Be Kind to the New Vets

Summer is approaching and so are veterinary school graduations. So please be kind to the new grads who may be interacting with you and your horses in the near future.

I remember my first horse call clearly. I was in a mixed practice in Michigan. I was already “suspect” because I came from Cornell in New York, not Michigan State University. It was hard to get people to believe that, no, I did not ever live in New York City and, no, you could not see the Statue of Liberty from the Ithaca campus. Most of New York is fairly rural but New York City gets all the press.

Equally against me was the fact that I was female. Veterinary schools were just starting to admit more than a couple of “token” women. Female veterinarians were not common. The first continuing education meeting I went to one older male vet kindly directed me to the veterinary technician meeting down the hall. He did look suitably embarrassed when I mentioned that I was actually a veterinarian.

My colleague did most of the horse work but on this night he had a softball tournament. They had just enough players so if he missed the game to go on the equine emergency they would have to forfeit. He was a die-hard sports fan, so clearly I was off to do the emergency.

The emergency was a 3-month-old foal who had gotten a bad chest wound cut from some barbed wire. My assistant was to be my boss’s son – not really into horses or anything but a somewhat willing body. It was a big wound and would require a drain and quite a few sutures. My biggest fear was tranquilizing the colt. I could picture this lovely chestnut colt dropping dead from anesthesia. However, I tried to project calm and cool.

The owners were rural Michiganders and into reining and rodeo. Picture five big guys standing around, pick up trucks with gun racks, beer flowing and chewing tobacco cans. Worse yet, since my colleague had the practice truck I had my supplies in a plastic bag and we arrived in my tiny, bright yellow Chevette Scooter – a step above the Flintstone peddle car.

I figured pointing out my Pony Club background would not go over well or even playing polo for Cornell. I had done some gaming though and that helped to break the ice a bit. Still, I knew they were looking at me and picturing the Empire State Building or Times Square.

The surgery went well. I tranquilized the foal lightly – putting my son’s boss to good use propping up a drunk foal. I then did a three-layer closure plus put in a drain. There was major skepticism over the drain but the muttering was quiet. We rigged up some bandaging to keep the foal from removing the drain and I stressed how important it was to keep a close eye on the wound. Antibiotics and tetanus antitoxin were given, more antibiotics dispensed and off I went.

My colleague did the follow-up visits to check the wound, remove the drain and eventually remove the sutures. The wound healed nicely and without incident, barely leaving a scar. And I knew I had “made it” when I got a salmon dropped off at the clinic near Christmas time for a gift!

So, be kind to your new vets. Trust that they are trained. They might have some new ideas but maybe they are good ones.

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