Everyone knows that there’s an ancient feud between vet and medical students. Glasgow is no exception – only the other day, I had a heated debate on the topic with another student (who, annoyingly, wasn’t even a medic).
While, for the most part, it’s just friendly banter, there is some truth in both arguments.
A doctor will usually have one area of focus and will spend his whole career becoming more and more specialised in that particular field, whereas a vet will be the GP, surgeon, physio, neurologist and much more for several different species, not just one. As a first year student, it’s sometimes a little scary and overwhelming to think about the broad spectrum of knowledge we need to gain in just five years.
When the medics graduate, they’ll become junior doctors and from then on will begin narrowing down their fields of interest until eventually finding themselves as “left toe specialists”, or something. In 4.5 years, we’ll be let loose into the world of veterinary and, at the end of day one, will have probably already spayed a cat, pregnancy tested a few cows and euthanised a dog, with a rabbit or bird thrown in somewhere too.
Not only are the medics likely to be more specialised than us, they also “go further” than we do in terms of treatment. In my interview for Glasgow vet school two years ago, after expressing an interest in orthopaedics, I was asked the ethical question: “How far is too far?”
I didn’t really have an answer but tried to reason my way through it, discussing things like kidney transplants in cats in America and The Bionic Vet, and came to the conclusion that every case must be treated individually, having weighed up the pros and cons of “heroic treatments” in each situation.
Now I realise that these heroic treatments are fairly uncommon in the veterinary world. Kidney transplants, for example, which are routine in medicine, are non-existent in veterinary in the UK. Is this a consequence of lack of funding and resources or lack of experience and knowledge in the field? Probably a little of both.
The GP vet will play the role of all these specialised fields to some extent (some being more qualified to do so than others). While we can specialise and work in referral practices, the average mixed or small animal vet will find themselves becoming a “Jack of all trades and master of none”.
Does that make us more intelligent than the medics, or just more well-rounded? Is it better to have a broad spectrum of knowledge and practical skills or to be very skilled at a few specific procedures?