A One Health Journey
“The Peace Corps serves in countries with some of the most beautiful spots on Earth. Your site will not be one of them.”
That line in her Peace Corps acceptance letter started a true One Health journey for Amanda Feldpausch—from Peace Corps environmental volunteer to a team-lead epidemiologist at the Georgia Department of Public Health to DVM student. Yep, you read that right, DVM student. Amanda Feldpausch is a member of the UGA CVM Class of 2021 pursuing her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, all while working at the Georgia Department of Public Health as a Senior Epidemiologist Consultant.
But let’s back up. After graduating with a degree in environmental science, Amanda joined the Peace Corps in 2008 and went to the Philippines, spending 2 years there in a rural area with no running water and no electricity. She was fortunate to have incredible community members who taught her the language and worked closely with her on projects throughout her service, including gathering data and using it to better the environment and health of the community. At the end of her stint there, she was asked what she enjoyed the most and what her next steps were. After hearing her answer, her country director replied, “Well, that sounds a lot like epidemiology.” So began the next leg of Feldpausch’s journey.
In 2011, Feldpausch started an MPH program at Emory University. While there, she worked for the CDC and non-government organizations in a variety of international roles while studying fulltime. In 2013, with an MPH under her belt, she started the CSTE/CDC Applied Epidemiology Fellowship with the Georgia Department of Health. After a little over a year of the fellowship, she moved into a permanent position as the Zoonotic and Vector-borne Disease (ZVBD) Epidemiologist and ultimately served as the Zika Epidemiology Team Lead for the state. Over the years, she had the opportunity to work on many small outbreaks, but two large ones stood out: Ebola and Zika. “I think I gained the experience of 10 years’ worth of epidemiology education during those two outbreaks,” she’ll tell you. And that’s when she began contemplating her next steps.
During her time as the ZVBD Epidemiologist, she was given the opportunity to oversee the health department’s rabies epidemiology program and reportable ZVBDs, including emerging health threats, under the State Public Health Veterinarian. This, coupled with the realization that a clinical degree might make the most sense for her, ultimately set her on to the final leg of her One Health adventure: vet school. With the full support of her health department team (her boss is State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Julie Gabel, a UGA CVM class of ’94 alumna, and her primary mentor for the fellowship was the State Epidemiologist, Dr. Cherie Drenzek, also a veterinarian), Amanda applied to a single vet school: the University of Georgia. “I put all of my eggs in one basket. I was fortunate to have a job I loved, and if I wasn’t accepted, I knew I could apply more broadly the next year,” she said. Because of the competitive admissions to vet school, most prospective students apply to several schools—some to as many as 10-15. Her gamble paid off, and she started at the CVM three years ago.
She is now in her final year of vet school waiting to begin her clinical rotations in earnest. When the COVID pandemic accelerated and the University of Georgia took all learning online, the Class of 2021 had just started clinics. The veterinary teaching hospital reduced service to emergencies only and operated without all the students. In a way, this was fortuitous for Amanda who was needed at the GDPH. Her experience during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks leant itself to her taking on a senior consultant role on the GDPH’s COVID response team.
Her days since mid-March have been filled with all things COVID. Amanda serves as the lead for some industry sub-sections of the agriculture outbreak response (photos are from field investigations), and she supports the State Public Health Veterinarian in others. She manages a staff of 18 offsite workers and served as a lead for the GDPH epidemiology call center on COVID until it was transitioned in early June. She also serves on the data analysis team for the department and contributes to guidance updates and publications; she has one co-authorship out with more in review. She continues to draw on her experience and knowledge of the Ebola and Zika outbreak response.
While COVID has kept her busy during this “pause” in vet school, she is looking forward to getting onto the clinic floor. According to Amanda, the clinical knowledge she will gain in the DVM program will help her down the road as she returns to a full-time role in public health. “It’s like the difference between knowing something and being able to Google it,” she says. “With my DVM, I will have first-hand experience and knowledge of the things that come up every day in my world. I’ll be able to ‘talk the talk and walk the walk,’ and that’s a plus!”
There was never a doubt that Amanda would return to public health after vet school. In fact, she stated it in her application. “I knew the admissions committee was either going to love that, or I was doomed,” she says. Turns out, that driven mindset was received well. In less than a year, her One Health journey will be complete. This Peace Corps-environmental-volunteer-turned-epidemiologist-turned-vet-student will continue to make an impact and make the lives of animals and humans safer and healthier in the process.