When someone discovers that I am a veterinarian, typically the next question they ask is, “What kind of veterinarian are you?” I will admit that I tend to have some fun with answering this question. I tell them, “I’m a veterinarian who works over at the human hospital.”  Usually following a brief moment of pause, they ask my next favorite question: “What does a veterinarian do at a human hospital?”

Before I answer that question, I want to introduce a story of how a change in perspective during veterinary school helped me to become a veterinarian working with physicians at a human hospital. The memory I want to share centers around a particular experience where I began asking a new question that helped me arrive at a much more authentic answer to guide my path as an aspiring veterinarian. It was not until that experience that I had a clear, impressionable preview of a veterinarian’s potential to act beyond the health and well-being of animals.

My story begins on a Saturday afternoon when several of my veterinary classmates and I decided to volunteer at a foster home for children. We brought a few of our pet dogs along to be able to share our passion for animals with each of these children, who ranged in age from four years old to a senior in high school. These children came from homes of abuse and abandonment. My friends and I were bound to bring the power of the human-animal bond into their home in hopes of providing them a reprieve from a hardship in their life we could never fully relate to.

human hospital

The afternoon was unforgettable. The children were laughing and playing with these dogs they had met just hours before. They were smiling from ear to ear as I let them use my stethoscope. One young girl, who was about ten years old, called me over to signal that she was having trouble hearing the heart beat on our furry friend, Cooper. I knelt down beside her, gently rearranged her ear-pieces that were facing the wrong direction, and then I said calmly, “Alright doctor, let’s test it out to make sure I have a heart beating inside me.” She giggled and lightly pressed it against my chest and one of her lips started to curve up into a shy smile.

Then I said, “I bet you have quite a heart beating inside you, too! Am I right?” I noticed her other lip start to move toward a grin as she pressed the stethoscope to her Mizzou Tiger shirt. Then I said, smiling at her and positioning the chest piece of the stethoscope under the dog’s elbow, “Alrighty, now let’s find Cooper’s heartbeat under all of that fur!” Her face lit up into a beautiful smile when she heard his heartbeat.

I think there is tremendous beauty hidden within experiences when you expect to be changing someone else’s life, when in fact, they are being the agent of change in your life.

I approached that afternoon with the joy of being able to bring these animals to these children so they could celebrate in the unconditional love that animals provide to me each day. What I was not prepared for was how much of a positive impact these children’s interactions with our animals were going to have on me and my aspiration of enhancing the quality of lives of pets and people all over the world.  After this experience, I wanted to be a veterinarian who was not afraid to champion the human-animal bond into areas where its warmth and power had yet to be fully realized.

So, the answer to my favorite question of what a veterinanrian does at a human hospital is, “I see the really bad Charley Horses.” Just kidding. Had to throw a pun in there.

The truth is I am working together with physicians and engineers to develop new medical devices to help solve health problems facing both people and animals. It is an adventure I would never considered if not for a little girl who helped me realize my commitment as a veterinarian is a commitment to people as much as it is our animals. I genuinely hope my story helps move you to know the joy of establishing the human-animal bond into an area or even a person’s heart, where it has never been before.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.


About the Author

Bio: Dr. Brandon Thornberry is a recently graduated veterinarian who lives in Columbia, MO. He is completing a fellowship in Biodesign and Innovation through the University of Missouri and practices part-time as an emergency veterinarian in St. Louis, MO. He is an aspiring One-Health innovator and enjoys inspiring others to use their veterinary degree creatively. To connect with Brandon, please visit www.linkedin.com/in/brandon-thornberry-dvm