I have just graduated from vet school, and I have been trying to prepare for the transition from student to professional. I am finding that it would be so easy if a certain set of symptoms always meant the same diagnosis. Unfortunately, many sick pets don’t follow the manual; their symptoms are abnormal for their disease. Moreover, often times the presenting complaint for the visit is just a set of nebulous symptoms, like “feeling off” or “not doing right.” Even things like weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea can have a million different causes, and one of my saddest days in vet school was when, at 10:30 pm, a vet told me to go research each one. It was a late night.
I have read a couple of articles lately in pet magazines about owners who feel that their vets are running extraneous tests. These articles make me angry but also confused; why do owners not understand that these tests might make a huge difference in the diagnosis and treatment of their animals? For example, in one week of vet school, three different cats came in and all were eventually diagnosed with the same disease. One cat was a textbook case and testing was done for confirmation only, one cat had only a couple of symptoms and we had to do additional diagnostics to reach a diagnosis, and the last cat seemed completely normal and we only caught the disease due to routine bloodwork. Skipping tests might have been a disaster for two of the three cats.
Like pet owners, I wish that every disease had clear, unmistakable symptoms and an easy, inexpensive cure. I think in the next year, when I become more and more confident in my profession, I will need to remember that, although science is what we rely on, medicine is really an art.