A “One Health” approach to life: CSU graduate student becomes first Pakistani to pass preventive veterinary medicine exam

Dr. Muhammad Usman Zaheer — veterinarian, Fulbright scholar, Ph.D. candidate — can add another superlative to his already impressive list of qualifications. The CSU doctoral candidate is the first Pakistani veterinarian to become board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, Zaheer earned his doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan, and a master’s in epidemiology and public health from the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore.

man in profile looking at computer screens
Dr. Muhammad Usman Zaheer studies meteorological effects on the spread of disease. (CSU photo)

Like many veterinarians, Zaheer was interested in animals as a child, especially the stray dogs and cats he saw in the Punjab province where he grew up. In veterinary school, he became fascinated by the idea of looking at disease from a holistic perspective.

“Treating a single animal is important, but when it comes to herd health and zoonotic diseases that transfer from humans to animals and animals to humans, I thought ‘this is something I should be doing.’ It was about how we can control different diseases at a population level rather than focusing on one single disease and one single patient,” Zaheer said.

While he was pursuing a master’s degree, Zaheer learned of the One Health concept through his work during the dengue fever epidemic that swept through Pakistan in 2011. One Health is a movement at CSU and around the world that makes connections between the health of animals, humans, and the environment.

Zaheer was about to have a personal One Health moment, making connections between his education in Pakistan and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at CSU. First, he read “Animal Disease Surveillance and Survey Systems: Methods and Applications,” edited by Colorado State professor and epidemiologist Dr. Mo Salman. Then, a friend suggested he apply for a Fulbright scholarship to continue his studies in the United States.

Inspired, he emailed the professor from Pakistan, hoping to learn more about the One Health approach and epidemiology. “In Pakistan, professors can have a tendency to not respond to students quickly, but Mo replied instantaneously,” Zaheer said.

Not long after that first exchange, Zaheer arrived in Fort Collins in 2014, and set to work studying meteorological factors in the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in animal herds. His wife, Anza, joined him after his first semester, and they now have a nearly 2-year-old daughter, Areeha. “I like it here because it’s not that humid and we have a lot of outdoor activities,” said Zaheer, who is urging his four younger siblings to focus on scholarship.

man holding laptop with woman and child
Dr. Muhammad Usman Zaheer, his wife Anza, and their daughter, Areeha. (CSU photo)

In addition to his doctoral work in the Department of Clinical Sciences with Salman and Dr. Sangeeta Rao, he teaches research design and data analysis, serves on the CSU Graduate Student Council, and mentors other international students at the university. He runs a 900-member Facebook group for veterinary students from Pakistan.

“I think I have the best mentors I can have in my life,” said Zaheer of Salman and Rao. Salman says this board certification adds to Zaheer’s potential to be recognized internationally as a veterinary epidemiologist: “His interest in veterinary public health would allow him to work with health problems and issues that cross over the environment, human, and animal components. He will be a real implementer of One Health in the field.”

While his graduate work does not require that he become board-certified in preventive medicine, Zaheer pursued the demanding course of study in true One Health style. “I had to read all the public health laws of the USA, what the FDA is doing, what CDC is doing, what USDA is doing, what EPA is doing, so many agencies which I never heard of in my life,” said Zaheer after learning that he passed the two-day exam covering environmental health, toxicology, food safety, infectious disease, and public health.

“It has given me a vision for when I go back to my country. I want to inspire people from different disciplines and different walks of life, to come up with a collaborative and interdisciplinary strategy for Pakistan in veterinary sciences, agriculture and public health. It goes back to One Health.”