Saturday, August 20, 2011

Things your vet student is good for

Recently, an owner refused to let me perform a physical examination on his dog. That was for the vet to do. I think he didn’t believe that I had any role in his dog’s care, and thought I was just along to watch and learn from the vets. Not so! (The examples below are all things that have happened to me and owners of my patients.)

  1. At a teaching facility, your vet student is your pet’s primary caretaker. She is the one who knows your pet the best. She has to present your pet’s clinical history to the residents and faculty every day, follow up on test results, and make sure nothing is overlooked or forgotten about. She is also the one who notices things like what kind of food your dog likes best, whether he likes to be taken a little farther from the hospital than usual so that he can pee on grass instead of stones, and takes time out of her day to cuddle with him if he looks sad. (To be fair, the techs also handle a lot of this sort of thing.)
  2. Your vet student is the one who lets you know how your dog is doing. She will call you at least once a day to tell you if your dog is stressed or not, and give you the updates that really matter, like “today he barked at me while I was writing up paperwork until I took him out of his cage to cuddle with him.” Sometimes hearing stories that remind you that your dog still has the same personality as he does at home is just as important emotionally as getting the complicated medical updates from the doctor.
  3. Your vet student is your liaison to the doctor. The doctor is a specialist who is very, very busy. He will give you lots of information, and you will try to digest it all, but you will have trouble really absorbing it. Your vet student is the one who will take the time to answer all your questions in terms you can understand. She will also be understanding if you are anxious about your pet and will tell you that you are going to do fine taking care of him once he comes home. Maybe she will even help you pad the blankets in your car just right before you settle him in to transport him.
  4. Your vet student is required to be a generalist. The faculty and residents on your pet’s case are all specialists. Sometimes having a generalist around is important. If your dog is in for orthopedic surgery, the specialists may be so focused on your dog’s joint problems that they may not think to perform a rectal exam on him, even though he is a ten year old intact male at risk for all sorts of cancer. But your vet student will remember. (The dog had a mass.)

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