Treating more than the horse

We treat more than pets. Legally, of course. The person attached to our patient is just as important as the patient itself. Whether it is an annual exam or late night emergency, attending to the client is, in essence, attending to the patient. Help the client to help the horse. I think there are floating misconceptions among some vets, and about vets, that our profession only serves the patient part of the equation. By ignoring, negating or dismissing the client half of the equation, I believe vets are neglecting the very reason we even have a patient…that someone reached out to us.

Why did you become a veterinarian?

I’m always curious to hear other veterinary professionals discuss their reasons for choosing this profession. By far, the overwhelming majority of answers are centered around a core feeling of compassion/love for animals, coupled with a desire to maintain, improve and advocate for animal health. On a rare occasion, I hear a starkly different answer along the lines of “because I don’t like people.”

People and Medicine

The “because I don’t like people” reason strikes a contrast with the more common reason. Firstly, it comes off as void of sentiment and does not even mention a regard, concern or care of animals. In fact, there is no mention at all of the locus- animals. Second, the veterinary profession is comprised of and dependent on people. People infiltrate the entirety of veterinary medicine, filling diverse roles such as colleagues, professors, CE conventions, receptionists, assistants, lab technicians, owners, trainers, buyers, caretakers, transporters, state and federal government personnel, pharmacists, sellers, externs, drug reps, students…

There’s comical memes out there about this very reason for becoming a vet. Or similar ideology such as “the only thing I like about you is your pets.” I appreciate the humor. Truth is, this is a sincere reason for pursuing a DVM according to some. I’ve never heard a practicing veterinarian cite this reason. The only subset of people I’ve heard use the “Because I don’t like people” are vetmed hopefuls.

Ideal vs. Real

Veterinary hopefuls seeking a career free of people, are bound for personal and professional disappointment. Travel the road to DVM long enough, and it becomes unmistakably clear that the there can be no veterinary field without people.

Over the last year and half in private practice, especially as an equine practitioner, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of people skills. Not just refined communication skills and strong bedside manner, but the ability to perceive, listen, collaborate and recognize client needs. Especially as an equine practitioner, we are on the forefront of this interface and often times dealing with all interactions one-on-one. Back to the basics, there would be no patient if there was no owner caring to have their pet seen.

Don’t like people? Doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of being a veterinarian. There is already a tremendous, seemingly infinite list of inherent challenges that come with the job. Adding another parameter obstacle, not only increases this weight of challenges…but I imagine it becomes a thief of what would otherwise be some of the richest, most rewarding experiences in veterinary medicine. Even more detrimental and profound, is what this limitation means for the care of the patient, quality of medicine and overall health of the profession.

I’ll say this. You don’t have to be a social butterfly or extrovert. Plenty of “I”s in the vet field. But if you don’t like people, maybe one of the most rewarding outcomes of joining this profession will be a change in heart.


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17 thoughts on “Treating more than the horse

  • Morgan, you have created a lovely, thoughtful blog. You reminded me of how much I depended on visiting vets when I was foreman for a small ranch in northern NM many years ago. What a critical service you offer!
    And thanks for following my blog!

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  • What a lovely post. I appreciate your points on the importance of treating both major components of the patient. (The animal/ and the human)
    Reading your newest post reminds me of reading a book by one of my favorite authors. James Herriot. Stories from a rural vet back in the day. So so many wonderful heartfelt stories about the care and treatment of the animals and sometimes, even more importantly, the humans who care for and love them.
    Thank you for sharing. 🙂
    Keep blogging!

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  • Hey! Thanks for stopping by. I think you are right about this. My granddaughter was thinking of becoming a veterinarian. I don’t think people in general rea l use the commitment of years of training it takes. We have always had gre a t animal doctors for our pets and ranch animals. Horses, especially are in my opinion, are delicate, thoughtful animals. But I think most animals can read a person. Thanks for posting this.

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    • Thank you for the thoughtful response! I agree 100% with you about the sensitive nature of horses. If your grand-daughter pursues the veterinarian path, it is absolutely a challenging road ahead of her, but I cannot imagine a more rewarding journey!

