As veterinarians, we tend to find diagnosing and managing disease and treating injuries a gratifying and brag-worthy part of our jobs. And in these cases, clients tend to be openly appreciative of our heroics. A successful diagnosis and treatment also gets veterinary team members excited, and a positive outcome results in high fives all around the clinic. But clients also seek our help for information, services and products, and for some reason these aspects of care have been the ugly stepsister of what we do. It's time we give preventive healthcare recognition as a vital part of animal health and maintaining the human-animal bond.
Be proud of prevention
Recently while I was attending a national conference, I was enjoying a great Thai lunch with a friend, and we were seated next to a group of veterinarians. The discussions were—not surprisingly—about their veterinary practices, staff members and patients. What struck me was that all of the stories were about sick and injured animals and how they were so understandably proud to have had successful outcomes in these cases.
However, not one veterinarian mentioned anything like, "I prevented 10 cases of heartworm infection this month," or "I haven't seen a case of canine distemper in a long time. I'm so proud of our vaccination program!"
Most of us would much rather discuss medical and surgical cases: a dog with cardiomyopathy, a cat with diabetes, a difficult surgery that went well—we ask questions, share experiences and opinions, and stress the critical impact our treatment successes have, one pet at a time.
Don't get me wrong; treating an individual pet for an individual family is a huge part of our raison d'être as veterinarians. It's also rewarding to be a hero. I take nothing away from saving acutely ill or injured animals. But isn't it just as important, if not more so, to prevent disease than to treat it?
There are two sides to Superman
We are lucky that we get to be heroes virtually every day, but we often minimize the role we play as behind-the-scenes gladiators preventing far more suffering than we treat. Everyone wants to be Superman, but we forget about the other half of that story—Clark Kent. Without one the other wouldn't have existed. But you will never see kids dressed up as Clark Kent on Halloween.
We are sworn by oath to use knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, along with the prevention and relief of animal suffering. This means not just treating sick and injured but protecting and preventing distress in animals. I wish preventive healthcare was as exciting as interventional care. It isn't. I wish more of the profession's heroes were recognized. I wish pet owners would tell veterinarians, "Thank you for keeping my pet healthy." They rarely do, but they keep coming back to us. Maybe that's thanks enough.
Dr. Michael Paul is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.