By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 15, 2012
A 200-page report on the Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine was recently released. Five years in the making, the authors (mostly veterinarians and several of whom I know well) assessed the current and anticipated needs of veterinarians. They paid special attention to agricultural animals, global food security, industry, public service and biomedical research. However, the role of practicing veterinarians in promoting the role of pets to enhance human health and well-being within the family was not given a high priority compared to other critical-need areas.
I recently authored the following op-ed on the question, "What can physicians learn from veterinarians?" It presents a more expansive view of how veterinary medicine can enhance human health by considering our pets an integral part of a healthy family structure.
Reprinted from Zocalo Public Square, June 17, 2012
How to work together
"When my daughter was a first-year Yale medical student in 2006, I told her that family medicine practices would someday offer services for both people and puppies. They would enter the same door and be seen by the appropriate member(s) of a team of healthcare professionals that included physicians, veterinarians, clinical psychologists, and veterinary behaviorists for annual checkups; nutrition, exercise, and disorder counseling; noninvasive imaging; and family planning.
"There was a time when physicians and veterinarians worked together, and when Harvard and New York University’s medical and veterinary students learned side-by-side. But the replacement of the horse by the automobile led to the closure of almost all of the large urban veterinary colleges by the mid 1920s, and the medical disciplines drifted apart. However, the modern resurgence of comparative medicine has given the once-accepted concept of one medicine, one health new hope as more physicians recognize what they have in common with veterinarians.
"As a veterinarian, I dream of a day when cancer wards of hospitals, assisted living homes for the aged, and hospice centers for the dying welcome pets to provide comfort, reduce pain and suffering, relieve anxiety, and smooth the transition from machine-living to compassionate-passing. I dream of a day when we consider substituting pets for prescriptions, and when we can modulate high blood pressure and cholesterol levels by more dog-walking and less pill-popping.
"I long for the day when the NIH funds research that examines the positive role that pets can have on children with mental disorders, on returning veterans with PTSD, and on prisoners as they return to society.
"I am ever hopeful for the day when physicians partner with veterinarians—with their education in comparative medicine and their sensitivity to the human-animal bond—to advance human health and reduce the cost of healthcare."
Dr. Smith invites comments at firstname.lastname@example.org