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Monday, April 25, 2011

Shaking Hands

Rahul emailed me with this question...

Currently I am a second year undergraduate student and I'm leaning strongly towards going to veterinary school when I graduate.  But one practical issue is really concerning me: my hands are mildly shaky and I'm wondering if I could still do the surgeries that most general practitioners perform.  Would I be forced to specialize to get around this problem?

Steady hands are very important for a vet, and not just for surgery.  Obviously, being able to safely and accurately handle surgical instruments is crucial.  However, you need fairly steady hands regardless of which field of practicing medicine you end up in.  With internal medicine specialists there are needle aspirates, endoscopy, ultrasound and other diagnostic procedures that require good hand-eye coordination.  With dermatology you are doing scrapings of the skin with scalpel blades, injections, and so on. Any time you are working with a patient and doing exams, diagnostics, and treatment you need steady hands.

Now that doesn't mean that mild tremors will preclude you from practicing medicine.  Many times people can overcome such a mild disability.  Try doing some exercises at home before you apply to vet school.  Take a sharp knife and cut into a peach, making a straight line.  Sew a button onto a shirt.  Thread a needle.  Pick up a pin with a pair of tweezers.  If you can do these tasks, the chances are that your shaky hands won't be much of an issue. 

If you haven't already, I'd recommend spending time working with a veterinarian and seeing the things they commonly do to see if they fall within your abilities.  You'll need to know this going into vet school, because you will have REQUIRED rotations in surgery, and if you can't pass these you may not graduate.  Find out your abilities ahead of time, and good luck.


  1. Disclaimer: I'm just a student.

    I was in surgery a few months ago with a surgeon who commented that she can't drink caffeine on surgery days because it makes her hands shake too much.

    So one add'l thought regarding shaking hands: take the time to see if there's a cause that can be addressed with a simple lifestyle change.

  2. I don't want to contradict Dr. Bern - anyone would agree the steady hands are very important - but I wanted to share two instances that I know of in which shaky hands have not gotten in the way.

    One is an excellent tech who I work with, who can set catheters, pull blood from tiny cat veins, etc with extreme skill. She admits that her shaky hands are frustrating but she's learned to "time it" and overcome it.

    The other is a doctor I used to work with. He was an exotics specialist and did very tiny surgeries on birds, small mammals, etc. His hands are INCREDIBLY shaky. It is nerve-wracking to watch. He does an amazing job, though. He's never talked about it to me, but its obvious he's put a lot of effort into overcoming it.

    Best of luck!!


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