Origins of the veterinary symbol

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The staff of the Greek god Aesculapius, encircled by a sacred serpent, is held as a symbol of hope and triumph over illness by the veterinary profession [1].

It represents the miraculous events that occur as nature defies the inevitable. As students of the art of healing, veterinarians are accomplices to a process that places them in god-like roles. Whether clinging to an animal's life, describing new life forms, or attempting to make life more compatible for animals and man, veterinarians are united by a common oath that dedicates them to 'the relief of animal suffering'[2].

James Herriot depicts a model of a classical veterinarian who struggles with the ethics of his professional expectations set amidst the buccolic life of the Yorkshire dales, far from modern suburbia, where anthropomorphism, litigation and unreal client expectations are surfeit[3], and profession accreditation, specialization and niche marginalisation of practices grind away at fiscal remuneration. The character portrayed by James Alfred Wight in the Herriot books is an intuitive individual that finds success easily in the simple rural setting where he practices compassion for compassion's sake. His education, wit, and wisdom contribute to the perception that his personal and business interactions somehow always have positive resolution.

But in the modern working environment, professionals may be found in complex roles contributing to missions that are foreign and uncomfortable to them. Professionalism often suffers, and depression a barometer of professional life.


  1. Williams EI. (1986) A History of Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Stillwater, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Centennial Histories Series, 5
  2. Veterinarian's Oath
  3. Herriot James (1972) All Creatures Great and Small. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc