Can Veterinarians Legally Treat Humans?

So, you’re wondering for various reasons if a veterinarian can do the same things that a basic general practitioner can do. Well, maybe not all of the things, but a veterinarian should have some cross-over abilities, right?

Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot legally treat human beings in any of the states in the US. They are not qualified because they’re not trained to treat people, nor would be licensed to do so without years of proper medical training and licensure to practice medicine on the human body.

As fun as it sounds to have a veterinarian be able to treat their friends with their expertise, they would be lost as to what to do for simple things like types of conditions to medications, to the length of time, and dosage. It just wouldn’t be a great picture, but don’t all doctors have some training in common?

What are the Differences Between Human and Animal Medicine?

Both veterinary and human medicines are based on the sciences of living bodies. There should be some overlap, right? While it is true that all Doctors have some basic training on their patients’ bones, muscles, normal vital signs, what to look for in a healthy or sick patient, and how to keep chronically ill patients stable, humans and animals are vastly different in shape and size.

Both kinds of medicines actually use similar tests for urine and blood tests and things like X-rays are used in both fields of medicine as well, but veterinarians are actually trained on 10-20 different species.

In general, the biggest and most dangerous part of practicing medicine is medication. Prescription drugs or medications need to be prescribed and adjusted by a physician. They diagnose and treat a condition based on the patient’s symptoms and the way the disease appears to be presenting.

In many situations, the physician will have to make an educated guess on what’s going on with the patient based on what they’ve studied, and order tests to treat more serious conditions. After they’ve diagnosed a condition, a prescription is usually ordered to treat the person or animal with specific active ingredients that target the condition.

Powerful medications are very tricky to prescribe on one species normally for just one species based on weight and height, but even more tricky to take a slightly varied version of that drug and try to give it to another species with a different size. Something that would be fine for a human to take might kill their dog if they were to ingest it.

You also have to think about what our stomachs are accustomed to eating versus an animal like a dog or a cat. They should live off of meat, not vegetables and grains like we eat because their digestive tracts are different from ours.

What About in an Emergency Situation?

A veterinarian may not be trained on humans to practice medicine, but what if you’re stuck on a remote island somewhere and they’re all you have? They should be able to figure it out, right?

Vets are not allowed to give injections, order tests, or prescribe on humans and they are especially not permitted to give surgeries, but they do have undergraduate degrees in the sciences, something like chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc. They should also be trained in basic first aid and CPR which would be very useful in emergency situations. So, if you were on an island without a doctor, you could try your veterinarian friend to see what they could do. (Source)

By the same token, you wouldn’t want a general practitioner to try to treat your pet. They would not know what tests to order, which breeds are subject to which diseases. How much pain medication to give an animal, how to perform surgeries, perform CPR, and more.

But, if you weren’t able to get the animal to a vet, a normal physician would be able to stop bleeding, bandage a wound, or tell you how to intubate certain animal hearts like pigs or sheep. Some have even been trained on mice to insert catheters in a vein. (Source)

What Legal Protections do Veterinarians Have for Treating People?

The good news is that there are laws protecting a veterinarian or a caring bystander who, in an emergency gets involved to try to help someone in a serious situation. So, a veterinarian, nurse, or anyone trained in EMT should be protected in trying to help, although protection varies by state. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia cover the most in their Good Samaritan law.

Anyone who tries to help in an emergency situation will be protected. Other states only protect CPR or bleeding situations, and sometimes only medically trained personnel, while still other states like Rhode Island, Minnesota, Vermont, and Louisiana have laws for those who do not act in an emergency situation that penalizes bystanders for not trying to provide reasonable help like staying with a person until help arrives. (Source)

What Veterinarians do for Human Welfare

An organization called the Veterinary Food Inspection or VFI was created around World War II to help inspect the soldiers’ food, which before that time, hadn’t been handled very safely or inspected for contamination. The organization consisted of trained and commissioned veterinary officers and students who helped decrease soldier death rate and sickness from bad food significantly. They still perform most of the food inspections to this day, performing audits on food, training, and certifying that it is nutritious and lief-sustaining. (Source)

Veterinarians, unsurprisingly, also work in research labs with animal testing for things like influenza, parasites, rabies, trichomoniasis, and track down disease origins for further testing. They provide a lot of skills and research to our modern medicine, and they’re often preferred by their patients’ owners over their primary care physicians in some cases. The quality of expertise they have is undeniably useful and essential to the broad category of medicine, and there are doctors who decide to cross-train to become physicians and veterinarians, but medicine is very specialized and requires training.

Carolina Pieters

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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