Archives for posts with tag: veterinarian

How does one review an iconic work of one’s chosen profession? A series of books, that have been adapted multiple times over the years as TV shows and movies? A collection that are probably cited more often than anything else as having sparked the interest of a young person in becoming a veterinarian? One reviews it gingerly; one supposes.

It helps when the book is great.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started reading the series – I’m currently on the 3rd book, although this review will focus on the first, and most famous, of the memoirs of the Yorkshire Vet. My knowledge of the books came from the BBC / PBS series from the 80s which, of course, was a long time before veterinary medicine became my career.

The book, set in the late 30s in the Yorkshire Dales, follows the misadventures of Alf Wight – writing under the pseudonym of James Herriot – as a newly graduated veterinary surgeon as he takes up a position as an “assistant vet” in a small mixed animal practice. One of the things about the book that is fascinating is that it covers a period of change in the veterinary profession. While set in the 30s, the memoir itself was originally published in a slightly different form in the late 60s and there are frequent mentions of how the treatment of animals has changed in those 30+ years. Of course, things have also changed even more dramatically since them. Which makes the book an interesting period piece in two different periods.  

Pharmaceuticals are practically unknown in the 30s, and the author has little time for concoctions of his own dispensary. It is also a time when as a newly graduated vet, Herriot had been trained extensively on horses, and to a lesser extent on farm animals. While he and the other students were interested the rapidly growing field of small companion animal medicine – particularly dogs and cats. It is interesting to see the discussion of growing the practice into companion animal medicine. It is also interesting to reflect on the legal position of veterinarians at the time, and that they had to compete with non-licensed practitioners.   

I have, as I’m sure others in the profession have, been bludgeoned by pet owners with “what happened to the days of James Herriot,” when asking a client to pay for services. It came as a pleasant surprise to find that in the first few chapters there is a forthright and frank discussion on the difficulty of getting clients to pay, and the penury of the practice is a common theme.

What is surprising is the “smoke and mirrors” that some of the vets feel they have to engage in due to the lack of medications and the be seen to be “doing something.” While Herriot has little time for this approach, it is not seen as a particular problem to others.

This is a book of its time. The 30s and 40s. Societal attitudes, and things such as drunk driving, are a little jarring to modern ears. In the second, book there are even couple of related tales that total would be clear breaches of medical ethics today, along with tales of bill padding which one would consider a breach of business ethics, and the “doing things for free” which haunts the profession to this day. These tales are told for comic effect, but they can make the modern veterinary professional cringe.      

 All Creatures Great and Small is depressingly familiar in some ways, with advice from strangers and faith in folk remedies, taken more seriously than the entreaties of “this young vet,” the strains of being on call, and the ever-present financial elephant in the room. But while some of the issues that the profession faces are still the same almost 90 years later, what is also apparent is the love of this vet for his patients and his clients. His willingness to go above and beyond, and his heartache at the loss of a patient, or the diagnosis seemingly out of reach.

For over 50 years, All Creatures Great and Small has been a gateway to the profession. With a new TV adaption, which I have not seen, already with us, the book remains a pretty faithful and relevant piece of literature. A book to be read, and understood, for the picture it paints of a different time, but a very recognizable profession. A beautiful and fun tales of the profession, out of time, but still veterinary medicine.     

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Photo by Andreas Fickl on Unsplash

What is common sense?

Is common sense to a manager the same as common sense to a veterinarian? Or to a veterinary technician? Or to a customer service specialist? Or perhaps, most importantly of all, to a client?

Common sense should be knowledge that we all share; however, it is rarely used that way. It is often used as a bludgeon on people for not reading our minds. Common sense is short hand for “you don’t know what I know, and I think you should.” The problem is that we rarely recognize that our own common sense is more often than not a point of view with some additional specialized knowledge.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick, talk about the “curse of knowledge.” They outline a simple experiment conducted at Stanford, where by a number of “tappers” were given 120 well know songs to recite using just knocks on a table. “Listeners” would then have to guess which each song was. The Listeners were right only about three times out of 120. What was extraordinary; however, was that when the Tappers were asked whether the Listeners should be able to pick out the song, they replied that they should be able to 50% of the time! The Tappers felt they were being understood more than 47% more than they actually were. The Tappers were hearing the song play along in their heads while tapping it out on the table. The Tappers had knowledge that the listeners did not, and so dramatically over estimated the Listeners ability to recognize the song.

Common sense is a side effect of the curse of knowledge. A team member who may excel in looking after an unhappy customer, or preventing a customer from becoming upset in the first place, may not automatically understand the seriousness of a cat that is straining to pee. Likewise, a veterinarian may not understand the reason why their client is not being immediately shown to an exam room is because of the 12 other people that just walked through the door that the customer service representative is trying to deal with.

Now in both of the above examples, training, proper protocols and procedures, and a commitment to teamwork should solve all of these issues. But when we fall back on common sense, or a lack of it, we are doing a disservice to our team members and even to ourselves. If we replace “common sense” with the words “knowledge and experience” in the phrase “you have no common sense when it comes to dealing with clients” the person at fault switches from being who the phrase is directed to, to the person saying the phrase.

Give it a try – I’ll wait.

Common sense is an excuse for leaving training and continuing education to osmosis. It has no place in management, and really has no place at work at all. Employees are not going to place themselves in shoes of clients without being trained to do so, and they rarely have the knowledge to place themselves in the shoes of managers or veterinarians. Common sense is lazy, overly broad, and does a disservice to the person using it and the person whom it is directed against.

It is time to recognize it for the dysfunctional symptom that it is.

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