10 Tips to Choose a Veterinary Surgeon
From Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified
Are you looking for a veterinary surgeon?
If you are starving for tacos or tapas, how do you know who where to go?
If you need a new a car with great features, where do you find information?
If your pet needs surgery, who should you trust?
You likely know exactly where to find advice and ratings to the first two situations, but the third is trickier.
When your pet needs surgery, you have 2 options: your family veterinarian or a surgeon.
So when your vet recommends a surgeon, how should you choose one?
You probably shouldn’t pick a surgeon the way you select a restaurant or a car dealer. After all, it is your beloved pet who needs help!
What is a veterinary surgeon?
A surgeon is someone who only performs surgery. Technically, the only people who can call themselves surgeons are the few who are board-certified in surgery. In the US, a veterinary surgeon has undergone additional training after college (4 years) and vet school (4 years) in order to become a specialist. This training typically requires a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency. So that’s at least 12 years of training! Then, they need to pass the difficult exam of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS).
Now let’s discuss 10 tips to find the right veterinary surgeon to perform surgery on your pet.
1. Ask your vet
Can your veterinarian perform the surgery? Or should a surgeon do it? Assuming a surgeon should do it, which surgeons has your vet had a good experience with? What kind of results do they get? Were previous clients happy with them? Feel free to ask questions.
2. Ask other pet owners
Now, if you have friends, colleagues, or family members who have used a surgeon for their pets, ask about their experience.
3. Check ratings
What do other pet owners say?
Are there recurring themes? Compassion? Expertise? Responsiveness? End result? Character?
That said, please be careful with social media. Don’t believe ratings blindly. The web can be a great source of information, but it can also be a cesspool of evilness. Remember, more people will post about negative experiences than positive ones.
As you know, in other fields, some people have more opinions than experience, and they’re not shy about sharing their thoughts.
4. Visit acvs.org
The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) offers an online directory that lists all board-certified surgeons.
Visit www.acvs.org, then click on “Find a veterinary surgeon.”
Always double-check that your surgeon has the credentials claimed. You can search by location (worldwide) or by name. There is some basic information about each surgeon and usually links to the practice website.
5. Visit the surgeon’s website
The practice website will provide valuable information:
- What is the general “feel” of the practice?
- What are the surgeon’s credentials?
- After their name, do they have DACVS or Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons?
- How long has the surgeon practiced surgery?
- What are their professional and personal accomplishments?
- What is the surgeon’s experience with your pet’s particular surgery? Orthopedics? Cancer surgery? Soft tissue surgery?
6. Does your surgeon understand your needs?
For example, is your dog a family pet or a sporting dog? Will you need specific guidance to get back to field trials or Search And Rescue level?
7. Does the surgeon answer tough questions?
- Ask about your surgeon’s success, failure, and complication rates.
- Nobody likes to talk about failures or complications, but they should be discussed honestly.
- Do you understand exactly what your pet will go through?
- How many times has the surgeon performed the surgery your pet needs?
- Do you understand what you will need to do after surgery?
- How generous is your surgeon with pain medications?
- What pain medications will be used during surgery? (hint: ask how strong the “morphine-like drug” aka the opioid is)
- Who will monitor your pet during and after anesthesia?
- What is monitored during anesthesia? (hint: specifically ask about blood pressure and CO2)
8. How is the team?
The surgeon is only one piece of the puzzle. How is the rest of the team? How responsive are they? How helpful, polite, accommodating are they? How are the nurses? How compassionate are they? Do they obviously love pets, or are they only interested in a paycheck?
The nurses are the ones supervising anesthesia, doing treatments, and providing TLC, which are critical before, during, and after surgery.
9. How reachable is the surgeon?
Or is (s)he easy to reach and talk to directly?
Does (s)he reply to emails directly?
10. Trust your intuition
- During the consultation, ask questions, and decide if you feel comfortable with the surgeon.
- How are their beside manners?
- Did the surgeon explain things well?
- Did the surgeon use simple words? Or medical jargon with words that are impossible to pronounce?
- Has the surgeon performed the surgery your pet needs multiple times?
- Keep in mind that some conditions are rare, and therefore that particular surgery may be performed rarely.
Ultimately, your decision is all about trust. You need to work with a surgeon you trust to operate on your beloved pet.
Then you will be in a position to help other pet owners and their pets.
After all, a referral is the best compliment.
– Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, FFcert.
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