Back in 1761, the current United States consisted of British colonies and there were no lights or cars or even steam engines for that matter. People relied heavily on animals for their survival. They provided transportation, labor, clothing and food. It was in that year that the first Veterinary School was established. There were professionals who were veterinarians before that time, but their knowledge was acquired through apprenticeships without any other type of formal, organized training.
Enter Claude Bourgelat, the son of an aristocrat in Lyon, France. When he was twenty-eight years old, he was made Director of the Lyon Academy of Horsemanship and he published several documents on horsemanship that earned him respect from his peers and the public. As a practicing veterinarian, and also wanted a place for men aspiring to that career to learn the proper art of medicine. His veterinary school was established in Lyon in 1761.
Meanwhile, in what subsequently became the United States, over a century went by before the creation of the first veterinary school. The American Veterinary Medical Association was founded in 1863 as a governing body of the veterinary profession and in 1870, the first U.S. veterinary school was established at Iowa State University. That school still exists today, as does the AVMA, which is still the primary national veterinary organization.
Initially, veterinarians treated mainly horses and cattle, as well as other farm animals. However, with the invention of the automobile in the early 1900’s and the declining need of animals for farming and transportation, the ever resourceful veterinarians started treating dogs and cats to stay in business. By the 1950’s, those same dogs and cats who used to roam the farms and beg for scraps now had established themselves in our homes and beds and they became the primary patients for most veterinarians. It was also during that time that women began entering the profession. More women than ever are embarking on veterinary medicine as a career and all of the veterinary schools now are graduating classes that are predominantly female.
2011 marks the 250th anniversary of veterinary medicine, counting back to that first veterinary school. It is a profession that has evolved from a man traveling in his horse and buggy down unpaved, rutted roads to tend to farmer’s cows to one where clients and patients enter exam rooms with stainless steel tables and digital scales. Whereas early veterinarians used liniments, poultices, and tinctures of various oils to heal, we now have a vast array of antibiotics, pain relievers, anesthetics and chemotherapeutic drugs available. Advances in technology and the increasing importance of pets as family members have driven veterinarians to be on the cutting edge of medicine. We can now run complete blood panels in minutes, do endoscopy and ultrasound, get remote consultations from specialists and can offer a variety of surgical procedures with multimodal pain management. Veterinarians also have important roles in public health, research and government. Two veterinarians, Representative Kurt Schrader (OR) and Senator John Ensign (NV) recently sponsored resolutions establishing support for designating 2011 as “World Veterinary Year”. So next time you visit your veterinarian, greet her (or him) with a “Happy World Veterinary Year!”