What does a veterinary surgeon do?

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What is a Veterinary Surgeon?

Routine surgeries, including spays and neuters, are standard procedures in veterinary care. Yet, for challenging or intricate cases, seeking the expertise of a board-certified veterinary surgeon is recommended. These specialists collaborate closely with both the animal owner and the primary veterinarian, offering comprehensive pre- and post-surgery support.

Board-certified veterinary surgeons bring a wealth of benefits to the table, including access to cutting-edge treatment options and specialized equipment. Their network often extends to include veterinary specialists in fields such as radiology, anesthesiology, and internal medicine. Additionally, their teams comprise technicians well-versed in the specific needs of animals undergoing surgery. This collaborative approach ensures top-notch care, from the initial consultation through expert postoperative monitoring, ensuring a seamless continuum of care for their patients.

What does a Veterinary Surgeon do?

A veterinary surgeon performing a surgery.

In the realm of animal healthcare, veterinary surgeons stand out as specialized professionals entrusted with the critical task of performing surgical interventions. These professionals are dedicated to addressing a spectrum of medical issues through precise surgical procedures.

Duties and Responsibilities
These are some primary responsibilities found in almost all veterinary surgeon roles:

  • Working from a clinic or visiting animals on farms, stables, zoos, or in family homes to diagnose illnesses
  • Examining and establishing suitable treatments for different animals such as domestic livestock, pets, or exotic animals
  • Conducting and evaluating medical tests, such as X-rays, ultrasounds or taking blood samples
  • Providing emotional support and advice for animal owners about welfare and treatment, including dietary advice and breeding information
  • Vaccinating animals and performing other forms of preventative healthcare
  • Performing euthanasia on old, terminally ill, or dangerous animals
  • Performing various medical surgeries to treat illnesses and injuries
  • Supervising post-operative and follow-up home care
  • Interacting with surgical veterinary technicians, primary and emergency and critical care vets, and support staff
  • Working on-call to provide support for out-of-hours emergencies
  • Administering deworming treatments and providing animal health certificates for animals travelling abroad
  • Drafting case reports and maintaining a database of patient records to document medical treatments and illnesses
  • Attending conferences, workshops, and seminars to stay current with industry trends and insights

Types of Veterinary Surgeons
Now that we have a sense of the scope of the veterinary surgeon’s work, let’s look at some different types of veterinary surgeons:

  • Veterinary Surgeon (General Practice) – These veterinarians are involved in general practice and may perform a wide range of medical and surgical procedures on various animals.
  • Veterinary Orthopedic Surgeon – Specializing in surgeries related to bones, joints, and muscles, orthopedic surgeons address conditions such as fractures, ligament injuries, and congenital deformities.
  • Veterinary Soft Tissue Surgeon – This specialization involves surgical procedures that don't involve bones, joints, or muscles, such as abdominal surgeries, tumor removals, and reconstructive surgeries.
  • Veterinary Neurosurgeon – Veterinary neurosurgeons focus on surgical interventions related to the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.
  • Veterinary Cardiothoracic Surgeon – Specializing in surgeries involving the heart and chest, cardiothoracic surgeons address conditions like heart defects, cardiac tumors, and thoracic trauma.
  • Veterinary Surgical Oncologist – Veterinary surgeons specializing in oncology focus on the surgical treatment of cancer in animals, including tumor removal and cancer staging.
  • Veterinary Dental and Oral Surgeon – Specializing in oral health, dental surgeons perform procedures such as tooth extractions, oral tumor removals, and corrective dental surgeries.
  • Equine Veterinary Surgeon – Veterinary surgeons specializing in equine surgery focus on surgical procedures related to horses, including orthopedic and soft tissue surgeries.
  • Veterinary Ophthalmic Surgeon – Veterinary ophthalmic surgeons address eye conditions in animals and may perform surgeries such as cataract removals, eyelid surgeries, and corneal procedures.
  • Veterinary Reconstructive Surgeon – This specialization involves surgical procedures aimed at repairing or reconstructing damaged tissues, often following trauma or injury.
  • Emergency and Critical Care Surgeon – Veterinary surgeons specializing in emergency and critical care are skilled in handling urgent surgical situations and trauma cases.
  • Minimally Invasive Surgery (Laparoscopy and Endoscopy) – Veterinarians may specialize in using minimally invasive techniques for surgeries, which involve smaller incisions and shorter recovery times.

It is important to note that the specializations described above typically require additional training and passing of board examinations.

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What is the workplace of a Veterinary Surgeon like?

Veterinary surgeons can work for a variety of organizations and institutions, depending on their area of expertise and professional interests. These are some of their most common employers:

  • Animal Hospitals and Clinics – Most board-certified veterinary surgeons work at large hospitals or referral centers. In these settings, they tend to handle more complex medical cases and emergency care as well as surgical procedures.
  • Emergency and Specialty Clinics – Clinics that focus on emergency and critical care, as well as specialty areas like surgery, may employ veterinary surgeons. These clinics often have advanced diagnostic and surgical equipment, and are particularly fast-paced environments.
  • Private Veterinary Practices – Some veterinary surgeons work in private practices, providing medical care to companion animals such as dogs, cats, and small mammals. These practices may offer a range of services, including general health exams, surgeries, and preventive care.
  • Research Institutions – Some veterinary surgeons work in research institutions, universities, or laboratories, where they may be involved in scientific research, studying diseases, developing new treatments and surgical procedures, or conducting experiments and clinical trials related to animal health.
  • Zoos and Wildlife Organizations – Veterinary surgeons may work in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife rehabilitation centers. In addition to surgeries, their work may involve routine medical care and participation in conservation and breeding programs.
  • Government Agencies – Veterinary surgeons can be employed by government agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture or public health departments, to oversee animal health, enforce regulations, and address issues related to food safety and disease control. In these settings, they may work in offices, laboratories, or in the field.
  • Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Companies – Some veterinary surgeons work for pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies, contributing to the development of new drugs, vaccines, and medical products for animals. Their work environments range from offices to laboratories to manufacturing facilities.
  • Industry and Corporate Settings – Veterinary surgeons may find employment in companies that produce pet food, animal care products, medical devices, or other goods and services related to animal health. Their roles in these settings may involve product development, quality control, or veterinary support for marketing and sales teams.
  • Non-profit Organizations – Veterinary surgeons may work for non-profit organizations, such as animal shelters, rescue organizations, or international aid groups, dedicated to animal welfare, advocacy, and rescue. They may be involved in providing medical and surgical care for animals in need or addressing broader issues related to animal welfare.
  • Teaching and Academia – Veterinary surgeons can pursue careers in teaching and academia, working as professors, instructors, and/or researchers in veterinary schools and colleges.
  • Military – Some veterinary surgeons choose to work in the military, providing general veterinary and surgical care to service animals and supporting military operations related to animal health.

Regardless of their workplace, the job of the veterinary surgeon calls for technical proficiencies and knowledge, a steady emotional keel, precision hand-eye coordination, a keen intellect, sharp inductive and deductive reasoning skills, quick reflexes, and good judgement.

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Veterinary Surgeons are also known as:
Veterinary Surgical Specialist