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Veterinary Viewpoints: What is the role of a Veterinarian?

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Media Contact: Derinda Blakeney, APR | College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 |

What comes to mind when you hear the word “veterinarian?” For most, it’s the local practitioner who takes care of your livestock or family pets. No question, this is one of the most impactful aspects of our profession, but did you know that we play an essential role in other areas that have a huge impact on both human and animal health? Here are seven things for you to know about veterinary medicine:

  1. Veterinarians are first responders to human disease outbreaks. Did you know the majority of emerging infectious diseases in people originate from animals? We call these “zoonotic diseases,” and our current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. At this very moment, veterinarians are working all over the globe to diagnose diseases in animals, conduct surveillance and recognize foreign animal diseases. They serve as a primary sentinel for these emerging infections in people. Veterinarians conduct millions of tests daily in laboratories associated with the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. Because these laboratories handle hundreds of samples daily to ensure herd health and can rapidly respond in emergencies, several veterinary laboratories were leveraged to provide human COVID testing during the pandemic. Our very own Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory here in Stillwater was one of the first in the nation to assist county health departments in human COVID testing, processing well over 100,000 samples in 2020!
  2. Veterinarians are leaders in food safety, epidemiology and public health. Veterinarians are trained for and direct how we handle our food safety and supply, manage disease outbreaks, herd health, and disease prevention. We have a broad knowledge base in many species and are often familiar with diseases such as coronaviruses before they even emerge as a pandemic. We have a seat at the table regarding these aspects of human health because of our unique training and expertise. For example, Dr. Jared Taylor served as the state epidemiologist for Oklahoma. Taylor is a veterinarian at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Veterinarians have also served at high levels in the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, including OSU alumnus Dr. Robert Whitney, who served as acting U.S. Surgeon General in 1993.
  3. Veterinarians are critical to the development of new treatments, vaccines and understanding disease. Before medical advances can be available for human use, we must first ensure that we fully understand the safety, benefits and risk. Animal models for disease are essential to understanding all of this. In order to design these studies, accurately interpret the results, and ensure the health and welfare of every animal involved, veterinarians must be leaders in this research. Veterinarians also serve in discovery research in developing next generation treatments for cancer, autoimmune, infectious and genetic diseases. This overlap between animal and human health is recognized as a concept we call “One Health.”
  4. Veterinarians are also an integral part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterinarians serve in the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. Here, veterinarians serve as public health officers protecting the food and water supplies at home and abroad, provide animal care for military working dogs, provide general veterinary care for the personal pets of military personnel at base veterinary hospitals, conduct research in some of the world’s most advanced research centers (USAMRID) and provide essential veterinary and public health services to underserved countries that especially need help protecting their food and water supply.
  5. Veterinarians are critical in training the next generation of veterinarians. Did you know that many areas are struggling with an alarming shortage of veterinarians, especially in rural practice? There are 32 veterinary schools in the United States (for comparison, there are 192 medical schools), which also means there are fewer veterinary schools than we have states! It is incredibly significant that Oklahoma has a college of veterinary medicine located at Oklahoma State University. As faculty members, veterinarians fulfill the mission of teaching, diagnostic or clinical service, and research to develop new veterinary graduates needed to maintain our agricultural development, preserve our food supply chains, and ensure animal health.
  6. Veterinarians go to school for a very long time. Veterinarians are highly educated, most with a 4-year bachelor’s degree followed by another four years to obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM). The pathway to a DVM takes the same amount of time and effort as an MD or DO. The difference is upon graduation, veterinarians graduate “practice ready” and are not required to complete an internship or residency. These are the general practitioners who serve your pets and livestock. Internship and residency training are available for veterinarians who desire to specialize. In this arena, you will find veterinary specialists in disciplines that mirror our physician counterparts: neurology, oncology, radiology, cardiology, dermatology, internal medicine, surgery, pathology and so on.
  7. Veterinarians are community leaders. How many of you know a veterinarian who is serving in a community service organization? At the end of the day, the people who go into veterinary medicine don’t just love animals but tend to be compassionate and have a servant heart for their communities. It’s just part of who we are. You will find them in community service organizations (Lion’s Club, Rotary, etc.), leading youth organizations, teaching Sunday school or other roles in churches, serving in community government as well as state and federal roles (U.S. Senators and Representatives).

We may be biased but veterinary medicine is truly the greatest profession. The road to becoming a veterinarian may not be easy, but the far-reaching impact and influence on our communities are significant. Next time you visit your veterinarian, tell him or her “thank you!”

About the authors: Jerry Ritchey, DVM, Ph.D., DACVP, is a professor at OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology who also assists at the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. Jennifer Rudd, DVM, Ph.D., DACVM, is an assistant professor at OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. She is a Diplomate of the American College of Microbiologists.

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.

OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine is one of 32 accredited veterinary colleges in the United States and the only veterinary college in Oklahoma. The college’s Boren Veterinary Medical Hospital is open to the public and provides routine and specialized care for small and large animals. The hospital offers 24-hour emergency care and is certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. For more information, visit or call 405-744-7000.

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