The “godfather of epidemiology”

 “When I first arrived at UPEI in 1985, the Atlantic Veterinary College was literally a hole in the ground,” says Dr. Ian Dohoo, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology, Department of Health Management. “A team of about 20 of us worked out of the basement of the utility building. It was noisy, the ventilation was lousy, but everyone was excited to be a part of the team. There was a strong feeling that we were working together to build something great.”

The university community will come together on December 4 to celebrate the teaching and research career of Dr. Dohoo. The event will also launch Methods in Epidemiologic Research, of which he is the primary author.

Veterinary epidemiology was still a rapidly evolving discipline when Dr. Dohoo was recruited by the AVC’s founding dean, Dr. Reg Thomson. Dr. Dohoo spent the next 25 years building the AVC’s expertise in the area, leading a contemporary to refer to him as the “godfather of epidemiology.”

Dr. Ian Dohoo works in the basement of the UPEI Utility Building before the official opening of the AVC in 1986: UPEI photographyDr. Ian Dohoo works in the basement of the UPEI Utility Building before the official opening of the AVC in 1986: UPEI photography

“Even after all this time, most people don’t understand what epidemiology is and how important it is to all of us,” explains Dr. Dohoo. “Epidemiology is the study of disease within a population. It shares the same root as the word ‘epidemic,’ but it deals with all kinds of diseases within either human or animal populations.”

By the mid-90s, Dr. Dohoo was leading a team of researchers which informally called itself the Population Health Group. This group would go on to develop and gather together some of the world’s leading researchers in veterinary epidemiology and biostatistics. It later morphed into the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiological Research, or CVER.

By the early 2000s, Dr. Dohoo and his colleagues Dr. S. Wayne Martin (Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology, University of Guelph) and Dr. Henrik Stryhn (Professor of Biostatistics, UPEI) were working to turn their expertise into a textbook. The result was Veterinary Epidemiologic Research (2003), which has become a standard textbook for graduate education in veterinary medicine around the world.

“Within a few years of publishing, I was hearing back from professors at medical schools telling me they were using our book to teach human epidemiology,” says Dr. Dohoo. “The methods and principles are identical, whether you’re working with human or animal populations. But I was also hearing that medical students were often put off by some of our examples and case studies, which were obviously animal diseases. That’s what brings us to this latest book.”

Methods in Epidemiologic Research is essentially the same book as Veterinary Epidemiologic Research, but with human health datasets. It is authored by the same team of Dohoo, Martin, and Stryhn, and launches December 4. Dr. Dohoo proudly points out that the book was written, edited, and published on Prince Edward Island.

Dr. Dohoo will also be honoured with the Calvin W. Schwabe Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Association for Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at an event in Chicago on December 2.