A veterinary physician, colloquially called a vet, shortened from veterinarian (American English, Australian English) or veterinary surgeon (British English), is a professional who practices veterinary medicine by treating disease, disorder, and injury in non-human animals.
In many countries, the local nomenclature for a vet is a regulated and protected term, meaning that members of the public without the prerequisite qualifications and/or registration are not able to use the title. In many cases, the activities that may be undertaken by a veterinarian (such as animal treatment or surgery) are restricted only to those professionals who are registered as vet. For instance, in the United Kingdom, as in other jurisdictions, animal treatment may only be performed by registered vets (with a few designated exceptions, such as paraveterinary workers), and it is illegal for any person who is not registered to call themselves a vet or perform any treatment.
Most vets work in clinical settings, treating animals directly. These vets may be involved in a general practice, treating animals of all types; may be specialized in a specific group of animals such as companion animals, livestock, zoo animals or horses; or may specialize in a narrow medical discipline such as surgery, dermatology or internal medicine.
As with other healthcare professionals, vets face ethical decisions about the care of their patients. Current debates within the profession include the ethics of purely cosmetic procedures on animals, such as declawing of cats, docking of tails, cropping of ears and debarking on dogs.
- 1 Etymology and nomenclature
- 2 History
- 3 Roles and responsibilities
- 4 Employment
- 5 Education and regulation
- 6 Impact on human medicine
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Veterinary malpractice
- 9 Criticisms
- 10 Practice by country
- 11 See also
- 12 Further reading
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Etymology and nomenclature
The term veterinarian is used in North America and other countries using predominantly American English, whereas in the United Kingdom, and countries which are formerly part of the British Empire or are part of the Commonwealth of Nations tend to use the term veterinary surgeon.
The first veterinary college was founded in Lyon, France in 1762 by Claude Bourgelat. According to Lupton, after observing the devastation being caused by cattle plague to the French herds, Bourgelat devoted his time to seeking out a remedy. This resulted in his founding a veterinary college in Lyon in 1761, from which establishment he dispatched students to combat the disease; in a short time, the plague was stayed and the health of stock restored, through the assistance rendered to agriculture by veterinary science and art."
The Odiham Agricultural Society was founded in 1783 in England to promote agriculture and industry, and played an important role in the foundation of the veterinary profession in Britain. A 1785 Society meeting resolved to "promote the study of Farriery upon rational scientific principles.”
The professionalization of the veterinary trade was finally achieved in 1790, through the campaigning of Granville Penn, who persuaded the Frenchman, Benoit Vial de St. Bel to accept the professorship of the newly established Veterinary College in London. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons was established by royal charter in 1844.
Veterinary science came of age in the late 19th century, with notable contributions from Sir John McFadyean, credited by many as having been the founder of modern Veterinary research.
Roles and responsibilities
Vets are primarily required to treat disease, disorder or injury in animals, which includes diagnosis, treatment and aftercare. The scope of practice, specialty and experience of the individual vets will dictate exactly what interventions they perform, but most will perform surgery (of differing complexity).
Unlike in adult human medicine, vets must rely on clinical signs, as animals are unable to vocalize symptoms as a human would (and in that respect is similar to medicine on human children). In some cases, owners may be able to provide a medical history and the vet can combine this information along with observations, and the results of pertinent diagnostic tests such as x-rays, CT scans, blood tests, urinalysis or other diagnostics.
As with human medicine, much veterinary work is concerned with prophylactic treatment, in order to prevent problems occurring in the future. Common interventions include vaccination against common animal illnesses, such as distemper or rabies. This may also involve being involved in owner education so as to avoid future medical or behavioral issues.
Unlike in most human medicine, vets will often consider the appropriateness of euthanasia ("putting to sleep") if a condition is likely to leave the animal in pain or with a poor quality of life.
The majority of vets are employed in private practice treating animals (75% of vets in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association).
Small animal vets typically work in veterinary clinics or veterinary hospitals, or both. Large animal vets often spend more time travelling to see their patients at the primary facilities which house them, such as zoos or farms.
Other employers include charities treating animals, colleges of veterinary medicine, research laboratories, animal food companies, and pharmaceutical companies. In many countries, the government may also be a major employer of vets, such as the United States Department of Agriculture or the State Veterinary Service in the United Kingdom. State and local governments also employ veterinarians.
Focus of practice
Vets and their practices may be specialized in certain areas of veterinary medicine. Areas of focus include:
- Exotic animal veterinarian - Generally considered to include reptiles, exotic birds such as parrots and cockatoos, and small mammals such as ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas, and degus.
- Conservation medicine - The study of the relationship between animal and human health and environmental conditions.
- Small animal practice - Usually dogs, cats, and other companion animals/household pets such as hamsters and gerbils. Some practices are canine-only or feline-only practices.
- Laboratory animal practice - Some veterinarians work in a university or industrial laboratory and are responsible for the care and treatment of laboratory animals of any species (often involving bovines, porcine species, felines, canines, rodents, and even exotic animals). Their responsibility is not only for the health and well being of the animals, but also for enforcing humane and ethical treatment of the animals in the facility.
