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Sunday, April 13, 2008

What It Be Like

So my friend and former colleague Robb from back in the States has requested that I write a little more about what being a vet in New Zealand is like, particularly as it compares to the American experience of playing Dr. Herriot.

Robb's dad, Andy, was my boss the last six years I worked as a vet in the States, and he gave me a great environment in which to practice. I'm thankful for the time I had there and the latitude I was given by him, and I was also surrounded by great team mates. So it is the very least I can do to indulge this friend and former co-worker of mine with a post about all things vitnary!



There, got it finally, whew. Ironic that they don't teach you how to spell that particular word in vet school, no?

Anyway. First I'll speak generally as to what being a vet in New Zealand is like, and then I'll tell ya'll another little story.

Hey! I heard those groans. Don't worry, I promise not to turn this post into another mini-novella à la my prior entry regarding Tess the Wünder Dog (or Adventures Trapped in the Wheel Tread of a Large Crane).

Being a vet here is much like being a vet in the States. New Zealanders are just as compassionate about their animals as any people I've known and they are often willing to go the extra mile in keeping their pets healthy or trying to get them back to healthy status. It is quite common to see families with many pets and not just a solitary cat or goldfish. New Zealanders are also in general much more in touch with their agricultural roots when compared to my fellow statesiders. I mean this in that many of them live on 'lifestyle blocks' wherein they often have sheep, a few head of cattle maybe, some chickens, and a pig or three. Many Kiwis also favour horses as pets, and horseback riding and racing are more part of the mainstream culture here than modern America in general. Think of it as like moving to rural Virginia or Kentucky, in terms of what the animal-owning experience is like ‘round these parts.

As such, given the Kiwi propensity for all creatures great and small (come on now, you knew I had to work that phrase in there sometime!) the country's lone vet school, situated at Massey University in Palmerston North, turns out around 90 newly-trained vets every year. All of them, as far as I can gather, are trained for what we in the States would call 'Mixed Practice'. That is, they are pulling a ‘James Herriot’ in that they graduate ready to treat any manner of farm animal or domestic pet.

I have to say: I really admire this. For a brief time in my vet school tenure, I flirted with the notion of becoming a mixed practitioner. To give you a frame of reference, I would posit that a distinct minority of graduating American vets have tracked this in their programs. Overwhelmingly, most of them graduate having tracked 'small animal', or whatever, indicating their specialty is dogs and cats and perhaps even other household pets like birds, guinea pigs and rabbits. A good number of those that start out working in food animal or equine practices eventually migrate to small animal-exclusive practices, for a variety of reasons but chief among them better pay and lifestyle.

So you can see that given there is quite the diversity of animals to treat, it then follows that there is quite the abundance of knowledge on how best to treat them! One of my favourite phrases from vet school is "Real doctors treat more than one species", heh.

Which brings me back to my original point: I admire how every single Kiwi vet upon graduation is prepared to treat, well, everything.*

Granted, it is quite rare indeed for New Zealanders to own reptiles of any kind, and birds are a distinctly uncommon pet when compared to the American pet owning population. But rabbits, guinea pigs and the odd chinchilla are seen on a somewhat common basis.

I have found that surgical and medical techniques and the progression of those areas in small animal practice are on a par with what I've experienced back in the USA. There are frequent lecture series and online course opportunities for the continued learning that is so vital to maintaining good doctorly standards. There is also a large conference every year that rotates around Australia and New Zealand and it seems to rival the two best (in my opinion) American conferences, NAVC in Orlando and Western in Vegas.**

I have been quite happy to pretty well seamlessly integrate myself into daily private practice over here, doing what I did back home with very little adjustment.

Another positive about working over here compared to the States is the availability of certain drugs. Yeah, I know, that may sound bad but I am talking about drugs for my patients of course! Many of the new drugs that are developed for dogs and cats, of which there are thankfully a steadily growing number, are often first released down here Down Under. For at least a year or two the Kiwis and Aussies had first dibs at drugs like pimobendan and meloxicam, but I don't want to bore you with technical discussions of these medicines. I'll just say they are highly relevant drugs that we've needed for the dogs and cats and not only is it cool that we have them made for our profession but that here in New Zealand I am likely to be able to prescribe them first.

So, outside of the USA at least, I can appreciate the byzantine red-tape procedures the Food and Drug Administration has big pharma first endure before we vets get new therapies to use.

That being said, another vet I work with has said one reason for this is that New Zealand is sort of an ideal 'guinea pig' market, when compared to larger markets like the States. The population is smaller but still has a very progressive veterinary profession and pet-owning population, so their new drugs are likely to be tried and they'll be able to test the waters for a year or two before taking on the more stringent barriers the FDA has in place in the US.

That could sound bad, and I don't want to make it sound like they're unleashing drugs that cause scary mutations (like an ear coming out of one’s forehead - right, Roger?) or spontaneous combustion in our unsuspecting animals! I just do not believe that more hoops through which to jump necessarily equates to a safer product on the other end.

*cough* Vioxx *cough*

Now that the stage has been set regarding how the veterinary scene in New Zealand compares to the one I'm used to in the States, let me work my storytelling magic and get my writer on.

Eh, you know what? This post is already dangerously long, and the story is even longer. So I’m gonna give ya’ll a little break!

See ya mañana, maybe.

*Except for you, dear human. Hell, given the Kiwi 'can-do, number 8 wire' attitude, though, I bet a Kiwi vet could manage treating a human quite tidily!

** Viva Las Vegas!


Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Great post, Brooksie. You’ve given me some new insight into Kiwis. I am looking forward to the story. (You did a damned nice job of setting us up to come back, even better than I’ve done in the chapters of The Muffin Saga!)

12:57 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Thanks, Nick, and I have to admit I was thinking of your excellent Muffin Saga when I decided to break this post up a bit! To draw a comparison to your great story is a compliment, so I thank you for that.

Story itself is coming soon! Cheers.

3:05 PM  

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