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A doctor, by definition, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary is “a person who has earned one of the highest academic degrees (such as a PhD) conferred by a university: to give medical treatment to” or quite simply, “to give medicine to.” Now by definition alone, this is fairly straightforward. That is until you begin looking at all the aspects in which “medicine” can be used.
When someone thinks about a doctor, the first thought most people have is their general practitioner that you visit for your common ailments and prescription refills. However, in a third world country, a doctor is more often than not a medicine man. They don’t have a degree as such from any school, but they still provide medicine and minor medical treatments to others, which is part of the definition of a doctor. Seems simple enough, right? Well, let’s go even deeper than that.
If you believe in evolution, we all came from animals. Now, this is a very basic way to put this, but it gets to the point rather quickly. This has been proven through numerous types of studies involving immense amounts of data and tests. So if we share so much DNA and other traits with our animal cousins, could a licensed doctor learn something from a licensed veterinarian?
This topic has been debated back and forth for many years. I recently conducted a small social media experiment in which I asked people if they believed that doctors could learn from vets. Now it only had 21 voters, but the results were almost cut down the middle with 52 percent of people voting “Yes, a doctor could learn from a vet” and the other 48 percent saying “No, doctors couldn’t learn anything from vets.” Despite the small voting size, the results were almost tied. However, let’s go back to the real question here, can doctors learn from there vet counterparts?
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist who once worked at UCLA, believes there are many similarities between the treatment of humans and animals, and that this is a gap that needs to be closed. She feels so strongly about this topic that she has even written a book about it.
Zoobiquity is her book about the numerous connections between the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans, and more importantly how we could come together as people of medicine to solve many of the problems that plague both human and animal patients.
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz stated to CTV news in 2012, “I think in a lot of ways, veterinarians have a lot harder jobs than we do. They have to be pediatricians, dieticians, geriatricians. They need to know mammals and reptiles and birds. And they have to do this with patients who can’t tell them what’s going on. So much of the knowledge that veterinarians and wildlife specialists have is applicable on the human side, but there are few bridges between the two.”
One compelling case of the similarities between humans and animals is the condition known as emotionally induced heart failure. Around the year 2000, cardiologists discovered that humans could die of a broken heart. It was found in people like the bride that was left at the altar and a man who gambled away his entire life savings with just one roll of the dice. The couple who had been married for 50 years and one passes away. All of these events and more can lead to someone developing emotionally induced heart failure.
Interestingly enough, however, this diagnosis is neither new nor is it entirely human. It turns out that veterinarians had been not only diagnosing this in animals but treating and even in some cases preventing this heart condition since the 1970s. How many lives could have been saved if doctors and cardiologists had this knowledge back in the 1970s?
This isn’t the only case, either. Many human patients self-harm themselves—whether it is from pulling out hair or cutting. It turns out that this is something animals do as well. There are species of birds that pull out their feathers, horses that bite their flanks until they bleed, and because this happens in animals, vets have some very effective ways of treating this disorder. Imagine if therapists, psychologists, and doctors had additional information on how to help address these problems. Our mental health care system could get phenomenally better if physicians could push their preconceptions and attitudes to the side and listen.
We share so many of the same medical conditions. Both humans and animals can have heart failure, brain tumours, diabetes, leukemia, ALS, and even breast cancer. But the similarities don’t stop there. We also share many of the same mental disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and postpartum depression after giving birth.
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz stated how her job at the hospital and her career at the zoo were almost the same. She had performed surgeries on human patients where they had drained fluid from the sac in which their heart was contained. She did this procedure on a lion and said the only difference was that this patient had paws and a tail. The way the procedure was done was incidentally identical.
It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to reach out to human doctors for consults because they seem to know what physicians can't seem to grasp: that animals have many problems that can be treated like a human patient, and vice versa.
I’ll leave you with this final thought. If you believe in evolution, we all came from animals, and every physician accepts some biological connection between animals and humans on some level. So, if we share so many similarities, why would doctors think that many of our treatments would be different, when in fact they are almost the same? Imagine how many lives we could save if preconceptions and egos were taken out of the equation.