So Dr.Kathryn Surasky and I are well over halfway through our training to become certified as animal chiropractors! The workload over the first several modules was surprisingly intense, we learned not only the theory and techniques of chiropractic but also spinal column and neuroanatomy- in even greater detail than in vet school. This has given me the unexpected benefit of improved skill when performing and interpreting my neck and back ultrasounds, as well as a better understanding of exactly what I am palpating during my physical exam of these areas.
Our instructors are the most patient and giving group of teachers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Believe me, we give them plenty of opportunities to be critical or make fun of the totally boneheaded and klutzy errors we make during the practical sessions! Their kindness gives us the confidence to try, to fail, and to learn without (much) self-recrimination. Everyone taking the course wants to be a high achiever so I’m sure we are already hard enough on ourselves when we make mistakes, no need for an outside party to chip in.
At the beginning of the course, when several bulging binders were thumped down in front of us, Kathryn and I looked at each other with more than a little apprehension- were we up to the task? We had both been out of university for a while, and even though we take a lot of continuing education every year, it was obvious that we were in for a lot of plain old hard work. Thankfully, years of dogged study during vet school has set us up well for the routine of “just sit down and learn it”. If you don’t have well-established fundamentals, then you have nothing to build upon. Then you are literally just “thumping on the high side” without a true understanding of the animal’s medical condition or how you may be affecting them.
At first I felt like I was never going to get the hang of the specialized palpation required to assess the integrity of each joint. At night I would head home feeling a bit depressed, frustrated with my uncertainty and confusion, sure I was the only “unteachable” student they had ever encountered. Of course, I now know that most of us felt that way at the beginning! Bit by bit I began to integrate classroom learning with hands-on manipulation of the saintly and patient teaching animals, and develop the confidence to believe what my hands and eyes were telling me. Having practiced primarily as an equine lameness vet over the last 10 years was certainly a benefit when it came to watching animals move and palpating their bodies, and potential clinical applications of new skills I have learned are very exciting. Every session I pester the (also saintly and patient) instructors about ways that chiropractic can help me treat the myriad of conditions I see every day, such as airway dysfunction in racehorses, lameness, digestive problems, poor performance, sore backs, neurologic conditions, the list is endless. I see chiropractic therapy as a way to improve and enhance the results of my traditional treatments, keep horses functioning in tip-top shape during stressful race and show seasons, prolong the intervals between more invasive therapies such as joint injections, and overall improve the health and welfare of my patients. The fact that I can sometimes help an animal without having to reach for drugs and needles is incredibly rewarding (and probably a relief for the horses too).
None of this really matters if we can’t translate what we have learned into real-life decisions and manipulations that will truly help our patients. I’m very happy to say that so far, both Kathryn and I have been practicing our skills on any willing horse and dog that we encounter. Animals are great for providing honest feedback, since they don’t really respond to the placebo effect. If they don’t feel better they won’t stop limping or race faster just to please us. We have seen real results, some minor and others very dramatic. For example, the horse I selected for my case report is now voluntarily bearing weight on a limb that she had not used for over six months. We made no other changes to her routine, just adjusted her every 2-3 weeks for the last 2 months. How cool is that!!
We will complete the last module at the beginning of March, and if all goes well during the intensive final testing, we will be certified and ready to go. I can’t wait!
Melissa McKee DVM