Would You Trust Your Pet to a Veterinary Student?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Sep. 26, 2013

Back when I was in veterinary school in the 1990s, the clinics associated with teaching hospitals were almost entirely referral institutions. Our fourth year rotations were spent observing specialists and specialists in training handle cases that your typical primary care veterinarian didn’t feel comfortable handling. We’re talking about such things as difficult to diagnose dermatology cases, neurological nightmares, complicated surgeries, etc. What we didn’t see a lot of is the routine stuff … vomiting cats, itchy dogs … you get the idea.

Sure, I did several rotations through primary care settings, but those few weeks didn’t fully prepare me for what I was going to face every day upon graduation.

I vividly remember one such case from my first job as a veterinarian. My patient was a young dog with some patchy hair loss that was spreading across his body. He wasn’t particularly itchy and otherwise was the picture of health. Contrary to what you might be thinking at this point, I did receive an excellent veterinary education and was rightfully thinking “demodectic mange until proven otherwise.” I had even performed a few skin scrapings during my rotations, so I had that part covered, but then I walked up to the clinic’s microscope with my samples in hand, paused, and muttered, “oh darn,” or something to that effect.

For those of you unfamiliar with table top microscopes, they come equipped with several different objectives (lenses that offer varying degrees of magnification). Four-x, ten-x, and forty-x are what you’ll typically find. I didn’t have the foggiest idea which objective I was supposed to use to look for Demodex mites. Pick too low of a magnification and they’d look like unidentifiable dots. Too much magnification and I’d never be able to scan a large enough portion of the slide to rule out their presence. I tried to look up the information I needed in the clinic’s library (I hate to admit it … this was pre-Google) but had no luck. Finally, I had to resort to sidling up to a technician and muttering, “I’ve got a stupid question…”

Now to the point of this story. It seems to me that more and more veterinary schools are opening up their own primary care facilities. Many doctors in general practice are none too pleased when one of these clinics opens near their own veterinary practices. I certainly can understand their concerns but also see a potentially great benefit for the veterinary students who will get to spend more time working on cases like the ones they’ll actually be faced with as wet behind the ears veterinarians.

What do you think? Would you consider taking your pet to a veterinary school’s primary care clinic for something routine, say an ear infection. If so, why would you pick them over Dr. “Doe” down the street?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Michael Pettigrew / Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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