Year of the Veterinarian

December 18, 2010

So, here is some exciting trivia for you, 2011 will be the year of the veterinarian! This exciting proclamation was passed on December 8th, 2010 by the house by a vote of 406-0. Who says that bi-partisanship is a thing of the past? Why 2011? Because it is the 250th anniversary of veterinary medicine.

It is not that humans haven’t been tending to animals since the beginning of civilization. Human and animal co-habitation has been recorded for over 5,000 years. Egyptian art demonstrates this in the ancient tombs along the Nile. The animals that were tended to were mostly farm animals, and the Egyptians had such high regard for their bulls that they actually mummified them, or so I’ve heard. While living in Cairo years ago, my husband and I went in search of a mummified bull as described in our trusty Lonely Planet, but alas, the bull had been moved, or it fell apart, or something, because we never did find it. But we did see images of mummified bulls in a tomb near an obscure pyramid 30 miles south of the famous Giza pyramids.

But it was the Romans who coined the word. Veterinarius was their word for a doctor of animals. A fellow named Columella actually wrote 12 volumes of animals related topics and treatments during his lifetime, which ended in 68AD.

It was a long time before the first veterinary school opened in Lyon, France in 1761. Thus the 250th anniversary of veterinary medicine in 2011. The school taught the science of veterinary medicine for horses, cattle and sheep. During the 1700s, it was primarily farriers who tended to the valuable horses. Many gained knowledge in human surgery and became known as surgeon-farriers. It was a Scot named John Hunter who led the transition away from the notion that animals existed only to serve man and that they were incapable of feeling pain. Before his death in 1793 he had published a respectable amount of books relating to the care of livestock.

The first teacher of veterinary medicine in the US was Dr. James Law at the, then, two room Cornell University. The oldest U.S. veterinary college was established as the Veterinary College of Philadelphia in 1852 and it lasted until 1866. The American Veterinary Medical Association was established in 1863 to govern veterinarians and vets now had to pass accredited tests and undergo special training. In 1883, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine urged the establishment of a separate school for veterinarians. Before that, many veterinarians were trained at medical schools and used the same techniques for the animals that they chose to treat. So, in 1884 the veterinary school was established at U Penn. It still trains fabulous veterinarians today and is the oldest, continuously-operating, veterinary school in the United States.

Up until WWI, veterinarians were primarily male, and they treated primarily livestock. But after the war, working animals were being replaced by automated vehicles. And then the depression hit. This put most veterinarians out of business. The clever ones began to tend to dogs,cats and companion animals to keep their practices afloat. By the 1950s veterinary medicine was concentrating primarily on companion animals as well as public health and education. It was at that time that the male dominated profession began to shift toward women as the primary applicant to veterinary school.

Today veterinarians graduate with a high level of medical and surgical expertise and they continue to update themselves on current medication, legislation and treatments throughout their career. There is still quite a difference between medical treatment for human beings and that for animals, but the difference is much less than it used to be and owners expect a full range of treatments. Advances in human medicine usually lead to advances in veterinary medicine, and quite often, the reverse is true. Ask anyone who works as or with a veterinarian. There is never a dull day and we learn something new everyday. What more could you ask for in a career? Happy Year of the Veterinarian!

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One Response to “Year of the Veterinarian”

  1. Alicia Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you!


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