The desire to improve health crosses cultural and geopolitical boundaries. Working around the world requires a long-term dedication to learning about others by immersing ourselves in new realities. We highlight those who go the extra mile to build bridges and help shrink our globe.
PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM
Animals have always been a part of Scott Wells’s world. He spent his childhood on a farm in Michigan and earned a BS and DVM from Michigan State University in his 20s. For several years, he worked at a small veterinary practice in Wisconsin, serving local dairy farmers.
“My whole career I’ve been interested in food, food animals, and health,” Wells says.
That interest eventually led Wells to the University of Minnesota—twice.
“Instead of treating disease, I wanted to prevent disease,” he says of his decision to pursue a PhD in population medicine, with a minor in epidemiology, at the U, completed in 1992. A job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture took him to Colorado for seven years, but by 1999 he was headed back to the Midwest. The draw? An opportunity to teach at the U and conduct research to address critical food animal health issues.
He eventually took the helm as director of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety. Wells was inspired by the center’s efforts to train veterinarians who work in the food system around the globe and to share applied research with industry partners in food production and government.
“The position is a great opportunity to make a significant difference in the world,” he says.
Because today’s food system is global, ensuring food safety and animal health across the food-production system means that Wells and the center work to build capacity and share information well beyond Minnesota’s borders. Wells recently returned from a trip to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where the center is partnering with local university faculty to train veterinary health professionals. He also regularly visits and confers with industry partners in Uruguay, where use of a database to track cattle is revolutionizing an industry that just a few years ago was devastated by foot and mouth disease.
“We can learn so much by examining the problems and solutions that crop up in other countries,” Wells says.
The center’s international reach helps keep Wells engaged, but he is quick to note that Minnesota’s diverse agricultural environment has played a huge role in making the center what it is today.
“We have major players in the swine, poultry, and dairy industries, so Minnesota is a great place to work with food system challenges that impact those populations,” Wells says. “That strong animal-ag culture is part of what keeps me excited to go to work.”