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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just what in the heck do they do at conventions?

Here's another insight into the life of veterinarians. Really, this is probably applicable to most industries and many professions regulated by the state.

Veterinarians spend a lot of time in college and graduate school learning about animal medicine. However, once we graduate, the education doesn't end. Medicine is constantly changing as new research is done, more is understood about diseases and parasites, and new medicines and technologies are created. That means that we have to be life-long students. In each state there is a licensing board that approves veterinarians for practice. Part of maintaining a license is a requirement to perform a certain number of hours of continuing education ("CE") each year. The exact amount varies from state to state. For example, in North Carolina we have to attend 20 hours of CE annually. In Georgia, the veterinary board requires 30 hours every two years. The most common way to acquire these hours is by attending conventions. Other professions that must obtain a state license have their own CE requirements, so it's not just us vets. And that's where I am right the North Carolina Veterinary Conference.

So just what goes on at these conferences? Well, most of it is lectures. There are speakers from the veterinary college, respected specialists from across the country, researchers, and various other experts. Generally each lecture lasts around an hour, and therefore we get an hour of credit per lecture attended. The content of the lectures can vary from surgery to dermatology, pharmacology to toxicology, internal medicine, behavior, and parasitology. Usually the lectures are relatively narrow, such as gastrointestinal surgical techniques, or the latest methods of managing diabetes in pets, or diagnosing and treating renal disease in cats. The lectures include a lot of review of each topic, as it's hard to remember every tiny detail from school. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't know how to diagnose and treat problems. Like everyone, it never hurts to have a review of the basics. Usually the lectures include updates that may have happened since we were in school, such as new drugs that had not been developed when we graduated.

Though the lion's share of the conferences are lectures, and these are the primary reasons for attending, there are other events. For extra fees we have the option of attending "wet labs", where we can do hands-on practice of various surgical or medical techniques. There is always a large hall or room reserved for industry retailers, such as pharmaceutical companies, equipment manufacturers, product distributors, general contractors, and so on. During breaks we wander this exhibitors' hall. They are all there to convince us to use their products or services, but we can also learn about new drugs, vaccines, or equipment that we may not have had any experience with. A fun part of this is the "swag" they usually have. Most often the free things are pens (I haven't had to buy a pen in years!), though it can include t-shirts, note pads, yo-yos, stress balls, and all kids of other things.

And at the big conventions they will usually have a night or two with some entertainment. The largest ones can get concerts from big-name performers such as Alabama. The smaller ones can sometimes only afford a local performer, if at all. I attended one that had a local ventriloquist and stage magician.

None of this is free. I paid $495 to attend this conference, which is a pretty average price. That's only to attend, and doesn't include food, travel, lodging, or any other costs. And this is something we're required to do every year.

So that's another behind-the-scenes look at life as a vet!