When we graduate to become veterinarians, we must take an oath stating our sincerity in our chosen profession. For only the third time in history, the oath in the United States has been revised by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The original oath was adopted in 1954, then revised in 1969, 1999, and now 2011. Here is the oath that every US veterinarian takes:
"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 and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."
Some of this oath may be surprising to the lay-person. Promotion of public health? Yep, vets historically have been called on to inspect meat and animal food sources, as well as monitor diseases carried from animals to humans. Scientific knowledge? Thought it may not seem obvious at first, we are trained as medical scientists and as critical thinkers.
So what's new? The part about preventing and relieving animal suffering. Though the AVMA doesn't define what entails "animal suffering", it hopes to make a statement by this stance, especially with the "prevention" as a proactive view. Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure how important the change is. The oath isn't legally binding and doesn't necessarily constitute practice standards. I can also see lots of arguments against food production, an always touchy subject with the AVMA, as many feel that production animals are suffering in their circumstances. Taking a tough stand on animal suffering is good, as we need to recognize the importance of pain control and other things that can negatively impact an animal's life. But by not defining what "suffering" means, the AVMA is being rather vague (and probably deliberately so).
I remember when I recited that oath at the hooding ceremony and how important I felt. At that time the oath really meant something and I listened to every word. Though I don't discount the value of such a standard oath, I have to admit that I haven't really thought about it much over the last 13 years. Time and perhaps a touch of cynicism has made me realize that saying the words doesn't really affect my day-to-day life and practice.
So for better or for worse, newly graduating vets will be reciting the above oath. Will this change the profession or make them better vets? Unlikely. But it shows how the profession changes along with society, and we have come a long way from the beginnings of primarily seeing livestock.