Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Practice Makes Perfect--June 2, 2008

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Our privileged profession

This spring marks the 25th anniversary of my graduation from veterinary school. It is a time for reflection, a time for rededication, but also a time for tremendous celebration. We are so lucky to do what we do! In a recent telephone survey by agents of a retirement fund for seniors, nearly half of those interviewed indicated that they wished that they would have had some type of career that involved animals. Veterinary medicine has taken my life in the most amazing and unexpected directions—from studying polar bears with a group from the Denver Zoo, to Antarctica to study penguins with other veterinarians from the North American Veterinary Conference, to placing radio transmitters in prairie rattlesnakes in Colorado.

The biggest secret about veterinary medicine is that people still like us. In an age in which the public mistrusts doctors and makes lawyers the butt of a thousand and one jokes, people still like and trust their animals’ doctors. We can never abuse that trust, misplace it or in any way take it for granted. Make no mistake, it is a privilege to do what we do, an honor to care for animals, and a solemn responsibility to have people trust us enough to bring us their animals. It is a privilege to practice veterinary medicine, not somehow our right. Whether we are tired or rested, on our first case or last, every patient deserves our best effort to earn that privilege.

Veterinary medicine is a wondrous profession, and the changes that I’ve seen in the last quarter century are mind-boggling. The rise of specialties, the development of ever more amazing technologies, and the emergence to center stage of the bond between people and animals are just a few of the changes I’ve seen. This is not a profession that lets you rest on your laurels; it is much like being a boxer. It doesn’t matter that you have won the last 19 straight. You are only as good as the fight you are in now. Our science doesn’t let you dwell very long on the past, it constantly refocuses on the future, on the next challenge, the next patient, the next exam room. It has been a privilege for me to practice for 25 years, and I have been so fortunate. And I am not done yet, not by a long shot! So, get a hobby, stay clean, and don’t ever forget how lucky and how privileged we are.

Kev