Veterinarian, heal thyself? (On pet bites and veterinary self-reliance)
A recent study of veterinarians came to an obvious conclusion: Vets should not practice medicine on themselves. Not only is practicing medicine outside the scope of our licensed-to-do duties a not-so-effective means of accessing healthcare for ourselves...it’s also technically illegal.
Yet veterinarians do so every day. And so do you, though perhaps not with access to the arsenal of drugs and supplies we have at our disposal...and certainly not with the legal and regulatory repercussions to our licenses should we do so.
Nonetheless, a large percentage of veterinarians who responded to a survey were willing to admit to their use of veterinary drugs and techniques on themselves. In this case, perhaps veterinarians were more willing to fess up because the researchers weren’t talking pain drugs or other addictive substances. Nope, this was easier––it was about dog and cat bites...and, of course, because the survey was confidential and anonymous.
As you can probably guess, dog and cat bites are the most common injury in veterinary hospital settings. But whereas veterinary staff members and other employees are always sent straight to the human ER or to their doctor for an immediate look-see, veterinarians (even those who don’t own the practice) are more likely to occult their injuries and/or take matters into their own hands.
Though on two occasions I went straight to the hospital (after a volley of dog bites to the head and after a very deep cat bite wound in the fleshy part of my thumb), the rest of my typically measly bites get treated by...moi.
Like other veterinarians, I’ve been known to slap a bandage on an injury and refuse to let anyone look. “it’s tiny,” I’ll say (and it usually is). Yet any bite that breaks the skin is rife for infection. That’s why many veterinarians reach into the Clavamox stash in the first hour after a bite. After all, that’s what many human physicians would prescribe...and it doesn’t cost us $400 and a long wait-time at the ER.
It’s no surprise, then, that this study meshes reasonably well with what I already know: Of the 481 respondents, only 12.7% saw a doc while 26.5% considered themselves self-treated. Yet a total of 51.1% respondents treated themselves with antibiotics after bites (I call that self-treatment but apparently not all do). Complications were seen in 5.1% of veterinarians who self-treated and sought no emergency care and only in 1.2% with no self-treatment who also received emergency care.
The problem with this study, though confidential and anonymous, is the true complication rate. Veterinarians are less likely to stress over poor or delayed healing and are unlikely to consider their own treatment unsuccessful. My take, and the study’s authors’, was that the complication rate in those who self-treated was highly underreported.
Nonetheless, the study made its point. The documented disparity in complications between the self-treated and ER-treated veterinarians is significant. It highlights the need for all of us––not just veterinarians––to seek out appropriate, professional medical care for ourselves. Relying on ourselves to treat work-related injuries is not only stupid, for veterinarians it’s also malpractice.