A Call for One Health in Medical Education: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores the Need to Integrate Human, Animal, and Environmental Health

Acad Med. 2021 Jul 1;96(7):951-953. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004072.


During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the first author, then a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School, was enrolled in a One Health clinical experience at Zoo New England where he was introduced to a transdisciplinary approach to integrate human, animal, and ecosystem health. Seeing the vast impact of the pandemic and knowing its roots as a zoonotic disease, he realized this approach was critical to his medical education and for preparation against future novel infectious diseases. Zoonotic diseases have been emerging into human populations with increasing frequency, leading to public health emergencies such as Ebola, avian influenza, and SARS. The SARS-CoV-2 narrative, starting in bats and then mutating through an intermediate host into humans, is another striking example of the interconnectedness between human, animal, and ecosystem health that underlies these infections. Preventing future pandemics will require a transdisciplinary One Health approach, and physicians should be prepared to participate in these discussions while advocating for One Health initiatives for the benefit of their current and future patients. Integration of One Health education into medical school curricula will also prepare future physicians for other complex and urgently important health issues such as climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and the impact of biodiversity loss. As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic persist, education in One Health must become a priority; it is essential to break down the conventional disciplinary silos of human medicine, veterinary medicine, environmental health, public health, and the social sciences, so that future health crises can be prevented and mitigated collaboratively.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Boston / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • One Health*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / prevention & control*
  • Zoonoses / transmission