So my very last rotation of veterinary school was “Diagnostics,” which is really just necropsy with a dash of occasional cytology. And I didn’t like it.
It wasn’t the faculty and residents; they were terrific, some of my favorites from my whole clinical year. It wasn’t the workload, which was really very light by veterinary school standards. It wasn’t my rotation mates; they were awesome. Pathology was even one of my precious few A’s during my first three years of veterinary school, so the subject serves as a fond and maudlin memory for me. Nonetheless, I really don’t enjoy doing necropsies. It turns out that I’m really not all that fond of cutting dead animals into small pieces.
I was not very good at looking at the body to be necropsied and not seeing a patient. I always found myself imagining what the animal was like a few days, or even hours, before it made it to the freezer. Was it in pain? Struggling to breathe? To walk? What did those ulcers feel like? That abdominal mass? Those lung tumors? Did we miss something clinically that led to this necropsy?
Not the happiest of thoughts, to say the least. I did not make the typical mental effort to steel myself against these thoughts, against those feelings. Intentionally, I allowed myself to be bothered by such notions, because I wanted to remember how it felt. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t easily forget how it felt to do a necropsy. Want a reason to go pick up your Merck Vet Manual? My reason was because I didn’t want to be responsible for the death of an animal, a patient, at least not for ignorance anyway.
As one rather sharp member of the U of I surgical faculty told me, “It’s a lot easier to figure out what you can’t live with than it is to know what your ideal looks like at this stage of your career.” A career in any other area wouldn’t bother me so much, but something about necropsy got to me. Partly because I let it get to me, partly because I wanted it to, although I do not know that I could have fended off the feelings had I made a genuine effort. So for my last rotation of veterinary school, and for the first time in veterinary school, I learned that there was one thing – dead animals – with which I could not live.
I think it is best then, that, being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I took that oath at my white coat ceremony some years ago, and I am grateful to be reminded of it now.