Posted November 28, 2023

Dr. Dwayne Jarman graduated from MSU with a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2000 and a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) in 2002. He is a Captain of the U.S. Public Health Service and currently works as an epidemiologist and risk analyst at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). His work in the public health sector often includes work with Indigenous People of America, including his own – the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

For November, Native American Heritage Month, Jarman spoke with the College of Veterinary Medicine on his experience as an Anishinaabe alum of the College and as a public health officer and veterinarian.

Dr  Jarman
Dr. Dwayne Jarman

What was your experience like as a veterinary student at the College?

I think life as a student is challenging in general. You have to give up your home and community and travel to someplace and be semi-independent. Luckily, I was an undergraduate student at Michigan State, and I had developed relationships with the MSU Native community and student group—the North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO)—before my life in veterinary school to support me.

Has your Native identity influenced your desire to pursue veterinary medicine and/or public health?

While I think there are opportunities to serve in clinical medicine for tribes (e.g., Buffalo herds, and population management), that wasn’t a driving force for me in veterinary school. I was more interested in serving tribal communities during and following my master’s degree. Now that I hunt and harvest as part of my treaty rights, I’m interested in making sure those foods are safe. While I have not necessarily figured out how to do that with work, I’m starting to think about the interactions between some of our traditions and public health. For example, determining whether harmful substances could be present in the wild rice that Native communities harvest and what the public health messages about traditional foods are necessary in order to promote health.

How did you come to pursue a DVM and MPH?

Looking back, I wanted a career that would allow me to change what I was doing when I realized I’d accomplished all that I was interested in. I became interested in public health at the very beginning of veterinary school. Dr. Kaneene presented a case study of a bat flying into a pool where some unsupervised children were swimming. The goal was to determine if the children required treatment for rabies or not. I was interested in the role the veterinarian could play in protecting human and animal health—this was a time prior to the One Health Initiative. Based on my interest, Dr. Kaneene suggested that I consider obtaining a master’s in public health and applying for the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). I did not want to hear that when I was just starting four years of veterinary school. However, eventually, I did end up pursuing that master’s degree and serving as a CDC EIS Officer.

In what ways has your career evolved?

Throughout my career I thought I would work in international infectious disease; however, I found myself gravitating to chronic diseases closer to home. When I graduated, I needed to make space before applying for EIS so that I could prioritize spending time with family that could not move with me. I ended up performing needs assessments for three tribes in Michigan. I also conducted a health and housing needs assessment for my tribe, where the survey tools I created are still used today. While working for the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council as an emergency preparedness coordinator, I was able to help the tribes of Wisconsin then Michigan prepare for potential bioterrorism.

From there I held my first federal public health position as a CDC EIS officer. I was assigned to multiple areas over the years where I served in a public health capacity on issues from maternal and child health to emergency coordination with the FDA. I was deployed to support public health assessments following Hurricane Katrina. I provided veterinary services to two tribes in Arizona and rabies prevention efforts on a joint United States Coast Guard support mission in Barrow, Alaska. I led the information group assigned to track public health services resources supporting unaccompanied minors crossing the United States-Mexico border.

What could the veterinary community be doing better to uplift Indigenous voices?

In my traditional teachings, animals are considered brothers and sisters to the Anishinaabe (the people of the Great Lakes area). Wanaboozho walked the earth with the wolf naming all things as they went. In our way, we are always taught to treat all things with kindness and respect. While I’ve not always lived my life with those teachings in mind, I’ve worked hard to course correct. I think there is a lot that could be learned from approaching veterinary medicine in that same way.

I also think it would be encouraging to other aspiring Native students to hear about veterinarians working in the community performing population health activities. For example, it would be great to hear of veterinarians working to service tribal bison or the health of the wolf population. Another example is fishery health management. Several of the tribes in Michigan manage fisheries that when of age the fish are released in the Great Lakes and surrounding area. While those might be considered niche areas of veterinary medicine, it could be a place where Native students may have an interest for cultural reasons. Personally, I learned fish health via continuing medical education at the University of Wisconsin—fish health was not offered at MSU during my time there.

Anything else you would like to highlight?

Mental health is an important part of life that wasn’t covered in veterinary school when I attended. I’ve been able to process a lot of the emotions I experience by trying to live in accordance with my traditional ways. I’m glad that I’m a veterinarian and I can say I’ve used my veterinary skills to do good. I reached a point where I recognized that I lived someone else’s dream of becoming a veterinarian and that I didn’t have the tools as a young person to realize and follow my own. That made the four years of veterinary school even more of a struggle, but I made it. I also experienced some personal losses during veterinary school that made it really hard. I almost quit. The College provided good support and I got through it. I try to reflect on my traditional teachings and tell young people today to hang in there and be determined. I hope these words are of help to someone. I have learned in my life that being a veterinarian offers a lot of opportunities wherever your life takes you.