships between humans, animals, and the environment, and let them use their reasoning skills to help predict what would happen if there were a change in one of these components.
She showed patience and warmth as she introduced some new vocabulary: One Health, zoonotic disease, and mutation.
She used fun games like having the kids try to repeat tongue twisters and Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank sentences to represent how a mutation might happen as DNA is replicated.
It was clear by the end of the lesson that the students understood and retained the material and that they were engaged in learning.
Learning to teach through doing
When Thomson graduated from veterinary school, she had no inkling that she would start a global nonprofit, speak and teach internationally, or publish a book on science communication. But since before her graduation, she has used her skills as a teacher, her passion for learning, and her entrepreneurial spirit to make a difference in her community and to create innovative ways to support One Health as a veterinarian.
Prior to vet school, Thomson taught and tutored in different capacities. She loved to make learning fun, and the skills she learned in her teaching career would stay with her as she furthered her own education.
As a devoted learner herself, she completed a four-year post-graduate certificate in International Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine simultaneously with her DVM training. She then completed a rotating internship in Southern California. She felt the need to improve her communication skills, so she joined Toastmasters International, an organization that “teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.”
When an AVMA congressional fellowship opportunity became available, she applied and was chosen. She would end up working in the US Senate with a One Health portfolio where she contributed to the country’s COVID-19 response. These days, she continues to serve as an advisor for a senator, giving her an opportunity to help influence policy and legislation that may affect the lives of animals, people, plants, and the health of our shared environment.
As she worked in clinical practice, Thomson found herself creating lessons for kids and adults after her shifts and going into classrooms to teach on her days off. In 2020, Thomson founded One Health Lessons, which now boasts more than 150 certified lesson leaders around the world who teach everyone from children to working professionals.
The mission of this nonprofit organization is to “inspire children and adults around the world to value the interconnection between public health and the health of the environment, animals and plants.” Topics range from introductory lessons on the meaning of One Health to training of professionals in a variety of fields on the skills of networking, communication, leadership, and problem solving surrounding One Health topics.
The future of veterinary professionals and One Health
Thomson’s accomplishments highlight just some of the ways in which veterinary professionals can utilize their knowledge, training, interests, previous experiences, and transferrable skills to improve public knowledge and understanding surrounding One Health topics. There is certainly room for many other veterinary professionals to do the same, especially since our unique understanding of animal health and zoonotic disease has many applications to protecting human health and the environment.
The field of veterinary medicine is undergoing a renaissance of innovation and creativity. This will benefit not only the members of our profession, but also the world in general, as we continue to uphold our oath to protect and preserve human and animal health. The more of us who choose to participate with our own unique skills and ideas, the better.
Dr. Thomson’s website:
One Health Lessons website (They are always accepting and looking for donations.)
Tufts International Veterinary Medicine Post Graduate Certificate:
AVMA Fellowship Program:
Dr. Thomson on Central Line: The AAHA Podcast:
Emily Singler, VMD, writes this monthly column for NEWStat exploring One Health and the human-animal bond. She is a 2001 graduate of Penn State University and a 2005 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked in shelter medicine, private practice, and as a relief veterinarian. She currently works as a veterinary writer and consultant and has her own blog, www.vetmedbaby.com.
Photo courtesy of Deborah Thomson