University of Calgary

Spotlight on sustainability: Craig Stephen

UToday HomeDecember 5, 2012

Veterinary medicine’s Craig Stephen, second from right, and colleagues visit a pig farm in Nepal as part of their work looking at the relationships between poverty reduction, food security and disease. Photo courtesy Craig StephenVeterinary medicine’s Craig Stephen, second from right, and colleagues visit a pig farm in Nepal as part of their work looking at the relationships between poverty reduction, food security and disease. Photo courtesy Craig StephenFrom developing aquaculture to feed families in Sri Lanka to exploring why the salmon stocks are in decline in the Fraser River, Craig Stephen, a professor of ecosystem and public health in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, studies how human, animal and environmental health interact with each other.

“It’s great to have green buildings and it’s important to think about carbon footprints but you have to have birds in the trees and fish in the water as well as water that’s safe and clean and the fundamental environmental determinants of health,” says Stephen.

The bulk of Stephen’s research is through the Centre for Coastal Health in B.C., a non-profit organization he founded that takes on problem-oriented research, risk assessments and other projects.

“People come in with a problem, and we help to develop possible solutions,” says Stephen. “Sometimes we worry about sustainability of salmon, sometimes we worry about the sustainability of poor communities, but we always take the view you have to do it in concert — people, animals and environment.”

In Sri Lanka, an international veterinary public health program aimed at stopping emerging infectious diseases (most of which come from animals) led to a project that will improve human health outcomes by promoting a sustainable aquaculture sector.

Stephen was asked to submit a scientific report to the Cohen Commission that explored whether salmon from public hatcheries are potentially spreading disease to sockeye salmon in the Fraser River and contributing to their decline.

In the classroom, where Stephen teaches a course called Animals, Health and Society to undergraduate students in veterinary medicine, he talks about the work in the field to get students to think about the links in the “big, complex, messy unsolvable issues…with multiple values and multiple issues going on at the same time.”

Stephen strives to expand the notion of interdisciplinary work in health care from meaning a physician, a nurse and a pharmacist working together to a physician working with an ecologist, a veterinarian and a botanist to examine issues as a whole.

He says the world needs more big picture problem solvers — not just content experts. “What we’re trying to create in the Centre for Coastal Health and in our research and teaching is ‘specialized generalists,’” says Stephen.

“We are quite interested in how you create that next generation of scholar and health provider who thinks beyond the syringe and the scalpel.”

Spotlight on Sustainability is an ongoing series profiling the work of students, faculty and staff. To submit story ideas please contact the Office of Sustainability.