A Key to Modern Problem-Solving and Career Success: Data Literacy

by Abigail Roegner

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

The purpose of the University of Georgia’s data literacy initiative is investigated in this paper.  Data literacy begins by valuing data, then involves the ability to gather and analyze appropriate data in order to determine a solution for a specific problem, and finally requires successful communication of the data-based solution to the public so that it can be put into effect.  Data literacy is an essential tool in the modern age because a nearly infinite amount of information that can be used to solve many problems is available to anyone thanks to the internet.  The author’s intended field of study, veterinary medicine, is used to illustrate how effective data literacy is as a career skill.  From critical analyses of data assessing a health problem to facing the challenge of convincing the public of their cure, every aspect of data literacy has been a crucial tool to veterinarians which has allowed them to combat momentous diseases including bovine tuberculosis and heartworm disease.  This paper encourages fellow college students to value the University of Georgia’s data literacy initiative and to diligently pursue it in their studies.  Ultimately, each step of data literacy must be a carefully learned tool in every career field in order to solve the complex issues faced by today’s societies.

data literacy, analysis, public communication, problem-solving, career skills, veterinary medicine

In today’s world, there is nearly infinite information accessible to everyone because of the internet. Consequently, education does not rely on rote memorization as it once did. Making decisions that are competent and educated in the modern era requires sifting through and applying the wealth of information at our fingertips. The University of Georgia (2018) seeks to equip its students with this ability through promoting data literacy. As explained in its data literacy initiative statement, the University of Georgia (2018) believes that its students have become literate in problem-solving once they realize the importance of data to society, are able to find data relevant to the problems they are solving, can critically analyze this data, and can use their analysis to determine how to effectively apply the data to a problem. Perhaps most importantly, UGA’s students must then be able to communicate these data-based insights to society so that they can be put into effect. Veterinary medicine is one example of a field that has highly benefited from data literacy, which has allowed effective progress in combating major animal health issues. All disciplines, not just veterinary medicine, can benefit from professionals that value data literacy and are able to use it as a tool to solve the complex challenges of modern societies.

In veterinary medicine, data preservation, management, and communication are critical. This is clearly true on the worldwide level of historic medicinal discoveries and challenges. For example, in the late 1800s and into the 1900s, bovine tuberculosis was a major health concern worldwide because it caused serious illness in not only cattle, but also in the humans who ingested infected meat and milk. It became clear that bovine tuberculosis would have to be tested for in every cow so that the infection could be eliminated. Eventually, the tuberculin test was identified by researchers as the most logical solution because it was a substantially reliable test while quick and simple enough to be administered to large numbers of cattle. Despite the healthcare officials’ ability to analyze the tuberculosis problem and identify a solution for it, they also faced the challenge of communicating the credibility of the tuberculin test to the public. By 1938, only 3% of dairy farmers had consented to having their cattle tested with the tuberculin. This was very concerning, because without the public’s trust and cooperation, bovine tuberculosis would have continued to rampage from undetected bovine carriers to cattle and humans across the world. A combination of persuasion, improvement of the test, and government compensation had to be crafted over many years before the public accepted the tuberculin testing and bovine tuberculosis could be mostly eliminated (Waddington, 2004, “Frustrating Eradication,” para. 1). If it was already critical in the early 1900s to value relevant data as a tool both to provide a solution to an issue facing society and to persuade society of the reliability of that solution, how much more so is that the case today?

Veterinary medicine also illustrates that data literacy is just as valuable for an individual population’s social issues. For example, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) conducts surveys among veterinary clinics every three years to collect data about trends in heartworm testing results. Heartworm is a fatal parasite in dogs and cats that is routinely tested for so it can either be prevented or treated. Analysis of the AHS’ 2019 survey results revealed that heartworm disease is on the rise in the U.S., especially in the Southeast (Cima 2020). In the state of Georgia, veterinarians have responded to this concerning discovery by making new efforts to raise awareness and prevention of heartworm disease. By communicating to animal owners the persuasive information that they have collected through their data literacy, veterinarians are on the way to stopping the spread of heartworm in Georgia.

Data literacy is so integral to the veterinary field that it is meticulously implemented even within individual veterinary practices. Everything that happens in a clinic or hospital is recorded in data banks, from a discussion with a pet owner to the details of a surgery. This information is then used by the practice to monitor whether its treatments are correct and effective. Moreover, information recorded about individual cases can be applied in facilitating widespread medicinal progress. If veterinarians observe an unusual case or significant trends, they are encouraged to publish a peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal or database so that the veterinary field can be alerted. In fact, special tools have been developed to utilize the data generated by individual clinics. Certain companies provide clinics with specialized software for organizing and preserving their patient data in return for access to that data for research purposes (Traub Werner 2019). Clearly, the spirit of sharing and reusing data in veterinary medicine is very open, with the goal of ensuring that as many people and animals can benefit from it as possible. In particular, veterinarians are expected to keep up to date on the new discoveries among their peers so that they may improve their animal treatment skills. This is ensured by requiring continuing education to maintain a veterinary license. Equipped with the latest information in this way, veterinarians can in turn share it with their clients or in a format accessible to their local public. Ultimately, veterinarians use data literacy to share their experiences among themselves and their communities so that veterinary medicine can be practiced to the highest standard possible.

Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

In modern careers, even non-scientific fields rely on data literacy to make use of the mountains of accessible information in a similar manner as veterinary medicine. The University of Georgia has responded to this need with a data literacy initiative through which it aims to equip its students with the ability to gather, analyze, apply, and communicate data in an ethical and legal manner. Most importantly, students must value data literacy. This is the first step toward realizing the unique possibilities that have been made available to society through the diverse data banks that have been gathered by passionate professionals for years. This valuable information is already at our fingertips, waiting for professionals who will analyze it in regard to specific problems and communicate their findings to the public. If we ignore the value of data literacy, we risk losing the opportunity to improve the lives of people (and animals) across the world.


Cima, G. (15 July 2020). Heartworm prevalent in South, expanding in other hotspots. JAVMAnews, Retrieved 16 Feb. 2020 from https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2020-08-01/heartworm-prevalent-south-expanding-other-hot-spots.

Rogers, O. (31 Dec. 2018). The Importance of data sharing for veterinarians. Faunalytics. Retrieved 31 Oct. 2020 from https://faunalytics.org/the-importance-of-data-sharing-for-veterinarians/.

Traub-Werner, M. (21 Mar. 2019). Let’s look at the veterinary data ecosystem: How it works, who’s who, and how your practice data is being used by data partners. VetSuccess. Retrieved 31 Oct. 2020 from https://vetsuccess.com/blog/data-in-the-veterinary-industry/.

University of Georgia. (2018). Data literacy. University of Georgia Office of Instruction. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2020 from https://www.ovpi.uga.edu/initiatives/data-literacy/.

Waddington, K. (1 Jan. 2004). To stamp out “so terrible a maladay”: Bovine tuberculosis and tuberculin testing in Britain, 1890-1939. Medical History, 48(1), 29-48, Retrieved 17 Feb. 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC546294/.

Dedication:  This paper is dedicated to Emily Parsons. She has been a motivating example to me of devotedly pursuing every career skill in her job, including data literacy, so that she can serve her community to the best of her ability.

Citation Style: APA