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Dr. Keaton Smith is a graduate of the University Of Kentucky College Of Agriculture with a doctorate ...

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Dr. Smith's Journal

I chat about veterinary medicine and the life of a country animal doctor.
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A Vet's Life Is A Daily Surprise

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Veterinary Medicine provides vast opportunities to see many strange and wonderful things. This profession also provides daily possibilities to make you look like an idiot. These stories give rise to the romantic ideas and dreams that everyone believes life as a modern veterinarian must be. I can’t deny that I have seen my fair share of crazy over the last three decades, but it’s the routine stuff that will drive you mad.

This is the stuff you have to master if you are going to be a good veterinarian. So for all of you young hopefuls out there in blogland, and for those of you who are just interested, here are my top ten things that you must master if you are going to be a successful veterinarian:

Talking to people.

Yes, I know I have explained the importance of a parvoviral booster shot a million times, but I will do it a million more. Most of the time, people only listen to what they want to hear. The challenge of a veterinarian is to learn to speak to people so they will hear what you have to say. This is hard, labor-intensive, and draining. It doesn’t matter—this is the job and the better you communicate, the better you will be at practice. Even when you think you’re getting through, you can still expect to hear, “…but you never TOLD me…” and “I thought you said…” every single day. Strive to hear it only every OTHER day.

Ear infections.

These are not glamorous and nasty ears are frustrating to deal with, especially when you have a non-compliant owner. The patient and the owner are looking for a quick fix because they are exhausted from the smell, the itch, and the fight. So, never ever stop learning about how to fix nasty ears, even if it means listening to a drug rep every now and then.

 Itchy skin.

Yes, right along with ears, you’d better become the best dermatologist on the planet. From bumps to blisters, bites to blackheads, you'd better realize that you will deal with dog and cat skin issues on a daily basis. I have spent more time in CE classes learning about maladies of the skin than anything else in twenty years. 

Nail trims and anal gland expressions

Ya’ know, had I been more aware of the pure disgusting nature of this beast, I might have considered a different profession like cleaning septic tanks or collecting spider venom. But hey, I am a good butt-squeezer. Mom is so proud. All the little doggies like “whew.”

Bad breath.

Talking to people about dental health in pets is sometimes the same as talking about how spaceships are built, or how the internal workings of a computer operate. You get these blank stares that say, “I am not brushing my pet’s teeth. Just pull them out.” Yes, I know. But there are tons of other options, and learning to communicate how important oral health is to a pet takes great skill.

Fleas, ticks, and anything smaller than a dollar bill that bites.

I feel like over the past thirty years I have become as close to a flea expert as you can possibly get. Outside of memorizing its DNA sequence, I’m not sure there is much more for me to learn about the flea. However, getting clients to listen to me about fleas and how flea products work is like driving a nail into a steel beam. Learning to be consistent and effective with flea control is extremely important.

Feline snotty nose syndrome.

Cats get a whole range of respiratory diseases. I don’t know if there has ever been a kitten in southeastern Kentucky that didn’t grow up with a snotty nose. However, there are subtle differences in the way they present and how you approach treatment. It might be a common problem, but learning the details can prove rewarding.

Diarrhea.

Every single day I have to deal with diarrhea. Nothing will instill panic in an owner than seeing a little runny poop on the carpet. So if you are going to practice veterinary medicine, you need to develop an iron stomach. Clients don’t like it when you retch in front of them. You also will become close friends with air fresheners.

Tapeworms.

They come from fleas but you couldn’t convince some people of this if you were a demigod. Learning to talk to your clients about flea control to prevent tapeworms is a skill set worth billions. You’re welcome.

Euthanasia.

This is not something you want to discuss, but when it comes up, you need to be prepared. Veterinary medicine is a profession noble in its directive to stop pain and suffering. As a result, euthanasia is a very real, and a very personal experience. As a veterinarian, you must learn to be good at it. I’m not talking about just giving a couple of shots. You need to bring comfort to the family and to the pet. Body language, how you speak, and how you conduct yourself is all very important—bedside manner, if you will. If you really want to help people, learn to do this well and you will be a benefit to your community and your practice.

I hope you have enjoyed our time together. If you have anything you’d like to add, just comment below. Like and share if you found it useful. 

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