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By Robert Norman Schwyzer, D.V.M.

The Veterinarian’s Oath reads as follows: “Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health, ad the advancement of medical knowledge.”

“I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.”

“I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.”

A minimum of eight years of higher education is required to obtain a doctorate in veterinary medicine. To obtain this goal many individuals incur a tremendous debt in the form of student loans.

In addition to earning a veterinary degree, veterinarians must submit to rigorous testing prior to being granted the privilege to practice in a given state, by attending a minimum of fifteen to thirty hours per year of approved continuing education and by conducting business within the rules and regulations of the state’s practice act. Licensure is an acquired privilege.

Some veterinarians will elect to pursue advanced degrees such as surgery or internal medicine.

Most veterinarians in private practice work in a clinic or an animal hospital. Rarely will a community provide a central hospital for veterinarians as they do for physicians. The entire cost of equipment, pharmaceutical items, staff wages and space falls upon the owner of the clinic. Health or mortality insurance is generally reserved for very valuable animals due to the high cost of premiums. Health care for pets, therefore, becomes an out of pocket expense for the pet owner. Veterinarians adjust their fees so that overhead costs can be met while still providing affordable services.

The practice of veterinary medicine requires a license. The practice act of New Mexico dictates that the diagnosis of animal disease and prescribed treatment or therapy for such disease, for a fee, constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine. In New Mexico, it is a misdemeanor to practice veterinary medicine without a license.

In our community there are many well-intentioned people who are not veterinarians that want to involve themselves in aspects of animal health. I encourage these people to seek out veterinarians with whom they can work. I also encourage pet and livestock owners to scrutinize the credentials of animal healers. It is unethical and illegal to misrepresent oneself to the public.

There exists a great variety of conventional and alternative approaches to animal disease. It is not often that any one veterinarian be versed in ever avenue. It behooves the veterinarian to be aware of talents and interests of laypersons, as well as other veterinary colleagues in the area. Remember, the paramount concern is the health and welfare of the patient.

Throughout training, examinations and the philosophic application of art to science, a veterinarian will spend a professional lifetime honing skills. When an owner consults a veterinarian, please be aware that beyond the imminent services rendered lies an abundance of hard-earned knowledge.

Dr. Robert Norman Schwyzer is a veterinarian with a specialty in equine medicine
in Santa Fe.

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1997 issue.

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