An article by our own Dr. Chau:
A veterinarian is a medical doctor. Trained in surgery, internal medicine, diagnosis of diseases and acute injuries, administering anesthesia, an animal doctor is your best friend’s most educated and skilled expert.
A veterinarian can open a living being, retrieve a swallowed sock, pair of underwear, or pieces of a shoe, sew that animal back up and send it home shortly afterwards. A veterinarian can set broken bones, diagnose and treat cancer, and look at a heart and diagnose palpitations, murmurs, enlargements and failure. A veterinarian frequently treats kidney and bladder stones, Cushings disease, diabetes, and Lyme disease.
A veterinarian is often the last person a pet sees before passing away. A veterinarian has the heart-aching responsibility of ending a pet’s suffering when little hope remains of recovery. A veterinarian helps pet owning families say goodbye, often with many of the family in attendance up until the last moment, without regard to “business hours” or “appointment schedules.” A veterinarian struggles internally with many cases, between performing best medicine and performing affordable medicine. A veterinarian has a greater risk of divorce, suicide, and financial ruin than most if not all other medical doctors.
A veterinarian is one of the most popular professions that children say they want to be when they grow up. Yet, in the United States there are only 23 vet schools, less than 1 per state. States like Virginia and Maryland “share” their medical school at Virginia Tech. According to the New York Times, there is just 1 veterinarian for every 10 human-medical doctors in the United States.
A veterinarian will graduate medical school with anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 of debt, and face an average starting salary of just $40,000 per year. Private lenders have “doctor” loans for students, but often those favorable products do not apply to veterinarians (perhaps understanding all-too-well the difficult financial road ahead.) Veterinarians often invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical equipment, and must purchase the same equipment used on humans. Yet, veterinarians have among the lowest default rates of any industry in the United States, at less than ½ of 1%.
Many veterinarians are on the front line of the US’s defense against contagious diseases, protecting the nation’s food supply, and are officers in the US military. There are veterinarians in Congress and some have been in the Senate. Increasingly, veterinarians are the only medical doctor in many rural towns.
A veterinarian is a small-business owner, employer, medical expert, confidant, and community icon. A veterinarian is the child who got straight-A’s throughout school, succeeded in even the most difficult subjects, could easily have gotten into human-medicine schools, yet always knew from a young age that to be a veterinarian was the only road for them. However, statistically, a child is more likely to grow up and be in professional sports than be a veterinarian, both being just a sliver of the US workforce (less than 1/10 of 1%.)
A veterinarian uses ultrasound, x-rays (or radiographs in medical terminology), endoscopes (the snakelike tube that lets one see inside a body without surgery), microscopes and lasers. Perhaps because veterinary medicine is predominantly pay-as-you-go, with fewer than 5% of pet-owners having pet insurance, veterinarians are forced to be on the leading edge of medical treatment methods, tracking human medical research studies, monitoring health treatment options overseas, and likely willing to treat using alternative medicine when they see convincing data of effectiveness (without the need to wait for medical insurance companies to sign-off.) Veterinarians are increasingly learning acupuncture in medical school, since research has shown that in some cases it can be up to 80% effective in treating spinal paralysis compared with just 40% with surgery. Veterinarians are increasingly becoming specialized as allergists, internists, rehabilitation therapists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, pathologists and more.
Despite the increasing power and success of veterinarians and their tools to identify illness or injury in a non-talking patient, a veterinarian is asked almost daily to skip diagnostic tests and/or guarantee a positive outcome from a medical treatment. A veterinarian will be challenged why they can’t do surgery for just $60, and must carefully explain why doctors don’t always require pain-blocking medicine, or pre-surgical tests to make sure a patient won’t die during surgery. A veterinarian must walk carefully in explaining why the pet the family purchased for $50, now requires hundreds of dollars of treatment, and how a family “received” the pet has no bearing on the cost of its care. A veterinarian knows that malpractice on a stray or foster pet is just as serious as malpractice on a pure-bread pet, or their skills are just as challenged with a pet that fits in your hands, as one that can give a you a ride around a racetrack: Anything less than the proper practice of medicine of either animal can cost the doctor their medical license. A veterinarian will be asked, even implored to forgo the cost of diagnosing a problem and jump to treatment by guessing the problem. A veterinarian will be sued and could lose their license for skipping diagnostic tests, and administering drugs or treatment without proper medical reasons (of which “the cost of the pet from the store was less than the cost of the test” isn’t satisfactory.) A veterinarian will witness a pet owner discard a pet, even sometimes be asked to kill a healthy pet, specifically choosing to end an animal’s life rather than to allow it to be adopted by someone else.
A veterinarian is a spokesperson for animals. A veterinarian, by many federal, state and local laws, is a “safe haven” for pets. They can identify when a pet is suffering or ill, and can make recommendations that can greatly impact the quality and length of life. Veterinarians take their responsibilities very seriously, are accountable to their state’s board of health professionals, and are sworn to uphold a high code of ethics.
A veterinarian is a humanitarian to their core. They demonstrate the best of human virtues by treating patients with dignity, doing no harm, and relieving suffering. As an advocate for what is right and just for an animal that a family chooses, a pet could do no better for a “best friend.”