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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Handicapped" Vets?

An interesting question was sent to me yesterday.

I stumbled upon your website through google and found it most interesting.  You also seemed pretty friendly so I thought I'll email you.

I'm a 19 year old girl going to University of Sydney to study to be a vet! This has always been wanted to do and I'm so glad I've gotten an offer.

However, I have unusually shaky hands that still tremble slightly despite supporting my hands on the table etc....

Would that affect a vet student drastically? Do you have any advise?

Thank you so much.

I wanted to bring this up in a public forum because it brings up an interesting and relevant question.  What do you physically need to be a successful vet?  Can you do it with physical handicaps or limitations?

The short answer is "yes", you certainly can do it.  The long answer is "it depends".  In this specific case I think it depends on how bad the trembling is, especially when the hands are not supported.  A general practitioner is going to be doing a lot of surgery, as well as often delicate procedures.  The blade of grass I removed from the cat's throat yesterday needed a quick and calm hand to grasp it.  As you go through your studies, you will quickly learn your capabilities.  You will need to be steady enough to use a syringe to collect blood, aspirate masses, use a scalpel to do skin scrapes (checking for skin mites), and so on besides just surgery.  If you can keep your hands steady enough to do these things quickly and easily, then a small tremor shouldn't hamper you at all.  However, if the trembling is significant, then you will indeed find some serious challenges in developing necessary skills.

There are certainly other areas of veterinary medicine that you can do besides general practice.  Pathology would be a good choice since most of what you are doing is looking at prepared slides and samples, so steady hands aren't as important.  Radiology is another good choice that doesn't require delicate hand-eye coordination (and this one would allow you to still see patients).  Talk to your professors and clinicians and see what they recommend after having witnessed you in action. 

What about other "handicaps" or limitations?  I would say that blindness is the only issue that would completely preclude someone from being a veterinarian, as all aspects of medicine require a doctor to be able to see.  Deafness may make general practice difficult to impossible since you spend much of the time listening to the chest.  However, specialties like pathology and radiology would still be possible.  I knew a vet who was paraplegic and did quite well doing exams and surgeries in his wheelchair.  Having limited physical capabilities doesn't limit a person's mind or cognitive abilities, and these are really the most important part of being a vet.  Others out there may have other experiences with vets who have been successful despite not having all senses or capabilities, and I would love to hear about them.

Good luck!  I certainly wish you the best in pursuing this dream!