Our basic training experience was an orientation class that we had very little interest in. But we didn't get to start veterinary school without sitting through this. So we sat through this.
Our friends endured a more significant basic training before heading out to Viet Nam, so we had little to complain about. But we complained....anyway.
I was nineteen. The oldest guy in the class was 40. We nicknamed him, “Gramps”. Five had masters degrees already. Most all already had at least one bachelors degree. Some had two. I had two years of undergrad under my belt. Five women had been admitted. The class was 71 men, and those 5 ladies. And the term “second class citizen” landed firmly on the ladies' backs. They had to prove they were up for the challenge. And they damn well better not quit to have babies, because that's what everyone expected.
It was 1968. The world was a tad bit different then.
We all wanted to become veterinarians. And the doctors teaching the orientation class intended to teach us what that meant. What we learned wasn't exactly what we expected it should be. These teachers were REALLY old, and we wondered why we must endure them.
Veterinary Medicine had been important for many years before we came along. Decades. A century. More. It had served the farmer, and the horseman. It did the best it could, which was considerable because a small number of truly dedicated, inventive, brilliant, adaptive men figured ways to keep horses sound and farm animals productive.
But there was that other side to our calling, the witchcraft and the charlatan too. Veterinarians were known as “Horse Doctors” The blue ointment worked better than the red one, when the only difference was the coloring agent. And some worked for the money while most others worked dedicated to helping the farmer and the animals.
The men who taught us were the men who during their lifetimes had dragged our profession into the modern world. These were the men who changed things, rid us of the charlatans and the quacks, elevated our passion into something that warranted the title profession. They improved the training, applied the ethics and enforced the ethics, and they were damn sure going to teach us to do the same. We were to inherit their baby, and they wanted us to appreciate it, protect it, perfect it.
We were going to be practicing medicine. We were going to behave as professionals. Our ethics would drive our behavior, not greed or pride. Look around the room....brilliant educated dedicated professionals....colleagues, not competitors. We would hold ourselves to the highest obtainable standards. And the animals and their people would benefits from this. So we all would win.
We would not disparage our colleagues to enrich ourselves.
We would be honest to a fault.
We would not advertise, self aggrandize, lie cheat or steal.
We were professionals. And if we worked hard enough, and sacrificed enough, and achieved enough, we would earn the respect that went with this claim.
And we would refer to ourselves as Veterinarians. We were not to be “Doc”. We would not be the “Vet”. Were were Veterinarians. And yes, we learned how to spell the word. Weren't gonna be no vetinaries in this group.
And through this we found ourselves joining a profession. We were proud. We even earned a degree of respect in the real world. Not like “real doctors” of course, but we did OK. People could trust us. Many did trust us. And we helped them and their animals.
Over time we became really good at this helping animals thing. In the decades of my career we changed Veterinary Medicine into something I would not have recognized at the beginning. Our training became so very much better. Our medicine got ever so much better. A set of blood tests that once yielded information a week later after we mailed them to a lab 300 miles away soon became an over night set of numbers, and then an hour's wait while the machine right there in our office spewed out the results. The x-rays got better, and then we gained access to endoscopy, ultrasound, cat scan and even MRI. Oh, we could do so much more to help.
We've conquered diseases that were the scourge of the animal world. We fix things now that were certain death 40 years ago. We have become so good at preventing some diseases that our critics claim we invented those diseases just to scare folks into spending the money they'd rather spend in casinos and bars.
A days drive to a specialist became twenty minutes across town. Anybody could get world class medicine to save their precious pet in a time of need.
If they wanted to.
My career has spanned the time that can only be described as the golden age of veterinary medicine. This profession has grown, matured, improved so very much as I have watched and participated. We've become damn good at what we do. We are so much more wonderful than when I began. We can offer so much to the animals and their people.
Problem is, we've left some folks behind. And a lot of those folks are our clients. These left behind folks don't want all that we can do to help them. They want the less exciting, less effective, less intimidating, less expensive version we used to offer. As one once told me in total honesty. He didn't want it done right. He just wanted something less done.
