The Future of Veterinary Medicine

"What Veterinarians Do"

by Dean Joan C. Hendricks, VMD/PhD, published in the Huffington Post
Most people think of veterinarians as doctors who treat cats and dogs.

While vets do cure, offer advice, and assess the well-being of cats and dogs, as well as numerous other animals, their role is substantially broader and isn't limited to animal health.

Uniquely trained in comparative biology, veterinarians are the only members of the clinical profession – including human medical professionals – who see many different species, and understand medicine fundamentally such that all species benefit.

Veterinarians approach medicine with a global perspective, supporting public health and making a huge impact on people's well-being.

They also play an integral role in food safety and food production. Since people share many of the same diseases and biology as animals, veterinarians play a critical role in preventing and controlling diseases.

In fact, veterinary medicine is the profession that stands between all of humanity and plague and famine.


  • Many of the infectious diseases (e.g. avian flu, swine flu, AIDS, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease) Penn Vet, research, West nile virusthat spread in humans come from animals originally. The CDC estimates that number to be 75 percent.
  • Preventing new diseases in humans, as well as potential plagues, is crucial, and well-trained animal care professionals play a vital role. In 2001, veterinarians developed surveillance technology that provided the ability to stem an outbreak of avian influenza in Pennsylvania.
  • In one month's time, a potentially devastating outbreak was stopped at a cost of $400,000. At approximately the same time, a similar outbreak in Virginia cost the state $100 million. Clearly, it is safer, cheaper, healthier, and more effective to identify a disease before it appears in people.

The Food Supply

  • Not only are we concerned about diseases of epidemic proportion, but as our world population Penn Vet, food supply, swinegrows, we also are increasingly faced with issues related to famine.
  • Food availability, safety and production are key areas of research and service for veterinarians. Our food sources need to be safe, healthy, and plentiful.
  • For example, in Pennsylvania, where agriculture is the most important industry, veterinarians provide advice on modern farming. By gathering information from swine production areas and dairy farms, veterinarians can examine these data to advise farmers on how to modify their feed formulations and additives and change milking schedules, tremendously increasing animal well-being and the economics.
  • Eating local food is a direct result. In Pennsylvania, veterinarians have developed a food safety system whereby poultry eggs can be tested for Salmonella. Creating a faster turnaround time helps egg producers comply with newer strict federal requirements. It also ensures public safety while protecting an agricultural economy that exceeds $644 million annually.

Importance of Human-Animal Interaction

  • It has been well-documented that the animal-human connection provides a powerful healing Penn Vet, human-animal bondbond. Service and therapy dogs really do enhance our quality of life. A common situation that develops in the elderly is the repercussion of a pet's illness. Often times, this event leads to the pet needing to leave the home. An additional outcome may be that the person ends up in a nursing home with little animal contact, which has been shown to improve their quality of life as well as, at times, their health.

    But the animal-human connection extends into other areas as well. Many veterinarians transcend the animal world and advance our quality of life through research. They apply the knowledge they've gained through their research to design better treatment for animals and people in the areas of cancer, immune diseases, regenerative medicine, neurological disorders and allergies.

    We have a moral obligation to study our companion animals on this planet; it's a practical issue that the animals that serve us, feed us, and take care of us be healthy. In doing so, we must redefine the veterinarian's role.

Linking Animal Science to Human Well Being

Vets will always be needed to treat cats and dogs. But it is their ability to link animal science to human well-being, advance food production and safety, and provide critical defense from global pandemics that needs to be better understood.

As countries become increasingly more developed, people demand a higher quality of food and more animal protein, such as meat, milk and eggs. How will we manage this? Certainly the current U.S. method of putting 20,000 cattle in the desert in California won't work and the developing world way of having chickens in the city doesn't work either.

Presently, we don't know how to do this safely. In order to solve this problem need professionals who understand and have carefully studied animals. It is far and away today's and tomorrow's veterinarians who are best suited to tackle important issues such as these.

The Impact of Veterinary Medicine

Piglet in Swine Unit at New Bolton Center

Veterinarians and Food

Food availability, safety and production are key areas of research and service for veterinarians. Our food sources need to be safe, healthy, and plentiful.

Learn how Penn Vet's Swine Teaching & Research Unit impacts our food source...

One Health

One Health Initiative

Penn Vet is proud to be a member of the One Health Initiative, a movement to forge co-equal, all-inclusive collaborations between physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, and other scientific and environmentally related disciplines.