One Health and the Systems Approach, Texas Style

By: Austin Weynand, MHS

Dr. John Herbold, a distinguished leader under the broad umbrella of public health practice, began his education with a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Texas A&M. A few years later, he earned an MPH (Environmental Sciences) from UNC – Chapel Hill followed by a PhD (Epidemiology) at The Ohio State University. Yet it was Dr. Herbold’s early military commissioning while in vet school that enveloped him in a true systems-approach to healthcare, one that he continues to embrace today. He encourages systems approach thinking for all aspects of public health research and practice – including One Health.

John Herbold, DVM, MPH, PhD

Called to active duty by the United States Air Force Medical Service, Dr. Herbold became a part of something much larger than himself. He understood animal physiology and “herd health” from his veterinary education, but he found that his exposure to vet med “folded into this larger healthcare enterprise called military medicine”. Military medicine, as Dr. Herbold described it, includes all aspects of population health – from social considerations such as housing, fitness for duty, to life-saving efforts by teams of a multitude of different health care practitioners. He bore witness to a health system that required the participation and skills of dozens of different role-players that served functions poorly fitted by one specialty alone.

He considers this systems approach now, applied to an entire healthcare network. “Say you’re very specialized,” he explains. Your responsibility is to get an individual back to work; to get them healthy. Comparative medicine and population medicine seek this same goal on a broader scale for the entire community; thus, they’re as important as individual medicine. It’s about involving all aspects.”

“Involving all aspects” is a concept embraced by One Health. Dr. Herbold has worked with various emergency response and public health preparedness organizations, which require an array of disciplines to accomplish public health goals. Such a goal may be to vaccinate a population against a preventable disease; it may be to warn communities about a dangerous disease vector; it can even be to respond adequately to a natural disaster. He mentions the Texas Department of Public Health, one organization that is using One Health as a core element. “They helped eliminate canine rabies because of the oral rabies vaccination program of wildlife,” he relates.

Recent public health challenges have highlighted the importance of a systems approach more than ever. Dr. Herbold worked as part of the executive management team during the arrival of the Ebola virus to Dallas in 2014. “We had to learn quickly … how would a network of community clinics feeding into individual hospitals react to new cases? Were we prepared for a multiple exposure scenario? Did medical colleagues understand the need for intervention systems in addition to just individual lifesaving?” Years later, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the same ideology.

Now working with the Long School of Medicine in San Antonio, Dr. Herbold feels his role in population health education as his most important active endeavor. As he sees it, the medical students he interacts with now will one day be the face of medicine and public health. Dr. Herbold hopes that as his students continue to residency and beyond, they will remember his emphasis on a holistic approach.

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