- Large animal practice - Usually referring to veterinarians that work with, variously, livestock and other large farm animals, as well as equine species and large reptiles.
- Equine medicine - Some veterinarians are specialists in equine medicine. Horses are different in anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and husbandry to other domestic species. Specialization in equine veterinary practice is something that is normally developed after qualification, even if students do have some interest before graduation.
- Food animal medicine - Some veterinarians deal exclusively or primary with animals raised for food (such as meat, milk, and eggs). Livestock practitioners may deal with ovine (sheep), bovine (cattle) and porcine (swine) species; such veterinarians deal with management of herds, nutrition, reproduction, and minor field surgery. Dairy medicine practice focuses on dairy animals. Poultry medicine practice focuses on the health of flocks of poultry; the field often involves extensive training in pathology, epidemiology, and nutrition of birds. The veterinarian treats the flock and not the individual animals.
- Food safety practice - Veterinarians are employed by both the food industry and government agencies to advise on and monitor the handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness.
- Wildlife medicine - A relatively recent branch of veterinary medicine, focusing on wildlife. Wildlife medicine veterinarians may work with zoologists and conservation medicine practitioners and may also be called out to treat marine species such as sea otters, dolphins, or whales after a natural disaster or oil spill.
Veterinary specialists are in the minority compared to general practice vets, and tend to be based at points of referral, such as veterinary schools or larger animal hospitals. Unlike human medicine, veterinary specialities often combine both the surgical and medical aspects of a biological system.
Veterinary specialities are accredited in North America by the AVMA through the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, in Europe by the European Board of Veterinary Specialisation and in Australasia by the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council. While some vets may have areas of interest outside of recognized specialities, they are not legally specialists.
The mean salary for new graduates in the United States during 2010 was US$48,674 including nearly 50% going on to advanced study programs. Those not continuing their studies made US$67,359 at first, whereas vets in the United Kingdom earned slightly less with new graduate wages at an average of £25,000.
The average income for private practice in the United States rose from $105,510 in 2005 to $115,447 in 2007. These increased values exceed those of public practice including uniformed services and government. In Australia the profession wide average income was $67,000 in 2011 and this has declined compared to other professions for the past 30 years whilst graduate unemployment has doubled between 2006 and 2011.
Education and regulation
Veterinary science degrees
Degrees in veterinary medicine culminate in the award of a veterinary science degree, although the title varies by region. For instance, in North America, graduates will receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) whereas in the United Kingdom or India they would be awarded a Bachelor's degree in Veterinary Science, Surgery or Medicine (BVS, BVSc, BVetMed or BVMS), and in Ireland graduates receive a Medicina Veterinaria Baccalaureate (MVB).
The award of a bachelor's degree was previously commonplace in the United States, but the degree name and academic standards were upgraded to match the 'doctor' title used by graduates.
Comparatively few universities have veterinary schools that offer degrees which are accredited to qualify the graduates as registered vets. In the United States, only 28 universities offer a degree meeting American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) standards, in Canada, only 5 veterinary schools offer a vet qualifying course and in the United Kingdom only 7 universities offer a suitable degree.
Due to this scarcity of places for veterinary degrees, admission to veterinary school is competitive and requires extensive preparation. The likelihood of acceptance is not in favor of the applicant, though is higher than acceptance rates in most academic PhD programs and medical schools. In the United States in 2007, approximately 5,750 applicants competed for the 2,650 seats in the 28 accredited veterinary schools, with an acceptance rate of 46%. This compares with acceptance rates of well under 25% for most PhD and MD degrees.
With competitive admission, many schools may place heavy emphasis and consideration on a candidate's veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience is a particular advantage to the applicant, often consisting of work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science. Less formal experience is also helpful for the applicant to have, and this includes working with animals on a farm or ranch or at a stable or animal shelter and basic overall animal exposure.
In the United States, approximately 80% of admitted students are female. In the early history of veterinary medicine of the USA, most veterinarians were males. However, in the 1990s this ratio reached parity, and now it has been reversed.
Preveterinary courses should emphasize the sciences. Most veterinary schools typically require applicants to have taken one year equivalent classes in organic, inorganic chemistry, physics, general biology; and one semester of vertebrate embryology and biochemistry. Usually, the minimal mathematics requirement is college level calculus. Individual schools might require introduction to animal science, livestock judging, animal nutrition, cell biology, and genetics. However, due the limited availability of these courses, many schools have removed these requirements to widen the pool of possible applicants.
Registration and licensing
Following academic education, most countries require a vet to be registered with the relevant governing body, and to maintain this license to practice.
Dependent on where the vet practices (or wishes to practice), they may have to complete an examination or test in order to complete this registration. For instance, in the United States, a prospective vet must receive a passing grade on a national board examination, the North America Veterinary Licensing Exam. This exam must be completed over the course of eight hours, and consists of 360 multiple-choice questions, covering all aspects of veterinary medicine, as well as visual material designed to test diagnostic skills.
