Harvard medical students might find themselves at a zoo treating a strange group of patients than they’re typically accustomed to: animals. Whether it’s chasing geese into an office or performing an X-ray on a 150-pound African desert tortoise, Harvard’s One Health Clinical Elective gives students the opportunity to study infectious diseases and the impact of animal health on the ecosystem that we all live in. The elective is based on One Health initiatives. The organization’s main mission is to achieve optimal health for humans, animals and the shared environment through recognition of their interconnectivity. With Harvard and One Health’s collaboration in 2015, the One Health Clinical Elective program became possible.

What makes this program unique is its new perspective into medical thinking. With zoo animals, students need to rely on their clinical wit to figure out how to best make use of their skills. From testing, imaging and treatment, students learn to personalize the care for each animal patient by tapping into their creativity and medical knowledge. At the zoo, students perform annual checkups, give vaccinations, and research and study various diseases. The experience not only builds a holistic understanding of the ecosystem, biodiversity and interdependence between human and animal health, but also provides life-long lessons that these medical students take into their medical careers, practice, and personal lives.

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