An Interview with Dr. Robert L. Leighton


An Interview with Dr. Robert L. Leighton

Dec 01, 2006
By staff

Robert L. Leighton, VMD, DACVS, is an emeritus professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He has written numerous articles and book chapters and is the coauthor of Small Animal Orthopedics and Radiology of Small Animal Fracture Management. He has lectured in 17 countries, and his latest trip was to attend the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress in Prague in October.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

As a speaker, go to the podium, don't apologize, give your talk, and end on time.

Who was your most memorable patient?

Jacques, a standard poodle, who had a midshaft femoral fracture resulting from a car accident. His case was my first intramedullary pinning in 1947 using equipment I had just developed. Jacques healed well.

Who inspired you most in your career?

Dr. Erwin F. Schroeder, the inventor of the Schroeder-Thomas splint and one of the first small-animal orthopedic surgeons. Outstanding in kindness, courtesy, and consideration of clients and pets, he was a true gentleman.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Learn humility. You know a lot, but you don't know it all.

What lesson have you learned from your students?

Students have surprising capabilities—and they are some of the best people you will ever meet.

What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?

Like Lowell Thomas—who I met—I would have loved to travel, write, and go on adventures.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I'm torn between a Labrador retriever with his head in my lap and a great cat on the hearth at my feet.

What book are you reading now?

America: The Last Best Hope by William J. Bennett.

What is your favorite film?

Saving Private Ryan. Although not exactly the way things were, it is interesting to see the soldiers who look like I did.

What was your experience like in the Veterinary Corps during World War II?

I spent two years inspecting food in St. Louis after being trained as a medic!

What favorite musicians or songs would you include on your personal jukebox?

John Philip Sousa with a good band. I have a tin ear, and most modern music is a cacophony of racket and screaming.

Do you have a bad habit?

I talk too much.

What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?

The loss of the soul of humane interest and the art of veterinary medicine. I fear the industrialization and impersonalization of veterinary medicine, but I suppose it is inevitable.

What can you tell us about your experience as the first chief of surgery at the Animal Medical Center in New York?

I could write a book about my experiences at the Animal Medical Center. At first we at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital had nothing to work with. But kind individuals provided support, and, eventually, we had the finest service in the new building.

Which animal health needs are currently unmet?

Food animals are not provided with adequate advanced care.

What is your sci-fi prediction for veterinary medicine?

We will develop a vaccine against cancer and a genetic system in which hereditary diseases have been bred out and resistance to infectious diseases has been bred in.

What is the greatest achievement of your career?

Receiving the Fido from the American Animal Hospital Association for Veterinarian of the Year, and influencing future veterinarians, which I'm rewarded for in the kind words of my many students.

What makes a good veterinarian?

An honest person who is devoted to the profession and has a love of learning and a willingness to go the extra mile.