Heart BEATS: "Treat Just One Species? Your Doctor Has It Easy"


Almost no physician ever lives long enough to see a person go from birth to earth. That was even true when one doctor saw entire families, as was the case when I was a child and we had the same small-town family doctor in Southern Idaho that saw 20 years of Becker children. He (there weren’t many women doctors back then) might see you from birth to late teens, but even if you didn’t leave when you grew up, you’d probably outlive your doctor.

Today, of course, long-term, small-town family doctors are as rare as jackalopes. In our small town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho (population: 2,200), we’ve had three family doctors in the 15 years we’ve lived here. Even when we go to the family doctor, when anything other than routine arises, we’re shipped off to the rheumatologists, allergists, cardiologists, endocrine specialists, and it seems none of these doctors talk to each other.

As veterinarians, we often joke about how easy being a medical doctor is. One species and typically one area of medicine. Veterinarians, on the other hand, treat multiple species, and we have to be proficient in everything from pediatrics to gerontology, emergency medicine to chronic care, internal medicine and surgery, radiology, pharmacology, ophthalmology, neurology, dentistry, orthopedics, behavior counseling, bereavement counseling … shall I go on?

There’s a big push now in health care called One Medicine, and it recognizes that veterinarians are not only sentinels for zoonotic diseases, but that we can also dramatically impact human health and well-being. We can help in ways that range from weight management and mental health to harnessing the human-animal health connection.

We are now finally starting to be considered medical equals, allied partners in human health with our physician colleagues. That got me thinking …

If there were an apocalypse, who would you rather have treating you and your family? A highly specialized M.D. or the ultimate generalist, your local D.V.M.?

I know who I’d choose. For veterinarians, humans are just another mammal, and if we had to, we could do the job of treating people spectacularly well. And we promise not to make you get up on the cold, stainless steel table.



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