The Business of Practice: Veterinary Ethics

Ethics in veterinary medicine is an important topic to address before there is an actual issue, noted Dr. Ernie Martinez.
man entering dark room
Veterinary ethics can be personally, professionally and legally difficult for equine practitioners. Thinkstock

“People want to be around people with integrity,” stated Ernie Martinez, DVM, MBA, in The Business of Practice Podcast Episode 39.

He noted that based on conversations with members, the AAEP is looking to provide ethics guidance and training.

The AAEP Standards of Profession read: “Professional ethics embodies the behaviors of honesty, integrity and kindness while obeying rules and regulations set forth with mutual respect for opinion and preservation of dignity in interpersonal relationships. The conduct should be in a manner that will enhance the worthiness of the profession. The ethical practice of medicine includes those remedies and treatments that have, as their short or long-term goal, the health and welfare of the horse.”

Martinez said equine veterinarians face ethical dilemmas frequently in practice. In this podcast, he advised practitioners should think about different scenarios that could face them before they are actually put in an ethical situation.

He said the most “public” treatments veterinarians provide are at racetracks, where treatments can influence the outcomes of races. Martinez said veterinarians need to be aware of scenarios that not only compromise their personal ethics but also the health and welfare of the horse.

“We also want to maintain a good image to the public,” said Martinez.

Two other scenarios that Martinez spoke about were in the horse show industry and for pre-purchase exams of horses.

In pre-purchase exams “the veterinarian can be pressured on both sides (buyer and seller),” he said.

One issue that Martinez discussed is the need for young veterinarians to have a mentor to talk to when ethical situations arise. “They can talk to a senior clinician or mentor from practice or even school,” said Martinez. “I hope you would be supported by senior clinicians, but a senior vet might have a ‘back story’ that adds more to the situation.”

Martinez said sometimes ethical issues turn out to be communication issues, which is where having a senior veterinarian talk to both the client and the young veterinarian can be beneficial.

If the ethical issue is within a practice, then the first place to start is with the HR person at the practice, stated Martinez.

“If you are the practice owner or a partner, make ethics a part of early discussions [with young veterinarians] and point out resources,” said Martinez.

He said if there are ethics issues or situations that are not handled within the practice, veterinarians can contact the AAEP Ethics Committee members (listed here) or even shoot him an email at

“It’s important to talk to your team before there is an issue,” Martinez advised senior veterinarians.

About Dr. Ernie Martinez

Martinez, DVM, MBA, graduated from the Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003. He completed an ambulatory internship at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and became a Field Care Associate in 2004 and a member of the practice in 2014. His focus includes emergency field medicine, herd health and wellness, neonatal foal care, mare and stallion reproduction, and equine dentistry. He currently oversees Hagyard’s intern and extern student programs.

Disclaimer: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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