Fingerprints: Dr. Steve Ettinger


What youd ask and what youd never think to ask a leading voice of veterinary medicine. Join us for the first monthly installment of Fingerprints, a series of Q&As with important veterinary luminaries who are leaving their unique imprint on our industry.

In this new monthly series, I'm asking questions of some of the icons of veterinary medicine and the pet world. My first interviewee is none other than Dr. Stephen Ettinger, DACVIM, DACVIM/Cardiology, who has more than 40 years' experience, most in Southern California. Not a minute goes by that veterinarians around the world aren't opening his internal medicine book-the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, on its way to an eighth edition-for a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment plan. Millions of pets' lives have been saved by Dr. Ettinger's work. But what makes him tick? Let's ask …

Where were you born and raised?

Queens, New York, and Honesdale, Pennsylvania

How many kids in your graduating class and how did you rank scholastically?

56 in the class, and I was 28th. I was exactly the middle.

When did you first know you wanted to be a veterinarian?

Ever since I was in junior high school. I spent my summers in a farm community in Pennsylvania. My original intention was to be a large animal cow vet.

Tell us about a patient that shouldn't have lived but did.

My own Newfoundland named Katie. She was born with multiple congenital defects, eyes, stifles, heart, etc. She's 11 now and still has a sweet and gorgeous disposition.

Dogs or cats (can't say both)?


Medicine or surgery?


Practice or management?


What is your greatest fear?

Double black diamond slopes.

What is your greatest strength?

Tenacity and willingness to work hard.

College days: Dr. Stephen Ettinger in early-1970s Berkeley, California, with one of the people he most admires in the world, Dr. Ed Feldman (now on the faculty at University of California, Davis). (Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Ettinger)Who are your heroes?

John F. Kennedy, Bob Kirk (my ultimate mentor) and Ray Roberts (my former partner in practice from Berkeley, California), Bob Hamlin from The Ohio State University and so many other friends and colleagues who have unselfishly given of themselves to help me and the profession.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Sometimes I can be too judgmental of people.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

People who are too judgmental about me.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

My success.

What words or phrase do you most overuse?

"You know"

What is your motto?

Every man should have a dog to adore him and a cat to ignore him (or bring him back to reality)!

What is your greatest personal regret?

Despite having spent many hours and days with my wife and children, I think there could have been more.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My wife, Pat.

What's your favorite childhood food that you still love today?

Chocolate-chip ice cream.

What do you know now that you wished you'd have known before you entered veterinary school that would have caused you to live your life differently?

I didn't know there was a world of finance, even within medicine. I went to vet school for the love of animals and medicine, and only later realized how important it was to know about management and all of the other factors that relate to development and success.

What is the single best book you've ever read?

Nonfiction business: From Good to Great by Jim Collins

Nonfiction pleasure: Everything by Paul Theroux

Fiction: The works of Peter Matthiessen, Milan Kundera, Phillip Roth and John Steinbeck.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about veterinary medicine that would help pets, people and the profession, you would ...

Develop a system to pay our professionals as they deserve to be compensated and find a way to make good veterinary medicine financially feasible.

When you retire, you'll  …

Continue working, I guess.

When and where are you the happiest?

When I attain a goal that seems insurmountable. For example, recently my daughter and I went for a hike in the eastern Sierra mountains. About halfway up the mountain, I thought I was going to die or at least pass out. But I soldiered on and when we made it to the top I was pretty pleased.

Family: Dr. Ettinger on a fishing trip with his son in northern New York. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Ettinger)What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My wife and kids.

What's your favorite hobby?

If I had one, I'd be able to retire.

When's the last time you cried at a movie?

Every time I see Casablanca or Schindler's List.

What's the last song you sang out loud?

"The Star Spangled Banner"

What was your most embarrassing moment?

When I fell off a chairlift in Mammoth in front of my kids (more than once!).

Describe a perfect day as a veterinarian.

Any day in practice when the one difficult client-who we know will be a problem-cancels!

Veterinary Economics Practice Leadership Editor Dr. Marty Becker is a renowned speaker, TV personality and author of The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy. Dr. Becker practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.

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