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  • So true. I’ve had experiences in teaching hospitals with up and coming doctors in training who seemed very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all things medical but had less than adequate social skills in the sense if knowing how to communicate with patients and/or their accompanying family members and friends.

    I also saw this at my University which has a very well known Veterinary college (Guelph, in Canada). I wasn’t studying to be a vet, but people in my dorm were, and some of them were so shy and afraid of people, I thought, they have to learn how to talk to them. Talking to an owner of a sick animal takes a special kind of skill-set. 😊 Interesting post. 🇨🇦

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    • Thank you for sharing your experiences! This topic has certainly caught the attention of vet schools, and some have created curriculum to address the problem. I was fortunate to attend a vet school that placed a strong emphasis on communication, especially in our fourth year. Our communication classes not only discussed effective ways on communicate, but went so far as to hire actors for mock appointments so that we could practice listening, understanding and responding to client needs. Some of the most helpful scenarios involved breaking sad/tragic news, discussing euthanasia and attending angry/upset clients. We would go from the mock appointments to real appointments. The “pretend conversations” turned into real-life situations, and I feel like I was much more prepared for whatever that situation would be.

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  • My town has very nice rent free living quarters, a fully equipped big animal hospital as part of the complex and more business in cattle country than they could handle if they wanted it. We have been trying find a vet for nearly a decade but no one wants to come and live in a rural area. Sick animals have to be transported more than two hours to the nearest vet since the last vet retired. No one will come and make a call at a farm out here anymore. If you can’t get the animal into a trailer and transport it you might as well just put a bullet through its brain. I’m not sure if big animal vets are a different species from regular vets. I do know there aren’t enough of them. Most vets these days do only small animal pet care in the big city. I dread the day when the great guy I go to who is a long drive away, retires.

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    • Thank you for the inciteful post. You touched on a very important issue…the scarcity of rural vets is becoming epidemic. Although the government has programs to incentavize rural vets (gov. pays for vet school in exchange for a certain number of years working in rural areas), there is still an increasing shortage of ag/rural vets. I don’t know if large animal vets are a different breed, but I do know that based on the nature of the job (long days, irratic hours, physically grueling, dangerous, working outside no matter the weather conditions)…it takes a special individual with a passion for the field! Out of 104 graduates in my class, only 4 went on to become rural large animal vets. The need is very real, and I hope that a vet finds their way to your area soon!

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  • P.S. I know your blog was about dealing with people. You are so correct without us there wouldn’t be a need for vets since we bring it call for help!! I’m privileged to help behind the scenes!

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  • Thank you for this post! I am a chemistry supervisor in a very busy veterinary reference laboratory and have been doing this for over 35 years! We provide the best diagnostic care we can and it’s AMAZING all the testing we do for all animal life on this planet! ( Seriously, we get blood from aquariums, zoos, personal pets, you name, we’ve probably tested it!) ❤️ I also am an animal owner, and was just with my equine vet last night, (why do they always seem to colic on a Sunday! 🙄) And I think my horse will be fine, vitals all normal but was a bit dehydrated and off his feed. So with a good oil, and meds, hoping he’ll be back to himself in a day or so. 👍😊
    Veterinarians are the unsung heros for us animal owner’s! Thank you for your dedicated service, knowledge, care and blog! ❤️ Diana 😁

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    • First, I have to ask- how is your horse doing? Hope he had a swift recovery from his colic episode. We just went through a wave of colics (8 colics in 3 days). Fortunately they all pulled through and are alive and well! Your job sounds fascinating! With today’s vast expanse of diagnostic testing, I feel very fortunate to be a veterinarian in this day and age! Also, thank you for all your years in the lab…sometimes we send out samples and as if by magic, test results appear in an e-mail or fax…but it’s not magic. It’s hard-working people in the labs! I would not be able to diagnose or treat my patients to the best of my ability if I didn’t have diagnostic labs on my team!

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      • My horse is doing GREAT! Back to his old cantankerous self. Eating and pooping well. Us ladies always laugh at the stables how much we love poop! It’s a sure sign if a healthy horse gut. YES! This is a great time to be in vet medicine and thank you for the kind words, we work hard to give the results to our clients as accurately and timely as we can. 😊 It’s an honor to be on your team!! ❤️ Diana

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