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Vets as superheroes

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THIS summer's cinematic blockbuster ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ may be turning out to be a life-saver for families on holiday in the UK during a wet week in August, but a recent publication from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) introduces a new breed of superheroes whose impact is much more down to Earth. If necessary, they could even play a role in repairing Rocket Raccoon.

A comic book called ‘V-Force: Veterinarians to the Rescue!’, which has just been published by the AVMA,1 introduces six colourful superhero characters – Regulatory Veterinarian, Army Veterinarian, Industry Veterinarian, Research Veterinarian, Private Practice Veterinarian and Farm Veterinarian – and, through a series of entertaining illustrated stories, shows them protecting both animal and public health, and saving the day from evils such as leptospirosis, West Nile virus infection and foodborne illness. Readers get to see what veterinarians can do to protect the world while working in the areas of research, industry, small and large animal practice, military service and regulatory veterinary medicine.

The comic book is categorised under ‘Children's Materials’ in the product catalogue on the AVMA's website, although, given the current resurgence of interest in American-style superheroes, it could well appeal to a much wider age range than that. While entertaining, it also serves another purpose, as revealed on the final page [WARNING: PLOT SPOILER AHEAD]. This shows a classroom of school kids who, having found out some of the different things veterinarians can do for the world, are all putting their hands up indicating that they want to be vets. In North America (as in the UK) there is concern about supply and demand for vets, but also concern that perceptions of the variety of roles that vets can fulfil are too narrow (VR, March 23, 2013, vol 172, p 300). An AVMA workforce study undertaken in 2013 indicated that the supply of veterinarians in the USA was exceeding demand for their services, although it was also suggested that this wasn't an oversupply problem as such; rather, veterinary capacity, and veterinary skills, were underused (VR, May 4, 2013, vol 172, pp 460, 462). Meanwhile, a report from the US National Academy of Sciences in 2012 had expressed concerns about the sustainability of the veterinary profession and the need for the profession to evolve to meet changing needs. It had suggested that there were sectors of ‘unmet need’ for veterinarians to which the profession could usefully contribute more in the future, such as research, public service, food security and production and ‘One Health’ (VR, June 30, 2012, vol 170, p 656). The AVMA's comic book – which, as well as being available as a free download, can be bought in printed form in packages of 25 for use in settings such as careers days or practice waiting rooms – clearly has an educational role in broadening perceptions about what vets can do and what being a veterinarian involves.

In many respects the comic book provides a similar function to the ‘Veterinary Science . . . for all Walks of Life’ publication produced by the RCVS in the UK a few years ago. This, too, highlights the wide range of potential career options available to vets, albeit in a different and possibly less entertaining form.2 The provision of such information is becoming more important in the UK, just as it is in the USA. With increasing numbers of veterinary graduates, and changes in the structure of practice and the market for ‘traditional’ veterinary services, those applying to veterinary school need to be fully aware of the range of career options available (VR, July 26, 2014, vol 175, p 78).

Vets might not quite be superheroes in reality but there are certainly ways in which they can help save the world and a variety of roles they could fulfil. One of these is highlighted in the latest bulletin of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which is largely devoted to ‘Protecting bees, preserving our future’.3 In an editorial in the bulletin, Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director general, notes that, although it receives less attention than other livestock sectors, beekeeping is a vital and integral part of farming in every region of the world, and that the loss of these key pollinators, either bred or wild, would be ‘a biological, agricultural, environmental and economic disaster’. Vets, potentially, have a role in helping to avert this, but they need to rise to the challenge.

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