August 9, 2011
Future veterinarians combine science with social sensitivity to debate key animal welfare issues
Caring for the health of animals large and small is the No. 1 priority for veterinarians, but it's also important to combine the science of their craft with an understanding of socially sensitive issues, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.
A new course this fall at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine will focus on this combination. Dan Thomson, Jones professor of production medicine and epidemiology and associate professor of clinical sciences, will teach Contemporary Issues in Veterinary Medicine. The elective course will feature veterinary students teaming up to debate various issues. These debates will be an opportunity for the public to participate as well.
"There are issues and questions in the veterinary world that people have an interest in," said Thomson, who is also director of K-State's Beef Cattle Institute. "As we move forward in the profession, we have to make sure we have the data to back up any opinions while being socially responsible."
Balancing science with social acceptance is part of the art of the veterinary practice, Thomson said. Issues in the news that warrant this kind of attention include tail docking on cows, gestation crates for sows, battery cages for laying hens, cropping dogs' ears, declawing cats, grain-fed cattle and other issues concerning animal health and well-being.
When studying to become a veterinarian, Thomson said it's important to not only learn the issues, but also to learn how to keep an open mind and think critically.
"We're met by consumers and pet owners, and they have questions that we have to answer. It's not a matter of right or wrong -- we're just working on increasing the tie between science, data and social responsibility," Thomson said.
When it comes to animals, their treatment and their food safety, Thomson said veterinary professionals are the most highly regarded experts by U.S. consumers, and that is a relationship that carries a lot of responsibility and an expectation of sensitivity to these issues.
"Making educated decisions and providing them to consumers are vitally important," he said. "The goal is to add to the education of tomorrow's veterinarians."
In addition to providing future veterinarians the opportunity to debate veterinary-related social issues, Thomson said he also hopes that the public, faculty, staff and students attend to better understand these issues.
"I wouldn't be surprised if faculty, staff and students started to attend these debates. They're going to be very interesting and informative," he said. "They're going to be digging through tough issues, but they're issues in the news that may be familiar to a lot of people.