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Veterinary Specialists Have Additional Training & Experience

This week’s question comes from a pet owner in Pennsylvania who is concerned about the cost and necessity of taking her pet to a specialist since she already has a veterinarian.

Why does my pet need to see a specialist? It sounds expensive, and I trust my vet. I know it will be more expensive to see a specialist, but I don’t want my pet to suffer. So why and when is it necessary to take my pet to a specialist?

                                                                            – Tina V., Lancaster, PA

Clients sometimes ask me, “Why did my vet send me to see you?  Why can’t he just do the surgery?”  I am a veterinary surgeon; in simple terms, a specialist in veterinary surgery.  What makes me different from your veterinarian is my focus and additional training in surgery.  All veterinarians attend 4 years of veterinary school before receiving their degree.  Some move straight into practice.  Others may perform an additional one year internship.  The internship allows additional training under the close supervision of other veterinarians, many of who are specialists in their fields.

A veterinary specialist follows that internship with a residency in a particular field.  The residency may be anywhere from two to five years long.  They train under specialists from their field and sometimes other fields.  As a surgeon, part of the residency training includes time in pathology, anesthesiology, critical care, and diagnostic imaging.  During their residency, they also perform research and publish their findings.  Finally, they must pass a very difficult examination.  Our surgery exam is a 3 day affair given once yearly.  On passing this final examination, the veterinarian is finally allowed to call him or herself a specialist in their field.

Much like human medicine, veterinary specialists exist in many fields.  Those include surgery (large or small animal), internal medicine, cardiology, neurology, radiology, dermatology, exotic pets, oncology and many more.  You can find a more complete list at https://www.avma.org/public/YourVet/Pages/veterinary-specialists.aspx.

“Okay, you have more training than my vet, but they have been in practice more than 20 years.  They have seen it all!”  Your doctor does a great job and has seen a lot of things.  Sometimes, they call us for help identifying the problem or, with that experience, they may have already known the problem.   The simply may not feel comfortable with the remedy.

In medicine today, costs have skyrocketed.  Not just the medications but also the equipment.  Because I focus on just surgery, my practice can afford equipment that would sit, rarely used on the shelf at the hospital of a general practitioner.  Since that is not financially smart, the general practitioner may not have some of the equipment that could be needed for your pet’s problem.  Between the additional training and the availability of specialized equipment, I am able to perform procedures which your doctor may not feel comfortable performing.  At the same time, because I only perform surgery, I don’t do much of what your veterinarian can do.  Much like your family practitioner on the human side, your doctor treats the whole dog.  So, we want to work very closely with your doctor to ensure the total health of your pet.  Our goal as a veterinary specialist is to correct your pet’s problem and return them to the care of your veterinarian.  Hopefully, you won’t need to see us again.

Kevin Winkler is currently a surgeon and medical director with BluePearl in Atlanta.  He has lectured across the country and internationally.  In addition to four children, Dr. Winkler and his wife have 2 dogs and a cat.  They enjoy traveling, following their daughters’ athletic endeavors, and the Georgia Bulldogs. Read more about Dr. Winkler on our Contributors page.


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