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DVM Newsmakers: An animal planet emergency vet's Robert Taylor says story of modern veterinary medicine must be told


"Hey, aren't you that guy on Animal Planet?"

"Hey, aren't you that guy on Animal Planet?"

The woman made the inquiry in line at the grocery store.

Before he could respond, she retorted, "No, you aren't that guy; he's better looking."

The incident made Dr. Bob Taylor laugh. He's still that guy on Animal Planet's hit reality show "Emergency Vets" that now boasts of 125 million viewers worldwide.

In an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Taylor, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and chief of staff at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, a 24-doctor practice, talked about his experiences in veterinary medicine and work in television and with the media.

"We have always felt that veterinary medicine needs to be transparent," Taylor explains. And the show offered a vehicle to share what modern veterinary medicine is all about with the general public. The public responded.

Dr. Robert Taylor

Emergency Vets, with Alameda East veterinarians Drs. Kevin Fitzgerald, Holly Knor and Jason Soukup, is the second-ranked show in Animal Planet's line-up behind "The Crocodile Hunter with Steve Irwin".

"We treat this as an opportunity to represent the veterinary profession and help people understand what veterinarians do."

Even Taylor admits he was surprised at the success of the program, which is a combination of science, human interest and curiosity.

"When you pull coins out of an Iguana's stomach, nobody has seen that before. When you are dealing with someone making an end-of-life decision about his or her dog, it is not something that many people have witnessed."

The story lines make the show move, and it's the brainchild of television producer Karen Wiser.

Seven years ago, the small cable network Animal Planet, owned by Discovery, was interested in launching a reality-based ER. In working with Denver-based film production company Rocket Pictures, Alameda East was approached because of its reputation in the region as providing a long-time presence in the emergency medicine arena.

Dr. Robert Taylor of Animal Planet's Emergency Vets says his goals for doing the television cable program are to "represent the veterinary profession and help people understand what veterinarians do."

Though Taylor initially rejected the idea, a second query "captured our imagination." His initial interest in the program was to promote veterinary medicine. And while there is a financial arrangement involved, he sincerely hopes the goal is to showcase the sophistication of veterinary medicine and the professional standards embraced by veterinarians.

When a dog arrives at a veterinary hospital, "14 people touch that dog from the time he arrives at our hospital until he leaves," Taylor says. "Most consumers of veterinary services don't understand that. So, creating a transparency involved in the care of their animals would go a long way to helping people understand the complexity of veterinary medicine."

Take the message out

The philosophy applies to veterinary medicine in general.

"I think we in the veterinary profession can become greater advocates of educating people and by helping them understand."

When a dog arrives at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital, about 14 people touch it from the time it arrives until the time it leaves, Dr. Robert Taylor says.

Taylor says it is happening already.

When he was president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, he asked members to list organizations and public service entities they were active in — from Boy Scouts to high schools to day camps. He came up with an impressive list of more than 300 different organizations and public-service entities.

"It made me feel so good about our profession, and I am sure in every state and every veterinarian there are a lot of us that do that. Probably not very many people know that."

Physical rehabilitation is a medical passion for Dr. Bob Taylor. So much so, Alameda East recently expanded with a 12,000-square-foot addition.

Taylor, who is quick to call himself a workaholic, also says that he is living his life with a sense of fulfillment.

"I introduced myself the other day. I said, 'Hi, my name is Bob, and I am a workaholic,'" he laughs. While admitting it was liberating, he adds that he found personal balance and "I understand my addiction enough to make me realize that things are important like your family and animals."

He enjoys practice. He is also internationally recognized for his work on sports injuries in dogs, including rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Alameda East just opened a 12,000-square-foot rehabilitation clinic to satisfy his life-long passion of orthopedics and rehabilitation. The hospital, originally built in 1970, expanded to 33,000 square feet. The Alameda East complex tops out at about 45,000 square feet under two roofs. The hospital has 28 veterinarians on staff with a complete staff of 160. "I have a great group of very talented people. I looked around the room, and I was so humbled by the assembled talent that I kind of wondered what I was doing there."

Television spotlight cools temper

Taylor adds, "I am just as proud of the grief counselor who goes the extra mile as I am when we do our first total elbow. More and more veterinarians realize that taking care of people and animals begins when they walk in the door and doesn't end until things are back in good order," he says.

Mending wounds

If you ask Dr. Robert Taylor, physical rehabilitation remains a tremendous opportunity for veterinarians.

"We as a profession are becoming more aware of the benefits of physical therapy. When I talk about rehabilitation, I say that everybody wins."

The success of surgery improves with the judicious use of physical therapy. The owner appreciates the added effort on the part of the veterinarian, and the veterinary team benefits because they are doing more.

"One of the challenges has been to make physical therapy evidenced based. In other words, we need more clinical and laboratory research on how physical therapy can actually benefit a particular subset of patients. Whether they are a subset of patients recovering from surgery or dogs with end-stage hip dysplasia, there is a lot of opportunity to bring this mainstream and create information that is evidence based and that we can use as clinical guideposts," he says.

The guideposts ultimately will lead to quality care.

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