Pet Points: Veterinarians essential to human health, too

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As the school year comes to an end, I say congratulations to the graduates and their very happy parents. For everyone else, I want to share some information about the only veterinary school in Pennsylvania. Three of the five doctors who work at my office graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

A veterinarian graduates with a wealth of knowledge about the health of many species including humankind. Penn Vet graduates find careers in biomedical research, teaching, human medicine and public health along with the traditional roles of caring for animals.

Founded in 1884, Penn Vet boasts 6,000 graduates and the vast majority of veterinarians in Pennsylvania are Penn graduates. The unique V.M.D. degree gives Penn veterinarians a distinctive signature. All of the other 28 schools in the U.S. give a D.V.M. degree.

Penn Vet dean Joan Hendricks is fond of pointing out that veterinarians constitute "the profession that stands between all of humanity and plague and famine." What she means is that veterinary medicine makes a significant contribution to assuring a safe, plentiful and affordable food supply.

On the farm, veterinarians do everything from developing a herd health program to checking the efficiency of milking machines. They also ensure the safety of eggs, poultry, swine and cattle. As the movement to "eat local" continues to grow, it becomes even more important that the University of Pennsylvania train and retain the best veterinarians in the country.

Agriculture is the biggest industry in this state and every payday hundreds of thousands of workers bring home a paycheck from the $61 billion agriculture and agribusiness industry.

Veterinarians have been at the forefront of medical research that has advanced animal and human health. Penn Vet alumnus and faculty member Ralph Brinster last year was awarded the National Medal of Science, which is the highest award that can be bestowed upon a scientist. The president invited him and others to the White House in recognition for his trailblazing work in reproductive biology and genetics. He was the first veterinarian ever to receive this award.

Animal and human health are more intertwined than many realize. Many diseases including Bird Flu, Swine Flu and AIDS originated with animals. Understanding these diseases helps doctors and veterinarians prevent, treat and cure conditions that can affect humans. Conversely, animals are affected by many of the same diseases as humans, including kidney disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.

I was able to visit close-up with Barbaro, one of Penn's most famous patients. He was a magnificent horse and was comfortable going for a walk outside with a cast before additional complications set in that led to his death. Penn Vet has a repertoire of stories that illustrate its success with leading-edge technology and treatment.

There is the case of Neville Bardos, a horse with Olympic aspirations whose recovery after being trapped in a Pennsylvania barn fire is simply remarkable. Basil is a German shepherd who was born with a defect that made it impossible to eat. With pioneering use of minimally invasive surgery at Penn, he made a nearly miraculous recovery.

During the month of June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly will determine whether Penn Vet will continue to receive state support. For the reasons cited above and for the welfare of animals and people in Pennsylvania, I believe state funding should continue at the current level.

From the care of pets to agriculture work and clinical research and teaching, Penn Vet provides indispensable education and services to all Pennsylvanians, whether they walk on four legs or just two.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood. First Published June 2, 2012 12:00 AM


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