World Veterinary Day: Beyond the Stethoscope

I have written about theme days many times before – sadly, I am actually currently out of fake theme-days to use in poking gentle fun at this post-modern trend of giving important issues (hunger, poverty, intolerance) a special ‘day’ to raise awareness, right alongside days that highlight some obscure social custom (Rub yak butter on your mother-in-law day) or little-known sports (Shark Wrestling Day). Actually, I guess I had a few fake ones in the bank.  Except for that shark one – that’s the real deal (thanks, Aussies!). I am even working on a piece about Hug Your Cat Day, which is just around the corner – stay tuned and check the blog for future posts!

The ‘day’ in question here? World Veterinary Day , which was April 27th. This year’s theme was Vaccination to prevent and protect. Vaccines are a hot-button and controversial issue, so I won’t delve into the pros and cons of that whole discussion here, except to say that the slogan for this year’s theme (“Vaccination Saves Lives”) is spot on. ‘nuff said.

When I was growing up, the word veterinarian brought to my mind Dr. Terry in my home town of Wilmette, IL. Dr. Terry was a rugged but kind man with the sort of facial hair that makes Tom Selleck look like a glabrous tween. To me, he was the archetype of a veterinarian: efficient, stethoscope around his neck, caring, slightly gruff, but a decent guy.  I would guess that many of you reading this now have a similar picture in mind when the word veterinarian comes to mind – the small animal veterinarian.

My purpose today is to look beyond the stethoscope and open your eyes to the many facets of veterinary medicine besides the Dr. Terry archetype. Not only is a large portion of the profession now female (and thus less likely to sport an amazing beard), but veterinarians have many, many roles beyond caring for sick pets. (And this is not to even mention the large numbers of large animal veterinarians out there who care for horses and cows).

It is not an overstatement to say that veterinarians are largely responsible for protecting the nation’s food supply. OK, maybe not cabbages and Brussels sprouts, but that NcNugget you just popped in your mouth? A vet made sure that was safe. The roast you made for last Easter? A veterinarian made sure that no one would get sick from eating it, leading to your family being banished from ever hosting Easter dinner again.

Veterinarians function as meat inspectors, government regulators, customs officials and host of other important positions that combine scientific knowledge, anatomic and pathological savvy and knowledge of how things tick into a vital firewall between us and disease. A veterinarian I know works for a regulatory agency that oversees dairy importation and makes sure that cheesy deliciousness coming from West Xylophone isn’t crawling with bugs that want to eat my brain. Now, that’s food safety!

Other roles that veterinarians play include keeping military animals healthy and in service, (thus also keeping us civilians safe), working in research labs and scores of other ways that they improve animal and human health – a concept that has been given the moniker OneHealth.

Veterinarians are trained not only in what makes a cow different from a pig different from an emu, but a whole host of other disciplines and –ologies that make them perfectly suited to make sure not only that animals are cared for, but we are too.

So next holiday season, when your family says “thanks for the great turkey!” instead of “where’s the nearest emergency room?” you can thank a veterinarian! Take a moment today to do it!

-Photo Credit: From flickr by CaptainPancakes 

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