The frustration mounted on my client's face. Finally, the words burst out: "I've owned them for two years. I've taken lessons. I read everything. When am I going to know everything I need to know about horses?" she said.
The laughter got past my filter. "I've worked with horses since I was 19," I told her. "I have a bachelor's degree in animal science. I've been a veterinarian since 1996. I'll let you know."
As she began to grin, I added, "Any good horseman or woman will tell you that they learn something new about horses every day. Honestly, I think that the longer I'm around them, the less I think I know."
The last lines of the veterinarian's oath read: "I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence."
Medicine is like horsemanship--fluid, fast-moving, and sometimes unpredictable. Veterinarians can't (or shouldn't) assume we know everything we need to practice for the rest of our careers. Nor should we assume that what we "know" is correct.
Sixteen years out of veterinary school, I already feel like a dinosaur. Huge chunks of current medicine were barely on the horizon when I graduated. Regenerative medicine? Huh, what's that? Genomics? We studied genetics. The sequencing of the entire genome was a pipe dream. Ultrasound was the latest exciting imaging technique. You couldn't find an MRI machine outside of university teaching hospitals. The Nile was just a river in Egypt; no one in the United States had heard of the virus associated with its name. Conventional wisdom held that only foals and racehorses got ulcers, and equine dentistry was barely emerging from the "just knock the sharp points off" stage.
My horse story isn't all that different from that of most girls. My parents gave me six riding lessons for my tenth birthday. I never stopped. I got my first horse when I was 13 and buried that mare in 2004 at the age of 36. She and the lesson and lease horses that preceded her shaped my career; most of the handling tricks I used as an equine veterinarian came not from veterinary school, but from lessons that Goldie and her colleagues taught me over the years.
Veterinary practice is an ever-changing world. The yearly meeting of the AAEP Convention brings together experts from across the country (and the world) to educate everyone on the latest and greatest in the veterinary world.
Photo by Erica Larson
But, a veterinarian needs a lot more information than horses can impart. I love continuing education (CE). Even if my veterinary license renewal wasn't contingent upon my taking a certain number of CE hours each year, I would still be addicted to conferences. The collective energy of hundreds of enthusiastic and curious colleagues reminds me why I chose my profession. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention invariably provides a great intellectual high.
I haven't practiced equine medicine since March 2011 when the clinic where I had worked for 10 years closed due to the economy (or lack thereof.) It has been a strange shift, moving from practicing veterinarian to writer. I get homesick whenever I talk with a colleague in practice, see a horse, or even smell a thrush-y hoof. But, what I do now is just another form of veterinary medicine. When I treated a colic or sutured a wound, I used my knowledge and my hands to help the horse. When I write a blog post or a magazine article, I use my knowledge and my hands hopefully to help many horses.
Maybe this explains why I jumped when The Horse offered me the chance to blog this year's AAEP Convention. I can't wait to share the latest and coolest in equine medicine, and posting from the convention will keep me from filling the (Mickey) ears of my husband and children with exciting EPM or myositis tidbits while they're basking in the magic of the land of mouse.
I hope that this post has given an idea of where I'm coming from. Next time, I'll talk some more about where I'm going--Anaheim, Calif., for the 2012 AAEP Convention--and what I hope to share with you from there.