I love being a veterinarian. With my combined interest in science, medicine and animals, becoming a veterinarian seemed a natural career choice. Veterinary medicine is challenging, exciting, and rewarding. It is sometimes wondrous, such as when I am helping to bring new animal lives into the world. Sometimes, being a vet is draining, such as when I’m helping owners cope with the ordeal of deciding to end the life of a beloved pet or when I have to explain that despite the amazing advances in veterinary medicine, there is no cure for their pet’s condition.
And sometimes being a veterinarian is frustrating, such as those times when I am asked, as I often am, “Are veterinarians real doctors?”
Please allow me to explain. I spent six years acquiring my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and another four years of schooling in veterinary medicine before I was qualified to take the very demanding national veterinary medical board exam, which is similar to the bar exam that law school graduates are required to take. After being granted my DVM, I took an oath to “use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”
So, yes sir or madam, veterinarians are real doctors.
Veterinarians are doctors in a different field of specialty. In fact, the veterinarian curriculum is more diversified than human medicine because of the amount of different species and physiologies we have to study. Many veterinarians, especially general practitioners, take on many responsibilities as surgeon, pharmacist, diagnostician, radiologist, behaviorist, dentist, orthopedic surgeon … and provide comfort to both patient and owner. All of this has to be learned. Some people like to compare us to pediatricians because we have to determine what is bothering our patients without getting to ask them any questions.
It is statistically harder to get into a veterinary medicine college than it is to get into a human medical college because of the limited number of veterinary colleges (there are only 28 in the United States) compared to medical colleges. The expense of attending vet school is on a par with medical school and the national average for annual earnings for veterinarians doesn’t come close to what most general practitioners in human medicine make.
There is also required continuing education. We all must keep current on the latest developments, new techniques and therapies, ideas and recent diseases. One of our own veterinarians recently completed additional training in physical rehabilitation, an emerging trend to help animals recovering from surgeries and injuries as well as for those dealing with the pain of arthritis and other age-related conditions.
An often-unmentioned component of being a good vet is having strong communication skills. And unfortunately, this is an area where we do not get a lot of training. Our patients can’t tell us what is wrong so we have to rely on the owners to fill in all the details that only they can. Most owners today consider their pets to be members of the family and when a crisis hits, they can become overwhelmed with the decision making process. As humans, many of us have difficulty grasping the medical concepts our own doctors present in explaining their diagnoses. It can be even more challenging for pet owners to grasp a veterinarian’s diagnosis of their pet’s problems. We are often asked, “Why do we have to run so many tests? Why can’t you just give him a shot or something?” Also, because pets often don’t show their age, but do age at a rate of four to seven times faster than people, age-related disabilities often “sneak up” on owners, causing a great deal of concern.
Don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I love being a vet. But I feel it is important for the general public, as well as my clients, to know just what it takes to become a veterinarian and to do it really well. FBN
By Julianne Miller, DVM, Canyon Pet Hospital
1054 Old East Canyon Court, Flagstaff (928) 774-5197