Archives for posts with tag: veterinary school

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.     

Pet Nation is a very curious book.

The central tenant of the book is that the United States, in the last 10 – 15 years, has become a nation of highly involved, some might obsessed, pet owners; and that those pets live extremely comfortable lives. There is a fairly convincing argument that pets are a symptom of a dysfunctional society. People are seeking connection, but increasingly lonely. Pets, through social media sites like Facebook, and because of them providing a positive subject for interactions, are both providing that connection and acting as a catalyst for human-to-human connections. My favorite line for the book is “Dogs are knitting society together.”  

If you want a friend, get a dog.  

There is also some interesting research in Pet Nation, and facts are for the mostly part cited. The occasional “scientists say” is infuriating, but these shortcuts are few and far between. One of the more surprising focuses of the book is the looming shortage of dogs in the United States. This is an idea that has been percolating for a little while now, but had not really been on my radar until reading Pet Nation. Mr. Cushing lays the blame for the shortage of dogs on the overwhelming success of spay and neuter programs and the failure to regulate, and thereby approve, commercial breeding operations. These are controversial assertions, but he does make a good case.     

 Mr. Cushing is an attorney who has been working in the pet field for a significant period of time. The chapter on the legal issues surrounding pets is excellent; particularly, when it comes to efforts by Walmart and Online pharmacies to force veterinarians send their prescription business to them.

Where the book falls down is in addressing the dark side of “Pet Nation,” particularly in the challenges facing veterinary medicine. The epidemic of suicide amongst veterinarians, and veterinary staff, and one of its contributing factors; the online bullying of veterinary professionals, is not mentioned at all. Also ignored is the problem of clients being unable to afford veterinary care, but still considering pets family members and therefore being devastated, or looking for scapegoats, when they cannot afford treatment or surgery that their pet needs.

While insurance is mentioned in Pet Nation, it is only to remark on the lack of uptake, rather than the larger issues that this represents. To give credit where it is due, the failure of pet insurance companies to market their products effectively is highlighted. Likewise, the moves to create a national title of Veterinary Nurse, to replace the hodgepodge of LVT, CVT, RVT, et al., which Mr. Cushing is part of, is given a welcome spotlight; but it is hardly the central concern facing the Veterinary Technician community.     

The blame for the lack of veterinarians, in Pet Nation, is laid squarely at the door of the veterinary schools. Their small class sizes, and the lack of schools themselves are seen as the problem. Crippling school debt, and those leaving the profession, are not mentioned. The idea of creating a veterinary Nurse Practitioner designation, while it would be a welcome part of the solution, fails to address the lack of veterinary technicians in the profession and is hardly the panacea it is presented as.   

Veterinary professionals may well find the focus on Banfield and Blue Pearl grating, given the glowing treatment, with little thought given to the issues that corporate medicine and the significant consolidation are bringing to the veterinary space. The occasional factual mistakes, parvo is endemic in areas of the United States, it is not a disease that is solely brought in by imported pets, are not quite as annoying as the mistakes by omission. Pet food is mentioned multiple times but the fight that many veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians over “natural” products and inappropriate diets is an argument that is ignored.   

There is good information in Pet Nation, and its central ideas are interesting. It is a missed opportunity to not address the wider, and darker issues that are part of its themes.  

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One of the things that is interesting about the veterinary profession is how wrong a lot of the “experts” can often be. The people who were bemoaning that there were ‘too many vet schools pushing out too many graduates for too few jobs’ a few years back are the same people who are now complaining of how hard it is to hire an associate veterinarian! Dr. Dave Nicol does not belong in this camp at all. Not only is he willing to talk the talk, but he is also willing to walk the walk, with a career that includes managing and owning large and small practices on multiple continents.

Dr. Nicol’s latest book, you can read my review of his first book “The Yellow Pages are Dead” here, is timely and astute. While the need, and competition, for new graduates has never been greater, it seems that as a profession we seem to be failing them in multiple ways. “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” aims to fill the gap that is not being filled by most employers and is certainly not being filled by the veterinary schools. Chapters range from how to not get sued to “your health and wellness,” handling the emotional toll of euthanasia, and how a new graduate should choose a first job.

As well as focusing on the major issues facing new graduates, “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” also tackles the more complicated subject of company culture and the new graduates place in fostering great leadership, in themselves and others. The book aims not only to foster great new graduates, but help turn them in to excellent veterinarians that clients will want to see, employers will want to employ, and staff will want to work with.

Dr. Nicol’s friendly, and conversational tone makes “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” an easy and short read, I finished the book in a single sitting that lasted a little over three hours; however, it is also a book that new graduates will want to refer back to. With some great stories, I want to know what happened to the vet through the glass – see chapter five, and real-world examples, this book is literally the new vet’s handbook.

For employers, there are some controversial topics, and I find a couple of the ‘lines in the sand’ a little too ridged. Additionally, since Dr. Nicol hails from the UK and currently practices there, it is little U.K. centric which American readers may find a little jarring; however, these are all very minor quibbles / observations on an excellent and important book not just for new graduates but for employers of new graduates and the larger profession beyond.

The book is available as a digital download from http://www.drdavenicol.com and a printed version is forthcoming.

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