Want to be a veterinarian? Here’s what you need to know

This is Science Week, a week-long event held in Ireland every November, celebrating science in our daily lives. Many people contribute to it, including industry, colleges, schools, libraries, teachers, researchers and students across Ireland. I’m participating myself this year, giving a talk in Tullamore about something I’m passionate about: the science behind my work.

The work of a veterinarian is truly science in action. The emphasis on science starts in high school: if you want to get a veterinary education, you have to shine in as many science subjects as possible. You are expected to get top marks in physics, chemistry, biology, and math. There is no time for arts-type subjects such as English, history or languages. In your mind, you are now a scientist.

Veterinary students then spend five years learning the processes of animal life and disease, and then how treatments (medicine and surgery) can be used to improve the lives of animals. It’s all backed by science: every chapter of every textbook includes lists of references to research articles. Veterinary students must take modules on science-related topics such as genetics, immunology and statistics, as well as read and write scientific papers. Visits to the library to review key sources of knowledge are an integral part of studying for a veterinary degree.

Then, once you graduate as a veterinarian, you make a lifelong commitment to keeping up to date with scientific advances. Veterinarians are required to complete twenty hours per year of Continuing Veterinary Education (CVE) to ensure that they keep their knowledge up to date. Although it may seem tedious, there is a joy in learning new information. When I return to work after taking a training course, I feel more excited than ever. I look forward to the next difficult case so that I can put my new knowledge into practice. A scratching dog? Yes please! A cat with gum disease? Let me do it ! New treatments often have markedly improved effects and it is rewarding to put them into practice.

Veterinarians are trained in “evidence-based medicine”, which is a method of assessing the value of a source of information. There is a well-known “pyramid” of value assigned to different sources of information: the higher up the pyramid you go, the better the information and the more it can be trusted as scientific evidence.

The basic level, at the bottom of the pyramid, consists of widely known general information (e.g. manuals), expert opinions and anecdotal reports: this is often considered the “truth” by our society. , but the reality is that it can be heavily influenced by beliefs, opinions and even politics. There are many examples of how this can drift away from science in the veterinary world: for example, old-fashioned treatments for digestive disorders such as kaolin have been recommended in books and by experts for many years, although there is no solid evidence to support it. their.

The next level of the pyramid is case reports (eg, dogs with cruciate ligament rupture). These can signal successful treatments in a number of cases, but they are limited in that there are usually small numbers of participants, with few measures in place to account for biases caused by different factors. Nevertheless, series of case reports have played a key role in the veterinary world in areas such as the design of new and better surgical techniques to repair orthopedic problems in dogs and cats.

Cohort studies are at the top level of the pyramid: they follow a large group of animals over a long period of time, to see how they are affected by a variable (for example, cats exposed to passive smoking or dogs fed a specific diet). . A group can be compared to another group that is not affected by the same variable (eg, not exposed to smoke, not subject to a particular diet). The challenge with these studies is that they are not randomized or blinded (researchers know which group receives which variable), so they are prone to bias.

A randomized controlled trial (RCT) is a better design for a study when investigating new treatments: one group of animals receives the intervention under study while the other group, selected at random, receives no no treatment, a placebo or a standard intervention. This makes it easier to assess any benefit over a simple case series. However, bias is always possible, which is why the “double-blind randomized controlled trial” is used, where the researchers do not know which group the patients belong to.

To get to the top of the pyramid of evidence, there are systematic reviews and meta-analyses, where multiple trials and studies are combined and assessed, using complex statistics to draw conclusions about the value of a new type of treatment. .

In the ideal world, all veterinary interventions would be supported by evidence from the top of this pyramid. The reality is that this rarely happens: even for human medicine, it is too expensive and complicated to carry out and analyze all these studies. In the veterinary world, resources are even more limited, so we tend to make do with lower quality evidence.

This science-based education is helpful to veterinarians when choosing effective treatments, and it also helps us identify suggested treatments that are not supported by good evidence. This is why most veterinarians are skeptical of alternative therapies such as homeopathy, herbalism, unusual diets, and a range of other approaches that can be popularized on the internet. If there is no solid evidence of their beneficial effects, it is difficult for veterinarians to recommend them.

You may not think your vet is a scientist, and we don’t wear white coats or glasses, but there’s no doubt that vets really are scientists in action.

  • “Fully Vetted: the science of cats and dogs with Pete the Vet” takes place in Tullamore on November 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free at https://www.eventbrite.ie.
  • The event is part of the Midlands Science Festival, supported by Science Foundation Ireland and this event is in association with Zoetis.


    • https://www.midlandsscience.ie/

About Hector Hedgepeth

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