Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am

I just received in the mail the 14th edition of Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy, which collates new discoveries in veterinary medicine, and am in for quite a few nights of reading to keep up to date with current techniques.

Things have changed a lot during my time as a veterinarian.

It is amazing the change a decade brings. Many veterinary procedures that were new or experimental during the mid- to late 1980s are now commonplace. Diagnoses then were primarily made by taking the animal's history and performing a physical examination. Some advanced tools were available but were seldom used because of cost and the reluctance of a less educated and less demanding clientele.

Diagnostic procedures and treatments that rival those available in hospitals for humans are now available. Animal medicine has been at the forefront of medicine in general. Many therapies were initially developed for and used experimentally on animals before making their way into the arsenal of human treatments.

I have seen the possibilities and boundaries of my profession enlarged to include many specialist fields. Even in general medicine I am encountering more and more rare cases and exotic animals, from hamsters to spiders and reptiles. My clinic has seen a growth of more than 100 per cent in exotic-pet visits in the past five years.

When I started as a vet I was still using halothane as a general anaesthetic. Ten to 20 years before that, some vets were still using ether. Nowadays we use anaesthetic protocols very similar to those in humans' hospitals, and much safer anaesthetics. An anaesthetist from a nearby hospital who is a client of mine told me, as I was giving him a tour of our surgical facilities, that vets nowadays use the same drugs he would use on an 80-year-old human patient.

Initially vets relied on nurses and ourselves to monitor anaesthetics, but now we have many technological aids, and all these advances have led to safer anaesthetics and in turn have allowed us to perform trickier surgery with less risk.

These continual advances keep vets on our toes and constantly looking out for new information in the form of seminars, workshops, textbooks, magazines and the internet. Veterinary science offers continual learning opportunities, with many new ideas and techniques discovered every year. This has kept me excited about my field.

More advances also mean more specialisations, and there are now myriad veterinary specialties. I was surprised to learn that among all the commonly known specialties, such as cardiology, dermatology and oncology, there are vets out there that specialise in just the programming of ultrasound machines. Now that is a niche field!

My clinic has vets with particular interests in specific fields, and this diversity really helps us learn from one another. For example, one of my colleagues has a special interest in skin diseases. From her we have learned more about current techniques in therapies for skin disease.

This leads me to another change that has occurred in the past few decades. Where once the veterinary field was dominated by men, the tables have turned, and now more than 70 per cent of graduates are women. This is certainly reflected in the increasing number of female vets seeking jobs.

I get the occasional irate client who complains about coming to the clinic on my day off and seeing a new, younger vet. The client would ask why I hired younger vets. The answer is that it really helps balance the practice.

Young vets often bring with them the latest innovations in veterinary medicine that they have just learned at university. Sure, their skills need to be honed and they need to mature, but I learn quite a lot from my new graduates and vice versa. This synergy is essential for the future of our profession. It is a win-win situation: I help train new vets for the future and in turn I myself grow from the experience.

The rapid progress of veterinary medicine has its ups and downs for vets. With this progress, clients are much more demanding, expecting the best therapy our profession has to offer. This challenges our skills and keeps us on our toes to keep up to date. But sometimes clients have expectations that no vet can match and the animal deteriorates regardless of treatment. If the situation is hopeless, then euthanasia may be the only valid option - and after 10 years, it is still the toughest part of my job.

Even with the long hours and working on weekends with comparatively average pay, I don't regret for a moment my choice to become a vet. As with all things in life, there are ups and downs, but overall I can't imagine doing anything else.