Rx One Health 2023 participant May Thongthum

RxOH 2023 Alum: Thanaporn (May) Thongthum

I am May Thongthum, one of the international participants in the 2023 Rx One Health cohort. I traveled from Florida, USA, to join the program, where I am currently pursuing a PhD in Public Health with a focus on One Health. Originally hailing from Thailand, I was born and raised there. When I applied for this program, I anticipated an intensive yet thrilling journey, brimming with excitement, and learning. Given that One Health revolves around a multidisciplinary approach aimed at ensuring the well-being of humans, animals, and the environment across various spatial levels, I was curious how the RxOH instructors would integrate and apply these concepts to hands-on teaching methods and real-world problem-solving.

Rx One Health 2023

My journey from the east to the west coast was accompanied by a cascade of questions. Would our curriculum involve delving into numerous case studies? What are the prevailing diseases of primary concern? Could I expect a significant presence of veterinarians and veterinary students? How could I best contribute to the ongoing conversations? Which aspects would astonish me the most? As you can discern, I was genuinely enthusiastic about this forthcoming experience. It is with great delight to share that my expectations were not only met but exceeded in every way!

A Spectrum of Teaching Strategies

The RxOH Summer Training delivered precisely what it promised – an immersive, hands-on, and intensive learning experience. Over two weeks, we delved into the core competencies of One Health, guided by experts from diverse professional backgrounds who brought unique perspectives to the table. The program encompassed an array of activities, each contributing to our holistic understanding of the One Health approach:

  • Dr. Brian Bird, a CDC veterinary medical officer, delivered an engaging presentation on zoonotic disease spillover and the discovery of Bombali ebolaviruses.
  • Our exploration of the social determinants of health was enriched by Michael Wilkes' case studies, complemented by group brainstorming sessions.
  • A field trip to Yolo Bypass provided a firsthand demonstration of bat sensing technologies, offering practical insights into the studies of bat migration behaviors.
  • An interactive lecture on real-world public policy scenarios was presented by Mr. David Walking and Dr. Jonna Mazet.
  • An enlightening discussion panel with immigrant farmworkers at the Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA) farm.
  • Witnessing necropsies of sea otters, victims of shark attacks, at the Marine Wildlife Research Center allowed us a poignant glimpse into marine conservation efforts.
  • The pinnacle of our journey was a four-day retreat at Clover Valley Ranch in the northern Sierra Nevada, where we engaged in diverse activities including the PPE Olympics, hands-on rodent trapping for a Hantavirus study, exploring beaver dam analog projects for meadow preservation, observing mountain meadow carbon flux activity, and an insightful wildfire recovery walk with Terri Rust from Plumas Corp.
Rx One Health 2023 cohort

However, our journey did not stop there. As a testament to the holistic approach of One Health, we undertook a capstone project focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have not been met. This project served as the crescendo of our collective efforts, uniting our expertise and perspectives in devising One Health-based solutions for local, regional, and global community.

Diversity & Humility: Our Multidisciplinary Cohort

Our cohort embraced a remarkable diversity, consisting of professionals from various fields such as veterinarians, infectious disease doctors, pathologists, NGO managers, medical and veterinary students, and a spectrum of graduate students specializing in disciplines like epidemiology, animal biotechnology, environmental infectious diseases, evolutionary ecology, and one health, among others. As days unfolded, it became customary to exchange insights into each person's academic pursuits, work endeavors, and research undertakings—an enriching routine. Learning about the motivations behind each person's chosen path and the passion that drives their daily endeavors was truly a gratifying experience for me.

What struck me was the fact that while we each hold expertise in distinct niches, we all converge with a shared mission—to ensure the vitality of our ecosystem and planetary well-being. The unity of purpose we all share is both inspiring and reassuring, affirming my commitment to One Health as my career trajectory.

Conversations also revealed an important truth—while some have found their purpose, others are still exploring. This is why we were meticulously chosen to convene here—to make connections, to share our stories, and most importantly, to be a wellspring of inspiration for one another. As our stories continue to weave together, we generate a collective spark that ignites the flames of exploration, personal growth, and a shared commitment to creating a healthier world for all.

Journey Inward: Reflecting on My Experience

Rx One Health 2023

I was truly astonished by the ability of everyone to execute their capstone projects within the constraints of a limited time. Watching each group's presentation was a pleasure, as I commended the innovativeness embedded in their One Health-based solutions. For example, a Netflix show centered on a Cooking Competition to tackle food waste, a Farm-to-Fork initiative employing regenerative farming practices in Nigeria for the zero-hunger goal, an initiative aimed at rectifying inequities in Black Maternal Healthcare in Texas, USA, a comprehensive One Health Initiative proposal to combat biodiversity loss along the US-Mexico border, and a myriad of other brilliant projects. The fusion of creativity and pragmatism was excellent, all that remains is the pursuit of funding and practical implementation. Contemplating our achievements in just a few days, one can only imagine the impact we could have over months and years towards achieving the SDGs on local, regional, and global scales.

This experience has been an eye-opener, revealing the gaps in my knowledge concerning veterinary medicine and wildlife diseases. It has ignited a desire within me to further my understanding in this domain. As a first-year graduate student, the Rx One Health Summer Training has provided me an open gateway to cross-disciplinary collaboration, a renewed commitment to continuous learning, and a steppingstone towards nurturing the next generation of One Health leaders. Finally, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to every participant who embarked on this transformative journey. My heartfelt appreciation also extends to the organizers, Dr. Brian Bird, Dr. Woutrina Smith, Dr. Jennie Lane, and many others, for granting me this invaluable opportunity and for their remarkable mentorship that enriched my learning journey throughout the course.