The percentage electing to undertake further study following registration in the United States has increased from 36.8% to 39.9% in 2008. About 25% of those or about 9% of graduates were accepted into traditional academic internships. (2008 -696 graduates accepted a position in advanced study, 89.2% (621) accepted an internship (private practice, 74.5%; academic, 25.3%; and other internship, 0.2%). An additional 6.0% (42) accepted a residency). Approximately 9% of veterinarians eventually board certify in one of 20 specialties.
Curriculum comparison with human medicine
The first two year curriculum in both veterinary and human medical schools are very similar in the course names, but at certain subjects relatively different in content. Generally, the more basal the field of science is (for example: biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology etc.), the more similar it is. Later on when the courses get more clinically oriented, more significant differences arise. Where some things are completely different, and other things are about the same. Considering the courses, the first two year curriculum usually include biochemistry, physiology, histology, anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and hematology. Some veterinary school uses the same biochemistry, histology, and microbiology books as human medicine students; however, the course content is greatly supplemented to include the varied animal diseases and species specific differences. Many veterinarians were trained in pharmacology using the same text books as human physicians. As the specialty of veterinary pharmacology develop, more schools are using pharmacology textbooks written specifically for veterinarians. Veterinary physiology, anatomy, and histology is complex, as physiology often varies among species. Microbiology and virology of animals share the same foundation as human microbiology, but with grossly different disease manifestation and presentations. Epidemiology is focused on herd health and prevention of herd borne diseases, and foreign animal diseases. Pathology, like microbiology and histology, is very diverse and encompasses many species and organ systems. Most veterinary school have courses in small animal and also large animal nutrition, often taken as electives in the clinical years or as part of the core curriculum in the first two years.
The last two year curriculum of the two fields are similar only in their clinical emphasis. A veterinary student must be well prepared to be a fully functional animal physician on the day of graduation, competent in both surgery and medicine. The graduating veterinarian must be able to pass medical board examination and be prepare to enter clinical practice on the day of graduation, while most human medical doctors in the USA complete 3 to 5 years of post-doctoral residency before practicing medicine independently, usually in a very narrow and focused specialty. Many veterinarians do also complete a post-doctoral residency, but its not nearly as common as it is in human medicine.
Impact on human medicine
Some veterinarians pursue post-graduate training and enter research careers and have contributed to advances in many human and veterinary medical fields, including pharmacology and epidemiology. Research veterinarians were the first to isolate oncoviruses, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and various other pathogenic agents. Veterinarians were in the forefront in the effort to suppress malaria and yellow fever in the United States. Veterinarians identified the botulism disease-causing agent, produced an anticoagulant used to treat human heart disease, and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip-joint replacement, limb and organ transplants.
In popular culture
US-based cable network Animal Planet, with animal-based programming, frequently features veterinarians. Two notable shows are Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns, set at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Fictional character veterinarians in TV series and films include Steve Parker in Neighbours, Jim Hansen in Providence, and Vincent Ventresca in the horror film Larva. In Beethoven, Dean Jones portrayed Dr. Herman Varnick, an evil veterinarian, with his associates Harvey and Vernon played by Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci, who wanted all animals to be destroyed. They were foiled by the Newton Family and Beethoven. The Newton Family released other dogs from Dr. Varnick's captives.
The Garfield comic has a vet named Liz.
Most states in the US allow for malpractice lawsuit in case of death or injury to an animal from professional negligence. Usually the penalty is not greater than the value of the animal. For that reason, malpractice insurance for veterinarians usually is well under $500 a year, compared to an average of over $15000 a year for a human doctor. Some states allow for punitive penalty, loss of companionship, and suffering into the award, likely increasing the cost of veterinary malpractice insurance and the cost of veterinary care. Most veterinarians carry much higher cost business, worker's compensation, and facility insurance to protect their clients and workers from injury inflicted by animals.
Concerns about the role of veterinary physicians in helping health threats survive and spread have been raised by several commentators, particularly with respect to pedigree dogs. Koharik Arman (2007) reached the following conclusion for example: "Veterinarians also bear some responsibility for the welfare situation of purebred dogs. In fact, the veterinary profession has facilitated the evolution of purebred dogs. ‘Breeds’ that would not normally be sustainable are propagated by the compliance of veterinarians to breeder wishes.”  This finding was echoed by Sir Patrick Bateson in his Independent Review of Dog Breeding following the broadcast of the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed: "It's only the ready availability of modern veterinary medicine that has permitted some conditions…to become widespread.” When considering these criticisms, one needs to understand the make up of the veterinary profession. Some veterinarians work for and represent the animal industry, some are involved in research using animal as models for human diseases, and some are actively working in protest against the animal industry and facilities that use animals for research. All veterinarians strive to work to improve animal welfare. However, veterinarians are not all in agreement on every issue concerning animal research, animal husbandry and animal rights.
Practice by country
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