Right of Reply: Mark Holmes

A lecturer at Cambridge University veterinary school responds to an article by Manda Scott
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The Independent Culture
MANDA SCOTT painted a bleak picture of life as a veterinary surgeon in her "Veterinary Notes" in Monday's Independent. There is perhaps a certain macabre pride in considering one's own profession as being near the top of the suicide league table. Even so, I would like to present an alternative view.

As vets we are the victims of our own success. From James Herriott to Animal Hospital, media coverage ensures a steady stream of academically over-qualified candidates competing for the small number of places available at veterinary schools. A love of animals remains one of our national characteristics and we all too easily overlook the profession's conspicuous failure to respond decisively to the BSE crisis.

Although general practice is, at its best, academically demanding and intellectually satisfying, the majority of income for vet general practitioners comes from routine procedures such as vaccinations and neutering. This is not what five or six years at vet school equips our graduates for. As a result many graduates drift away from this aspect of veterinary work and pursue careers in research, industry and specialist practice; some even become lawyers, novelists and diplomats. Sadly, some fail to cope, for whatever reason, and contribute to the suicide statistics.

We do remain at the forefront of animal welfare and, although we often fail to meet the high standards we set ourselves, I hope we shall continue to attract individuals with dreams of making an impact on the suffering of individual animals. We desperately need vets to enter the profession with a broad education and a genuine compassion for animals. For these people veterinary medicine does offer a life.