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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Equine Medicine

Yesterday I mentioned that I would not be going into Equine Medicine. 

Before I started vet school, my response to the often asked question (was less of a question and more of a statement) "so you will be doing equine medicine of course" was based on the assumptions that I wanted to keep my hobbies and my job separate. 

I always wondered whether I was making the right decision - I'm so passionate about horses and have been my entire life.  In fact, my passion for horses FAR exceeds my passion for medicine and really anything else in life.  I am never happier than when I'm doing something with my horses.

And that's the key.  "...MY horses."

I like meeting other people's horses.  I like meeting other people's dogs (if they are nice).  But my overwhelming interest in both of those species is how it relates to MY animals and MY interests, and want *I* am doing with them. 

Cats are a different story.  I like cats.  All cats.  I tend to squeal (softly, as not to frighten the poor things) and instantly melt in the presence of cats.  Not just my own. 

I would probably make a good cat vet.  But I digress. 

Working in the equine medicine rotation confirmed that yes, I am making the right decision by going into food animal. 

Here's a couple of my observations -

1.  Ignorance is bliss.  I don't want to see horrible things in horses.  I don't want to see the worst, or how the simple can go terribly wrong.  I sat through a wound care class for equines in the morning and it was very difficult for me to distance myself from the thought that it could happen to Farley. Every patient I saw, I had the thought "this could be Farley".  From the cellutitis, to the skin cancer, to the kidney failure. 

2.  I'm too close, too immersed in the horse world.  I can't put the right kind of distance between me and the patient to protect myself from burnout.  I can identify with the owner WAY too much to be the professional I need to be.

3.  I get frustrated with the average horse owner.  Endurance owners aren't average.  In general, if you have participated in a sport, you aren't average.  I can't relate to the typical backyard owner and their lack of drive to understand the minutiae of the horse sport, riding, and their animal.  I can't relate and it isn't fair of me to expect them to conform to some nonexistent standard, and then be frustrated when they don't.  Dealing with these kind of feelings is a recipe for burnout and dissatisfaction with my job.  Better that I do medicine in a field that I still find important and interesting, but that I'm not so vested in.

4.  We (vets) are expected to treat all horses like civilized beasts, when let's face it - they aren't.  Some horses are angels.  Most are decent critters.  Some are down right uncivilized and the owners recognize it - but more likely the owner can't understand why the vet is wary of a 4-hoofed animal with teeth that doesn't have any respect for space.  "He's really just a sweetie...".  It makes me wonder whether this contributes to the high injury risk among equine vets?  At least with a food animal, for the most part you don't have to pretend that you are just fine with a 1000 pound beast trying to kill you and the owner doesn't get in a huff when you say you would prefer to put them in the chute....

5.  The last thing I wanted to do after my rotation was to see my horse.  That does not bode well.

6.  I don't want to let go of my "horse owner" self to the degree I must, in order to be the vet I need to be. 

So there you have it.  It's nice to know that my suspicions were correct and I'm not having to deal with the trauma of discovering that I don't want to do equine, if that's what I had gone to vet school to do. 

I would like to point out that I got in my 3 posts this week :) 


  1. So, what does a "food vet" do, exactly?

  2. Public health, herd management, disease control, health protocols, optimizing production, slaughter etc. Actually very similar premise to my last job, which I really enjoyed. I like food safety and looking after the food supply is something I really care about. I enjoy epidemology and the patterns of disease, along with major disease outbreaks that go across species - like west nile. I plan on practicing for a few years - perhaps in small ruminents??? or poultry or dairy or? - before stepping back and doing something more "wide-reached" and big picture-like. :) Probably way more information than you wanted to know about food animal medicine!!!!!! LOL.


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