Veterinary medicine can be practiced in many different ways. As you travel around states, regions, and the world, you realize that there are many different interpretations of “standard of care” that differ from what we are taught in school. Some of the differences involve cleanliness, some of them involve how procedures are done, and some involve certain treatments that different veterinarians prefer. As veterinary students, I think it is useful to take as much of these differences into our brains as possible to weigh the pros an cons of each in order to make the best choice for our future clients and careers.
During an externship that I recently attended, I was reminded of how different veterinary practice is in a rural area vs. here at school. In rural private practice, we saw a lot of clients during the day. Appointments typically lasted 10-20 minutes, varying based on the health status of the animal and whether or not we needed to intervene with treatment for a disease. We saw clients until noon, and then again until 5 or 6 PM. In contrast to school, this was so relieving to me. It was satisfying to have clients come in with something they need, and we would fulfill the need quickly and efficiently. In school, we may see only a handful of appointments each day depending on the service. We see animals with issues that many referring veterinarians have not been able to treat. Sometimes even the experts at our vet school can’t treat them effectively.
One of the most drastic differences between veterinary practice at school and in private practice is the price of things and how much people are willing to spend on their animals. In private practice, people regularly state how much money they are prepared to spend during the visit. They give us a limit that we have to work with. In contrast, the nature of academic veterinary institutions makes it so that most of the cases require very complicated care that costs top dollar. I won’t say the largest bill that I have seen paid for in the hospital, but just trust me that it was exorbitant, to say the least.
There is no perfect way to practice veterinary medicine. While it is a science, aspects of it are forms of art in themselves. One method of care may be ideal for one patient but cannot be supported by the client. It is our job to find the middle ground and the best way to care for each individual patient based on what its owner can provide for it. There are truly 2 parties at work with each case in veterinary medicine. Without the support and care of the owner, the patient cannot thrive. The role of the veterinarian is to navigate these waters with understanding and respect.