Texas A&M VET Part Of Team Honored For Service To Border Community

Story by Rachel Knight, VMBS Communications

VET students examine a dog at OBHP.
DVM students Mohan Iyengar and Cheryl Armstrong examine a patient at Operation Border Health Preparedness.
Photo by Jason Nitsch ‘14, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) was part of a collaborative effort by Texas A&M University to support border health that has received the 2024 Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration Award.

Awarded by the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health and the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, the award is presented to a team of health students and faculty whose interdisciplinary work has significantly impacted the community they serve.

“The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team sets the global standard for veterinary disaster response,” said Dr. John R. August, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the VMBS. “Their efforts at Operation Border Health Preparedness, in collaboration with their peers from other Texas A&M University entities, highlight the selfless service inherent to both animal and human medicine.”

An Award Worthy Effort

Three faculty members at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center — Drs. Asim Abu-Baker, LeRoy A. Marklund, and Kelly Sopchak — applied for the award on behalf of all Texas A&M affiliated OBHP participants.

“It’s an honor to serve with colleagues from across campus to help our fellow Texans,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, director of the VET.

Abu-Baker, associate dean for clinical and professional affairs at the Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy, served as principal investigator for the application. Marklund, clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing, and Sopchak, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and manager of the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program at the School of Medicine, represent the 2023 OBHP planning committee.

The interprofessional team that served on the committee also includes Zoran; Dr. Karen Beathard, instructional associate professor in the Department of Nutrition; Dr. Stephen “Eric” Grayson, assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the School of Pharmacy; Dr. Krystal Flores, instructional assistant professor in the School of Public Health; and Dr. Garett Sansom, research assistant professor in the School of Public Health.

Operation Border Health Preparedness

OBHP is an annual, week-long exercise hosted by the Texas Department of State Health Services that provides emergency response teams the opportunity to test their readiness for the next major disaster while also providing annual medical and veterinary care to communities that would otherwise go without.

A student examines a kitten at Operation Border Health Preparedness
DVM student Madeline Iselt conducts an exam at OBHP.
Photo by Jason Nitsch ‘14, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

The most recent operation took place in five cities across the Rio Grande Valley — Brownsville, Laredo, Raymondville, Rio Grande City and San Juan — and provided numerous services for more than 6,000 patients, including free physicals, screenings, dental care, immunizations, vision exams, free eyeglasses, and veterinary services for cats and dogs. In this medically underserved region, this event is many residents’ sole opportunity to receive care, and many line up for hours — even overnight — to secure their spot.

The VET’s role in the annual exercise includes providing veterinary care in the South Texas community of Raymondville, which doesn’t have a veterinarian. The team convoys several hundred miles to South Texas, spends a couple of days training veterinary students and volunteers while also establishing a base of operations, and then provides annual checkups and immunizations to the resident companion animals from the community for the next five days.  These wellness checks, deworming treatments, and vaccinations protect both pets and the people who love them from zoonotic diseases, which are illnesses that can be spread between humans and animals, such as rabies.

“OBHP approaches public health holistically,” Zoran said. “While we provide care to cats and dogs and help protect both them and their families from illness, our colleagues in human medicine provide people in the community essential health care. Together, we’re serving Texans in need while also ensuring our ability to respond to the next major disaster.”

In 2023, the VET completed a record 1,022 veterinary visits, which almost doubled the number of patients seen in 2022 and was significantly higher than the team’s caseload in 2021, the first year the VET participated in OBHP.

Hands-On Learning

The volume of patients seen in such a short amount of time provides a huge amount of experience for the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students who accompany the team.

“Students who serve with us at OBHP get to participate in a full-scale disaster response exercise with hands-on participation in establishing a base of operations and providing basic veterinary care,” Zoran shared.

The experience is invaluable according to Daniel Martinez, a student who traveled to OBHP with the VET in 2023.

“I built relationships with my classmates, teachers and other personnel that demonstrate the core values of Texas A&M University,” Martinez said. “The veterinary profession cannot exist without teamwork. What happened in Raymondville is just a snapshot of what can happen when caring individuals come together.”

Texans Helping Texans

Texas A&M’s OBHP participation is embedded in the university’s broader institutional commitment to rural health with OBHP’s overall goal being to help communities get ready for disasters and to offer free health care services to the community during the event.

Texas A&M volunteers worked with DSHS employees, military medical personnel, local health department officials and volunteers from other organizations to improve the health of Texans working towards improving health literacy, awareness, and behavior.

OBHP partners with local leaders and organizations who live in the participating communities. Local volunteers are imperative to the success of OBHP, and several volunteers from Texas A&M are from the participating communities.

The Interprofessional Education Collaborative and United States Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Foundation will recognize these efforts on July 12, 2024, at the IPEC Membership Meeting and Award Ceremony held at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. Abu-Baker, Marklun, and Sopchak will accept the recognition on behalf of all who served from Texas A&M.


For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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