A good veterinarian needs excellent human skills

In order to be a good veterinarian you need to, not only be a friend of animals, but also a big friend of people. This is Professor Thomas Spillmann’s words of wisdom. He knows the importance of communication in the profession as a vet.

A good veterinarian needs excellent human skills

Thomas Spillmann has worked as a Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine at University of Helsinki since 2005. He works at the Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Viikki.

His daily work consists mainly of instructing in research projects and teaching, and of administrative tasks. He also works at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital where he primarily instructs students and specializing veterinarians in examining and treating dogs and cats and where he performs a wide variety of endoscopic procedures.

According to Spillmann, the most important characteristic you need in order to be a good clinical veterinarian is not only good knowledge of the diagnosis and treatment of diseases but also good communication skills.

– You need to be able to communicate with the animal’s owner in the right way. Furthermore, you need to know how to communicate with other vets and veterinary staff members for the benefit of your patient.

The hospital often receives animal patients who have a referral from either private practitioners or municipal veterinarians. In these cases the vet at the University’s hospital needs to be able to communicate not only with the client, but also with the referring veterinarian to assure the best possible health care for the animal.

– I often see students who have love for animals, but are quite shy among people. Our students, however, get a chance to practice not only their clinical but also their communication skills in an early stage of their studies due to long practice periods at the hospital.

The education programme in clinical veterinary medicine is, from the third year on, very practically orientated, something Thomas Spillmann is proud of.

– The students learn how to perform physical examinations, to take blood and other samples, and to use imaging techniques, i.e., techniques used to create images of the animal body. Students also train how to assess results of laboratory test and radiographic or ultrasonographic images. Basic medical and surgical treatment methods complete the training.

Importantly, they also learn how to receive patients and to talk to the animal’s owners about necessary diagnostic investigations and treatments.

Every year, about 70 students are accepted into the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. In 2010 there were 707 applicants. The competition is among the toughest at University of Helsinki. The education takes six years leading to a Licentiate degree.

From where does Thomas Spillmann’s own interest for working with animals, come?

– I grew up in Osterweddingen, a village near Magdeburg in East Germany. I was from early on surrounded by all kinds of animals such as cats, dogs, pigs, cows and horses. Since the third grade at school I always knew I wanted to become a vet.

In 2011, we celebrate the international 250th anniversary for veterinary education. The world’s first veterinary school was founded in Lyon, France in 1761. The School of Veterinary Medicine Hannover was founded in 1778 and is therefore the oldest of the five veterinary schools in Germany. Many Finnish veterinarians studied there before the foundation of the School of Veterinary Medicine in Helsinki in 1945.

World Veterinary Year 2011 » »

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Text: Nadine Aschan
Photo: Linda Tammisto
Translation: AAC Global

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