So, just what is a vet?

This is the first column in a monthly series in which Jim Kenyon will answer readers’ questions about animals and animal care.

As in any profession, many questions people ask veterinarians are often repeated.

When I was in practice, it sometimes felt as if discussing parasites in dogs or vaccines in cats was launching into Lecture #43.

So let’s look at some of those common questions. Please feel free to send your own questions, or suggest topics to me. That should make my job easier.

I suppose the first thing to start with is, “What is a veterinarian?”

Veterinarians are Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, and graduates of a program that can be as short as six years and as long as 12 or more, depending on specialties or how much the person has become sidetracked.

The average student in California entering veterinary medicine has two years of a Master’s degree before even starting. In Canada there are four colleges, with a fifth organizing. Each school in North America is regional and it’s unlikely a student would attend a school outside their region.

In Yukon, students have to apply to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, an excellent school that started in the early 1970s. French-speaking students can also apply to the Université de Montréal.

Each school may give a different degree, but all are essentially the same. Most give a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), but Montreal gives a DMV (the French equivalent).

Sometimes veterinarians may come from other parts of the world, and you may see VMD, which is the Latin equivalent given by the University of Pennsylvania. Same thing, really; they just seem to like Latin in Pennsylvania.

We have seen veterinarians from other parts of the world in Yukon. In the UK, most schools give a BVSc or a Bachelor of Veterinary Science. Again, same thing.

The Brits look at the whole thing differently and the license to practise is when you join the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, so you’ll see BVSc, MRCVS after some names.

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh gives a BVM&S degree. Once again, it’s the same thing.

I had a veterinarian from UK work with me for a while and somehow printed her business card as BVS&M. Even she didn’t notice I’d messed up.

She actually did some of her training with Alf Wight, OBE, FRCVS. Most people know him better as James Herriot, author of the book and TV series, All Creatures Great and Small.

In the UK, a general practitioner is correctly called Mr. or Ms. Just as in the medical field, “Doctor” would be a bit insulting.

My first job was working with a guy who was an MB (Bachelor of Medicine). Only once he had completed his fellowship and five more years of surgical training would he be comfortable being called Doctor.

Other degrees you might see in Yukon include a simple D or Dierenarts, the designation for graduates of the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. I suppose they’re allowed to be a bit exclusive, since that university can boast 12 Nobel laureates.

This college is careful about accreditation in Europe, Canada, and the USA. Its graduates can basically work anywhere in the world.

And India can give a BVSc or a BVSc&AH.

But enough of this.

Who else would you meet in a veterinary clinic or research facility? Veterinary technicians can sometimes be untrained, or trained on the job. But you may see Animal Health Technicians (AHT), the equivalent of a nurse in human terms.

Seneca College gives an ACT, or Animal Care Technician designation. Each school (14 in Canada) has its own emphasis. Seneca tends to train more for jobs in research. Centralia trains more for large animal practices. In the UK, the designation is RVN, or Registered Veterinary Nurse.

And the final question for this first column: “What do veterinarians do?”

This may seem to be a silly question, but it’s the main reason most colleges require a year or more working in the field before applying for admission.

Veterinarians are most often seen in local hospitals, but they do much more: food inspection, medical or surgical research, regulatory medicine, disease control, humane societies, wildlife, zoo facilities, teaching, environmental work, to mention only a few “vet” activities.

The last Canadian Parliament included no fewer than five veterinarians. In fact, one of my pathology professors retired and became an MP and Parliamentary Secretary of Health.

His example gave me the somewhat silly idea of getting into politics, and I was unlucky enough to win. But that’s another story…

So please, let me know what topics I should write about: vaccinations, parasites, humane issues, breeds, diseases, and so on.

Whatever question you might have, it’s likely that there are lots more people who would love to hear the answer.

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