Veterinary Medicine has always adapted to the needs of our clients and their animals. Here's the best way to fix that broken leg. Well yeah doc, that's nice, but doncha have a cheaper way? Well, it's not as good, but back in the day we used to do this, and it might work. Do that doc. Sometimes this worked, despite the odds, and we were the heroes.
And when it didn't work....well that was the doctor's fault.
Veterinarians want to do the best job possible to help the animals and their people. Some people want this. Some can afford this. Others cannot, or more often simply choose not. And so we do the best we can with what people let us do.
We hold ourselves to a much higher standard than even our most strident, malicious critics. We want to offer the best. We want to be the best. We lay awake nights wondering if we have done our best. And our clients beg, bargain, connive, demand that we do something less than the best, and when we don't they hate us, and when it goes wrong they hate us. I've had clients scream at me because I will not commit overt malpractice for their convenience, or their wallet.
This is hard.
None of this is new. Read between the lines in “All Creatures Great and Small”. That was pre-war England, but it happened back then, too. Through all those decades of my experience, the Golden Years of Veterinary Medicine, it happened every day. It still does.
But this is going to change.
Law schools now offer classes in how to sue veterinarians. Veterinarians have always carried insurance against malpractice suits. That is our reality. But now the lawyers are seriously sniffing around us.
Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we do the wrong thing, hoping it will somehow turn out to be the right thing. Sometimes we shrug our shoulders and do the shitty job the client demands of us. And the outcome is bad. Sometimes....we simply are not perfect.
Well hell....sue the bastard.
Everybody sues everybody in America. Win a big lawsuit and retire. Play the lawsuit lottery. Listen to the ads on afternoon TV. Sue for this injury, about that drug, because of that product. Good thing the lawyers are looking out for those folks who sit around most every afternoon watching TV. Sue the bastards.
Veterinarians exist to care for animals. But this only happens because people care enough about the animals that they will ask us to help. If people didn't care, we'd be doing something else. But now, because people care, the lawyers can smell a profit. Because if they can prove that we injured a person because the outcome for an animal was not perfect, the lawyers want to turn this into really large pieces of money, as compensation. Sure, they will take a bit of this money for their efforts, but they can dangle the lawsuit lottery in front of people who already hate veterinarians.... and this is coming soon.
Suppose the rewards from suing veterinarians reach the levels the lawyers want. What happens next?
Well, what happened when they did this to the physicians?
Remember “defensive medicine”? That's what the physicians were forced to do...are forced to do, as they try to help in a hostile environment that will bankrupt the doctor if a less than perfect outcome results. Wonder what wrecked human medicine leading to the abortion known as Obamacare? Ask a lawyer.
Ever beg your veterinarian to pass on the blood tests before she cleaned your dog's teeth because you didn't want to spend those few extra bucks?
Well, forget that ever happening again. All those things veterinarians have done to try to help the less committed animal owner, the corners we've cut, for the less wealthy animal owner, the most ignorant animal owner, the liar and cheat....well forget that. Don't even ask. All those things veterinarians have done to compromise doing their best possible job to help the animals and their people will never ever happen again, because the doctors will now have to protect themselves from the consequences of not being perfect.
Every person who has hated his veterinarian for insisting on doing things correctly, every person who had lamented the cost of doing things correctly, every jerk who has accused veterinarians of just doing things for the money..... well get used to it.
You can beg, cajole, insult, nag...to get us to cut those corners. But you will not get your wish.
We will be forced to do things correctly. We will have no choice.
We will be doing what those old guys who lectured us in our basic training class urged us to do, because it was the right thing to do, and some of you will hate it. But you know what? Get used to it, for we will no longer have the choice of choosing malpractice to keep you happy. We can't afford that luxury anymore.
Welcome to our world. Too bad it took greedy lawyers to make you all realize this. Hope you all enjoy it as much as we will.
Thank a lawyer, for if experience bears out, you sure as hell won't thank your veterinarian.