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The New Pet Care

The New Pet CareContemporary expectations for veterinarians and an evolving applicant pool are revolutionizing the field of animal medicine. No. Grafton, Mass.

No. Grafton, Mass. [05.20.04] Only a few decades ago, veterinary medicine was vastly an agrarian field, largely focused on providing medical care for farm animals. But much has changed over the last 20 years, as pet care is rapidly expanding to serve the needs of dogs, cats and other companion animals living in urban areas. With today's animals receiving everything from massages to salon visits, veterinarians are gearing up for an age when nothing is too good for the family pet.

"Owners rely on their pets and they are more willing to spend or do anything to make their animals happy because it makes them feel happy," Heather Powers, a fourth-year student at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine told the Christian Science Monitor.

And veterinary schools like Tufts are evolving with the times. In addition to traditional medical skills, students are learning grief counseling, animal behavior and how to relate to pet owners.

"Tufts even has pet-loss support hot lines staffed by students," reported the Monitor.

All the new attention to the needs of the owners is shattering a stereotype that animal care specialists only care about their patients' physical health.

"Pet owners today are looking for someone they feel comfortable with," Powers told the Monitor. "A big myth is that people go into veterinary medicine because they love animals but don't want to deal with people. Well, the owner is their advocate and you're dealing with a lot of people."

With more and more pet owners treating their pets like members of the family, demands for animal care specialists are changing.

"We try to get students involved with the owners, asking them the history, going into the exam room first," Elizabeth Brown, a second-year resident at Tufts' Foster Hospital for Small Animals, told the Monitor. "Then they'll come back to us and go through the whole history and we'll see if there is anything they missed."

And as a result, new types of students are looking to get into veterinary medicine - drawing from fields outside the sciences such as communications and the arts.

"I was considering acting in New York, but then I saw 50-year-old men waiting tables," Matt Steinberg, a fourth-year student, told the Monitor. "If I'm going to work, I'd rather be doing something I love. This is good, meaningful work."

Demographics are changing too. Steinberg is now in the minority - approximately 75 percent of students entering veterinary school are women.

"By the time I got out of college in the 1960s, it had opened up a great deal, and now the floodgates are open. It's a caregiving profession and it's very attractive to women," Angie Warner, veterinarian and associate dean of academic affairs at Tufts' Veterinary School, told the Monitor.

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