Cowboy and Canines: Evolution of Veterinary Medicine

Written by Dr. Nicholas Pappas. Posted in Featured, Pets

Published on July 10, 2012 with No Comments

The evolution of veterinary medicine in Northwest Indiana

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the radio program “All Creatures Great and Small” hosted by the redoubtable Larry McAfee.  We’ve been friends for over thirty five years and discussed the evolution of veterinary medicine in Northwest Indiana.  I would like to share with you some of our thoughts.

It wasn’t all that long ago (around the later part of the 19th Century) that many dental procedures on humans were performed by barbers and farriers were consulted about sick horses!  Laws requiring licensure for all the medical disciplines have effectively put a stop to these practices.  And, I’m proud of our profession for requiring specific number of hours of continuing education to maintain your license.  Virtually every state makes these requisite changes about continuing education necessary to keep up with technology for example. 

Last year I was perusing some text books at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland; therefore, formal education for veterinarians goes back centuries but almost without exception, they were relegated to the bovine and the equine.  Small animal medicine was an afterthought.

Most veterinary schools were located in the Midwest because of our agrarian society had its epicenter in the Midwest and most veterinary schools were located at their land-grant universities, such as Purdue, Ohio State, etc.  These schools concentrated on large animal medicine and, sadly, few women were accepted.  This was primarily based on the specious argument that they couldn’t handle these large animals such as dairy bulls or draft horses.  Heck, I know of few WWF guys who could restrain these animals without help!

The third identifiable stage of our evolution was in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s where no bias was applied to women and the human animal bond had been identified and curricula allowed students to concentrate their matriculation toward large or small animal medicine.  I must admit I still have a great deal of respect for those of us who choose to do it all, i.e., like James Harriot.

At one point in time circa twenty years ago most state boards, of which I had the honor of serving were seriously considering licensing men and women as just small animal, equine, food animal veterinarians, etc.  I believe this was an inherently bad idea for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which many people change their minds and would be required to go back to school for two years or just be unhappy.

Today, we are allowed to take extra months of study in equine surgery, clinical pathology, nuclear medicine, and others.  But, we are still required to study all species.  One of the largest differences between human and veterinary medicine is they have the depth and we have the breadth of the sheer amount of information that we are required to learn.

In the 1940’s and the 1950’s there were only a handful of practices that dealt with large and small animals or just small animal pet practices.  “Doc” McAfee in Valparaiso was one of them.  Even though the McAfee Animal Hospital eventually evolved into a 99% small animal practice, which it is to this day, initially he treated most anything.  His son Larry; therefore, is a legacy and he did “dabble” in exotics and large animals.  Most people are now aware that his daughter, Brooke, represents the third generation and dad couldn’t be prouder.  Please visit McAfee Animal Hospital on You Tube.

An important part of the evolution of veterinary medicine and important seminal moment was when I was in veterinary school in the early 1970’s.  Until this time the farmer, the pet owner and the veterinarian concentrated on the sick individual.  Today herd health management, preventative medicine and wellness before sickness exams have been accepted as the norm.  And, in this respect veterinary medicine predates human medicine in these disciplines.  The eradication of hog cholera and smallpox in humans was directly related to those pioneers in veterinary medicine that kept their eye on the prize, a healthy population versus curing an individual.  Of course, this is still important. 

We now see specialty practices in veterinary medicine that have CT Scans, MRI machines, ultrasounds, laser surgery units, digital x-ray units, and others.  I thought these would be relegated just to academic institutions.  I am very excited about the fourth evolution of veterinary medicine, whatever that may be. 

This article is dedicated to those pioneers who led the way in Northwest Indiana.  John “Doc” McAfee, Bruce Sharp, Paul Williams, Harold Okone, Bernard Meyerowitz, Simon Goodman, Werner Langheinrich, David Cooley and all the charter members of the Calumet Area Veterinary Medical Association.

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About Dr. Nicholas Pappas


Dr. Nicholas Pappas is a former Chairman of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. He has been involved in veterinary medicine for 40 years and has practiced for more than 30 years. You can reach Dr. Pappas at katdrpappas@gmail.com.

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