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Pinoy Kasi
Vet Med at 100

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:07:00 06/18/2008

Filed Under: Schools, history, Education

Today is the 100th birthday of the University of the Philippines (UP), based on the law (Act 1870) that authorized its establishment. One of the earliest units set up within UP was the College of Veterinary Medicine, which also sets June 18, 1908 as its founding date, although it didn?t begin to offer classes until 1910.

I recently bought a copy of ?A Century of Veterinary Medicine in the Philippines 1898-1998,? edited by Drs. Mauro Manuel, Mario Tongson, Teodulio Topacio Jr. and Grace de Ocampo, to brush up on the college?s history, parts of which I?m using for today?s article.

Veterinary medicine in the Philippines actually dates back to the Spanish colonial period. Grace de Ocampo writes that a royal decree issued on May 31, 1828 provided for one veterinarian for the Philippines. This was increased to two in 1843.

The Americans established a veterinary department under the Board of Health as early as 1899, less than a year after it occupied the Philippines. The fact that this department was placed under the Bureau of Health reflects the vital role of veterinarians in human public health. It was not until 1905 when the veterinary department was transferred to the Bureau of Agriculture, to what is today the Bureau of Animal Industry.

The Americans included livestock when they conducted their first Philippine census in 1903, and noted how rinderpest, a virulent disease, had just swept through the country in 1901 and 1902, killing more than 600,000 cattle and carabaos. UP?s first president, Murray Barlett, wrote in 1914 that veterinarians were an ?absolute necessity in furthering the development of the immense agricultural resources of the Philippine islands.?

Like so much of UP, the College of Veterinary Medicine carries a strong American influence. The first dean, Archibald Ward, had the number 0001 as a licensed veterinarian in the Philippines. The next two deans were also American. Through the years though, the profession has become distinctly Filipino.

The college?s first home was in Pandacan. For many years, including the time I was in vet school, it was in Diliman, in a building named after Bartlett. That building is now used by the College of Fine Arts, but a Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), a kind of animal PGH, is still located there and will be the site of centennial activities tomorrow, even if the college is now located in UP Los Baños.

The veterinary curriculum has evolved. It began as a five-year program leading to a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). In 1920, it was reduced to four years. In 1926, it went back to six years, but combining two degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. In 1960, the curriculum was again revised, still six years but without the BS in Agriculture.

That six-year curriculum is still in place today, starting with two pre-vet years where students take the liberal arts and natural sciences, followed by four years of intense veterinary training.

Dogs, cats, more

How intense? Dr. Salvador Escudero III, who likes to be known as the father of Chiz Escudero, was the dean when I was studying and he was always reminding us that a veterinarian has a more difficult practice than physicians. First, he?d point out, animals can?t tell you how they?re feeling so you need to develop the knowledge and skills to figure out what?s ailing them, and monitoring how they?re responding.

Second, vet students have to learn to treat a variety of animals. In our freshmen year we were introduced to the joys of dissection, via large formalin tanks where we had to fish out cadavers of horses, cattle, pigs and dogs, dissecting each anatomical system down to the bones. We repeated these routines, running through Noah?s Ark with each of the difficult ?p? subjects: physiology, pharmacology, pathology, parasitology (so many animals, so many parasites that we had to take two semesters), and public health.

Because I moved on to human public health and pharmacology, I still sometimes find myself pausing when people ask for the dose of some medicine, smiling and asking, ?Your dog? Your cat? Or you??

When I was growing up, we knew only two veterinarians: Dr. Carlos (who, it turns out, belonged to an entire clan of veterinarians) and Dr. Cortez (also eventually became a father and son team), dealing with dogs and cats. Today, there are veterinary clinics all over the country.

From 1910 to 1960, UP was the only local university offering veterinary medicine, and produced only 450 veterinarians. When I was studying in the 1970s, we only had three vet schools: in UP, the University of Eastern Philippines and the Araneta University. Today, I?ve lost count of the number of schools, and when I attend veterinary conferences and register, I feel rather ancient putting my license number down (1103) and seeing others now with numbers like 4893.

It?s still a very small profession, with many vets having migrated to the United States, Australia and other countries with a demand for veterinarians. Even as the demand for doctors and nurses fluctuated in the West, well-trained Filipino veterinarians have always found it fairly easy to leave and practice elsewhere.

The profession has branched out into all kinds of specializations, including a few dealing with exotic animals. We even have two young veterinarians doing bioethics at UP in Diliman, Quezon City.

I ended up working with public health and eventually, medical anthropology, but maintain ties with veterinarians, including one of my favorite professors, Dr. Teodulio Topacio Jr. (The senior, his father, was one of four who first enrolled in UP?s veterinary college!), who is retired but still visits the hospital and helps coordinate activities like the centennial celebrations.

Rinderpest is long gone, one of the achievements of the veterinary profession, but there are still many challenges for the next generation of veterinarians, from controlling rabies (still a major killer of humans today) to the day to day tasks of comforting and healing animals.

I can tell you I?ve seen macho farmers crying when their carabaos recover, and tough grandmothers staying up all night for a sick cat. And once, watching a tough street kid beaming ear to ear because he had helped nurse his puppy back to health, from an almost deadly encounter with distemper, I wondered if perhaps vets play still another important role of helping to build a kinder, more caring nation.

* * *

Reunion at UP: There will be a grand reunion of UP veterinary graduates on Thursday, June 19, at the Veterinary Hospital in Diliman. The day will start off with tree-planting at 9 a.m., followed by the unveiling of a centennial marker created by National Artist Napoleon Abueva and the opening of photo and art exhibits. Alumni registration begins at 2 p.m. and dinner and fellowship will be from 6 to 11 p.m.

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