Challenges – this link takes you to more specific challenges associated with learning.
Brief description of Medical Conditions
Students with a wide range of disabilities or health conditions can achieve the required standards of knowledge and skills to enable them to practise as veterinary surgeons, but it needs to be recognised that each case is different and has to be viewed on its individual merits. The safety of patients, the public and other colleagues must always take priority.
There are very many conditions which may not be a disability but which may nevertheless impact upon someone’s performance as a veterinary surgeon.
Allergies and Asthma
Increasing numbers of people are affected by some kind of allergy or by asthma. With regard to asthma, the National Asthma Audit 1999/2000 found that at least 1 in 25 adults in the UK aged 16 and over – over 1.9 million adults – has asthma symptoms currently requiring treatment. Approximately 1 in 7 children aged 2-15 (over 1.5 million children) are also estimated to have such symptoms http://www.asthma.org.uk/infofa18.html . This is the equivalent of over 3.4 million people with asthma in the UK. These figures are higher than in past years, supporting the various studies which have shown that asthma is on the increase.
Most adults with asthma are able to establish methods of controlling their condition so that it does not normally affect their daily life. They know possible triggers and therefore are often able to prevent asthma attacks. However, it is still necessary for veterinary medical colleges to ensure that there are proper procedures for dealing with substances – called respiratory sensitisers – that can cause asthma or other allergies, those most relevant to the industry are animal allergens, chemicals and latex rubber.
Most veterinary medical colleges have reported that they have had students who have indicated that contact with certain animals or with certain animal products produces an allergic reaction. These reactions are caused by the protein found in the oil glands in the skin of animals, the dander (minute particles or scales shed from the feathers, hair or skin of various animals), the saliva or the urine. Some individuals may even have serious or life-threatening allergies to certain animals.
These situations should be looked at on a case by case basis and with common sense. However, they should also be looked at in the context of accommodations or special allowances made for students with physical disabilities. One should ask what is the effective difference between a student who cannot work with horses because he uses a wheelchair and cannot safely enter the stable, and a student who is physically able to enter the stable but is barred from doing so by an allergic reaction. The difference seems to be only one of perception – many people seem to believe that the first student’s situation is more serious, whereas this is not actually the case.
Chemicals and latex rubber
It is normally possible for precautions to be taken so that individuals known to have some allergy to chemicals, latex rubber or other substances can avoid using of them. Health and safety is a major issue already within the veterinary profession so that it should be only in rare instances that someone cannot participate because of such allergic reactions.
Dysosmia – Impaired Sense of Smell
An impaired sense of smell is usually associated with ageing. However, it can also occur in younger people and can be present from birth.
Apart from the need for extra safety precautions with regard to detecting smoke and gas, there is also the need to compensate for the fact that, for example, someone cannot detect food which has decayed off. A vet with a smell impairment would therefore have to ensure that human and animal safety and welfare were not jeopardised.
Specific issues relating to the veterinary profession relate to areas where a vet uses the sense of smell to reinforce information coming in through the other senses. One equine expert stated that he was unable to insert a tube into a horse’s stomach correctly because he could not tell when the tube had reached the stomach. There are undoubtedly other tasks which likewise depend upon someone being able to detect things through smell.
It is estimated that in the UK, 1 in 200 people have epilepsy and 1 in 20 people will have an epileptic seizure at some time in their lives. 300,000 people in the UK are currently thought to have epilepsy. Given the high incidence of epilepsy, it seems likely that there may be many veterinarians who have epilepsy.
The UK National Society for Epilepsy http://www.epilepsynse.org.uk provides advice for employers on the issues relating to someone who has epilepsy. The Society’s literature states that:
”If someone has uncontrolled epilepsy, it will be necessary to take into consideration any risks that a particular type of seizure might present in the workplace to themselves, their colleagues and clients”’
Relating this to the veterinary profession, one must also add ‘animals’ or ‘patients’ to the list of those potentially at risk.
According to the Society’s information, some occupations are barred by statutory provision for people with a history of epilepsy. These are:
Teaching posts involving physical education, science and technology, work with young children, jobs in the prison service involving close contact with inmates and some areas of nursing.
Each of the above professions has specific regulations, some of which allow them to accept people who have not had seizures for a specified number of years and have not been taking medication during that time. Other occupations listed as being those where difficulties may be experienced even though there are no statutory barriers include:
Aircraft pilot, ambulance driver, merchant seaman, LGV, PCV or Taxi driver, train driver and jobs in the armed services, fire brigade or police.
There is therefore a well-trodden path and an acceptance of the fact that it is not only perfectly legitimate but also a grave responsibility to exclude people with certain types of epilepsy from certain professions.
Epilepsy and the veterinary profession
This is therefore a matter now for the veterinary profession to consider seriously. There are many situations where a veterinary surgeon literally holds the life of an animal in his/her arms so that to have an epileptic seizure could have devastating consequences.
Apart from this direct contact with animals. there are other situations where people with certain types of epilepsy would encounter difficulties.
Photosensitive epilepsy is a rare condition in which seizures may be triggered by flashing or flickering lights or by certain geometric shapes and patterns. People with this condition are most likely to react to lights which flicker between five and thirty times per second (5-30Hz). An area of research currently being carried out by the US Access Board concerns producing fire alarm strobe lights which do not provoke an epileptic seizure in someone with this condition.
Another area for consideration is the issue of holding a driving licence. Whilst knowing how to drive is not an essential requirement for a vet, as stated earlier, it could be for someone who wanted to go on to work in a rural setting. In the UK, current regulations state that a person needs to be seizure free for a period of one year, either with or without anti-epileptic medication in order to hold a Group 1 driving licence (cars and motorbikes). Even if it is not essential for qualifying in the profession, therefore, not being able to drive because of epilepsy could affect someone’s future career path.
This has been included because of the very high incidence of animal phobias reported among veterinary students. Veterinary medical college staff appear to deal with this in the same way as they deal with people who have allergies – i.e. people are permitted to miss out on certain aspects of the curriculum because of their phobia. Although more research is needed to establish whether there is a specific pattern of phobias and other disorders found among veterinarians.
Much of the information for this page was sourced from: Tynan, Anne. (2001) At the Portal of the Profession: The Veterinary Profession and People with Disabilities – A North American Perspective. University of London: Royal Veterinary College. http://www.rvc.ac.uk/RVC_Life/PDFs/AtThePortal.PDF necessary to discuss the safety of certain activities in particular with regard to laboratory settings, practical work or field trips.