Human vs Vet Med

Having worked with and learned from some amazing vets over the years, many of them have always cautioned me about the difference between what is learned in vet school and what actually happens in the real world. The textbook version of medicine is often very different than what is done in practice, and it’s easy to get caught up in the math and science without seeing the whole picture.

So, when shadowing veterinarians, I always keep the ‘real world vs. ivory tower’ conundrum in mind, observing why each vet does things the way they do. Often times, I learn more from them in their protocols than I ever do from a textbook.

Recently, I had the good and bad luck of watching a board certified canine dentist perform a difficult root canal surgery. Good luck because it was very interesting and something I will never see in school, bad luck because it was my dog and I was footing the bill! The techniques and procedures used were nothing short of amazing, as the dentist was highly specialized with decades of experience, and really made the experience an educational one for me, talking me through each step. Afterwards, I made the joke that I could only hope to get such care in the human dentistry field.

Apparently, the joke was on me, because about a week after I woke up with significant pain in my jaw, and after making the trip to a local dentist, learned that I too needed a root canal. It was at the first appointment I started to make comparisons between the human medicine world and the veterinary world. Again, as a student, I reminded myself you always feel like you are bursting with information, but you also need to stay humble and realize your hard earned hours in the classroom don’t necessarily translate to real world experience. But as we proceeded with the root canal, I couldn’t help but make judgments and comparisons. The canine dentist was very careful with his nerve blocks, giving them adequate time and double-checking their placement. The human dentist, in a rush, missed the second block and only realized it when I protested as he was drilling into the tooth. Multiple x-rays were taken of my dogs’ canal during the process to ensure correct depth and placement. I only had one x-ray taken after the entire procedure was finished (seems like poor planning to me- what happens if you aren’t deep enough? You start again from the beginning?). And finally, while my dog was sent home with both an anti-inflammatory and an opiod for the pain management, I was sent home with nothing but a caution of “You may feel a bit of discomfort for the first 24 hours.”

When that ‘bit of discomfort’ turned into agonizing pain for 48 hours that couldn’t be controlled by any over the counter pain medications, and I knew I needed to be looked at, I realized another perk of veterinary medicine; 24-hour on-call service. The dentist was closed, not to reopen until Monday, three days later. This led me to experience yet another aspect of human medicine, the busy emergency room. Surrounded by snotty children and creepy head wounds, I once again wished I had an on-call service that would come to my home and keep me out of the waiting room (I’m still fairly convinced I’ve caught MSRA from my visit). After waiting 5 hours and receiving 3 minutes of a residents’ time, I diagnosed with a presumed bone infection, given pain meds, antibiotics and was sent on my way again.

So maybe my experience was a bit skewed, and my vet student/ivory tower version of things isn’t the best comparison between human and veterinary medicine. But this experience in human medicine can’t stand up to the standard of veterinary care I have experienced in either textbook or reality. Maybe I can call up my dogs’ dentist for a personal follow-up?

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