This week’s Vet Q & A is a little different. Our vet Dr. Richard Goldstein explains how veterinary medicine has changed over the past twenty years and what remains important.
Q: This week’s Q & A is a three-fold question: What advice would you give to someone considering studying veterinary medicine today? How has it evolved since you studied at Cornell? And in your practice, what is the most common disease seen in cats versus dogs? Thank-you.
A: Will Rogers once said, “The best doctor in the world is a veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what is the matter — he’s got to just know.”
Over the past 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes in veterinary medicine. Advances in science and technology have enabled us to treat our pets with the same quality of medical care as humans. When I was in school, ultrasound was only found at universities. Now it’s considered a “standard of care” in general practice. In-house blood analyzers were unheard of; now most practices have them. X-rays were developed using chemical tanks; now we’ve gone digital. Medical records are computerized. MRI’s are commonplace. There are even mobile animal hospitals!
Along with the technological advancement has also come a shift in the profession towards “specialists” (just like in human medicine) – veterinarians concentrating on one specific aspect of animal care, and, in some cases, one specific species. Back in the day (now I sound like my grandpa), veterinarians were like the family practitioner: you went to one doctor for everything from the annual wellness exam to major surgery. Now, it’s possible for your pet to have his general practitioner, his dermatologist, his internist, his surgeon, his ophthalmologist, and his cardiologist!
One of the most important things I learned in school was from Dr. Francis Fox, one of the large animal clinicians at Cornell. He taught me the value of performing a thorough physical exam on every patient, and understanding how the entire body works together. It’s one of the principles I stress with my veterinary technician students as well: the body is truly the sum of its parts. The liver can’t work well if the heart doesn’t work well; the brain can’t work well if the gut isn’t working well. So, while specialization is invaluable, it’s important to also train good general practitioners who can steer the ship, and make sure that all of the pieces of the puzzle from the specialists are fitting together properly in the body.
My advice to people wanting to become veterinarians is simple: remember, it’s all about the animals and their people. While all of this technology and specialization is great, “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” As animal advocates, it’s up to us to counsel pet owners about all of the options available for treatment, and come up with a plan that keeps the animal’s best interests at heart. And always do a thorough physical exam. Even though they can’t verbalize it, animals will tell you what’s wrong.
Oh, and as for the most common ailments I see… well, it depends on the day! But, for dogs, I would have to put skin allergies and ear infections pretty high up. For cats, it would be obesity.
And each and every one gets a good physical exam!