Master of Public Health professor uses certification to introduce two courses

Oct. 29, 2019

Dr. Oreta Samples earns certificate in Emerging Infectious Diseases

A professor’s latest credential is allowing Fort Valley State University students to gain new insights about diseases that threaten veterinary medicine and public health.

Dr. Oreta Samples, assistant professor and program coordinator of FVSU’s Master of Public Health Program, earned a certificate in Emerging Infectious Diseases from the University of Saint Joseph in December 2018. This is a two-year online program.

“When I found this program, I thought it would be so interesting and exciting to be able to funnel that into what I am doing now and not wait until I retire to use the credits to teach online,” Samples said.

The FVSU professor has already put this certificate to use this fall. With one less professor in the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health, Samples needed to step in to teach some veterinary classes, including the undergraduate veterinary diseases course and the graduate level course on zoonotic diseases of animal and human populations.

“It has been enlightening. The students are very accepting and engaging,” Samples said. “We are offering two courses that would not have been possible without this certificate.”

Samples, who is the first graduate of FVSU’s MPH Program, said the majority of her undergraduate students chose to take the veterinary diseases course as an elective because they want to pursue agriculture careers with agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Currently, 30 students are enrolled in the class, and seven students are enrolled in the graduate level course. “It is an eye-opening way for both groups to understand these routes of infections as they occur,” Samples said.

Not only is the content a great fit for the students, but it is also a great fit for her. Samples has a passion for investigating infectious diseases. “That is what led me to the MPH Program from my veterinary science background. I wanted to pursue something that I could straddle the fence medically,” she said. Her teaching methods include giving her “sea stories” to connect students to real-life situations.

Describing herself as the “infectious disease lady,” the former FVSU lead veterinary technician said emerging diseases are often those diseases like Zika and Ebola viruses that have increased in the last couple of decades. However, she said re-emerging infectious diseases are just as dangerous.

“They are often those diseases we conquered 70 years ago like tuberculosis and now have come back because of antibiotic resistance or the anti-vaccination movement,” Samples said.

The 1994 FVSU veterinary technology alumna said some drugs do not work anymore. “We are such a mobile society now,” she said. “If you throw antibiotics at a disease and it is not killing it or lowering its ability to infect, it builds up more resistance and gets stronger. We have seen this for years with anthelmintics in animals.”

This is also happening with re-emerging diseases. “This alarms me from the standpoint of people who do not vaccinate their children. You are not just making a decision for your child; you are making a decision for every individual who encounters that child,” Samples said. “This is extremely problematic because we have not seen most of the diseases like rubella, measles, mumps and whooping cough in many years, especially not since my lifetime. Now people are opening the door for those diseases to become re-emerging diseases and that is frightening.” She said the repercussions of not being vaccinated are so much more important to avoid.

The public health professional said her job is to spread the word and try to make people understand that vaccines are necessary. “Public health is all about prevention. With vaccines, we can prevent many diseases, especially childhood diseases, from occurring in the first place,” Samples said. “If we do not educate people, they fear the unknown. By educating, we dispel the unknown, so there is nothing to fear. When people have the information, they then can make an informed decision.”

For more information about FVSU’s MPH Program, contact Samples at (478) 825-6904 or sampleso@fvsu.edu.