There’s a dichotomy of veterinarians out there: new graduates, Generation Y, Generation X, baby boomers, and old school.

Earlier this month I was at a sled dog veterinary conference where there were all different types and demographics of veterinarians (i.e., different ages, genders, ethnic background, etc.). What did I love about this conference? I learned a lot from the "old school vets." Don’t get me wrong; I’ve worked with all different types, from old school to Gen Y. But what I learn the most is humility in the skill of the physical examination (what we commonly call the "PE") when it comes to old school vets.

Now, I’m Generation X: born of baby boomers in the early 70s, finished veterinary school in the 90s, and witnessed my parents work their butts off to help me get to where I am today. I feel like I have a pretty strong work ethic — I put in my 80-100 hours a week during my internship, and I bled and sweated to where I am today.

So what have I learned?

Each generation has a different pro and con to offer … and while veterinary medicine "progresses" to more advanced and specialized medicine, there’s something to be said about old school vets. While they may not all be into cutting edge technology, you can’t beat the skill of their PEs or their ability to treat patients when there are pet owner financial constraints.

Take, for example, your average dog with three to four days of diarrhea. Nowadays, new graduates will rattle off all the advanced tests that need to be done with a sick pet — complete blood count (CBC to look at the white blood cell count), biochemical panel (to look at the kidney and liver function), urinalysis, fecal, X-rays, ultrasound, etc. — all of which add up to a whopping financial cost, typically $500-$1,000. Old school veterinarians? They’d do a fecal and dispense an ant-diarrheal medication … for a whopping cost of $25-$50. And if it didn’t improve, then they’d offer the blood work and X-rays in a step-wise fashion.

While most medical doctors have lost the advanced skill of the physical examination (when was the last time your MD thoroughly palpated your abdomen?), it’s still a really important tool in veterinary medicine. And old school veterinarians are really good at the PE.

There are some clients who are very loyal to their old school veterinarians. When in doubt, stick with a veterinarian who listens to you, who pets your dog or cat, and who does a thorough PE. Make sure your veterinarian give you all the options. You don’t necessary have to do the whole million dollar work-up on day one if your pet is stable. If you don’t find a veterinarian who works with you, find one who does.

For more complicated sick cases, I’m definitely of the school that you should be doing more thorough of a work-up. The sooner you identify the problem, the sooner you can treat it. But there are some cases where you don’t have to jump immediately to advanced diagnostics without seeing if initial treatment works first.

Old school veterinarians tell me that they worry about the direction veterinary medicine is moving. I couldn’t agree more … We as veterinarians all learn something new each day, and hopefully this lesson holds true for the younger veterinarians.

What "group" does your veterinarian fall into? Tell me the pros and cons that you’ve discovered!

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: Elzbieta Sekowska / via Shutterstock