An Interview with... Dr. Charles E. Short


A founding member of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists, Dr. Short is a professor emeritus of anesthesiology and pain management at Cornell University. Throughout his veterinary career, he has strived to boost the recognition and control of pain in animals.

What's the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?

I've seen incredible progress in the development of better vaccines, parasiticides, nutrition, and drugs, as well as in the efforts to improve humane treatment of research animals. However, for me personally, the most exciting change has been the increased recognition of and improvements in relieving pain and suffering in animals. We've developed new analgesics, refined our anesthetic and pain management protocols, and recognized the need to provide excellent anesthetic and pain management for our patients. It's thrilling to observe a stabilized, comfortable patient during surgery and a smooth, pain-controlled recovery. It's equally exciting to be able to relieve a senior patient's arthritic pain or a horse's severe colic pain.

If someone makes you really mad, use the energy to achieve something good rather than get even.

Who was your most memorable patient and why?

Two immediately come to mind. The first was a mature Saint Bernard presented to the teaching hospital at Cornell with fractures of both forelimbs and the mandible, thoracic contusions, intracostal hemorrhage, traumatic myocarditis, and extensive pain. During the first five days after the trauma, three anesthetic and surgical procedures were completed with excellent pain control, which alleviated the cardiac dysrhythmias; the dog fully recovered. It was an example of a critical case in severe pain requiring anesthesia, surgery, critical care, and pain management—a multidisciplinary, cooperative, successful effort.

The second was a calf at a research lab. I surgically transplanted the calf's kidney in order for colleagues to study tissue immune responses for the future development of human transplant programs. After I transplanted the kidney, the first urine the calf produced was evidence of a successful transplant.

Who inspired you most in your career and why?

B.F. Hoerlein, DVM, professor of small animal surgery at Auburn University. He was tough and honest and an excellent surgeon who insisted each person do his or her best. He was equally concerned about teaching us what he knew and exploring new surgical techniques and procedures.

We will have to address the potential health problems as the edge of the rain forest moves inward.

One of the greatest anesthesiologists of all time, A.S. Keats, MD, professor of anesthesiology at Baylor University College of Medicine, taught me the basics of clinical anesthesia and instilled in me the dedication to ensure that each patient is well cared for.

J.J. Bonica, MD, professor of anesthesiology and pain management at the University of Washington Medical College, taught by example and provided encouragement.

And I was inspired by my father, W.E. Short, an elementary school teacher and principal. I realized late in my career that his teaching methods were some of the same ones I used with my students.

I also appreciate the contributions of many students, including interns and residents, and colleagues from all aspects of our profession whose help and support made it possible for me to have a great life as a veterinarian and for my wife and family to be included in the overall atmosphere of our profession.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

If someone in the profession makes you really mad, use the energy to achieve something good rather than get even—advice from Dr. Jack Knowles, past president of the AVMA. It worked and even stimulated the formation of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Remember to be a complete person. You need to be an excellent veterinarian, and you also need a life with your family, friends, community, and church. If you care for others, they will return the favor, and your life will be filled with satisfaction. You need support from others to succeed.

What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?

Be a physician. I chose veterinary medicine over medicine because at the time I was very shy and didn't believe I had enough people skills to be a good physician.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Neither. My wife, Kathie, is a cat person, and we have had numerous pets as the children grew up. Personally, I love horses. They test your skills and intellect and are such beautiful animals in motion. I enjoy watching their athletic ability, and professionally, they were a real challenge.

What book are you reading now?

I read John Grisham's books for relaxation and am enrolled in a Bible study class.

What favorite musicians or songs would you include on your personal jukebox?

Easy-listening classics; anything that Andrew Lloyd Webber has produced; "September Song"; "Blessed be the Tie That Binds"; "America"; and a bit of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Dolly Parton.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

Currently, sharing information and experiences with colleagues, including taking the information to other parts of the world.

During my academic career, treating complicated anesthesia and pain management cases and seeing the students' responses as they gained confidence in their abilities to do the same. And working in the research labs to help develop the medications we needed for these procedures was very exciting, especially when we used them later with success in clinical cases.

What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?

The "graying syndrome" in our veterinary colleges. The development of the specialties and multidiscipline practices has brought tremendous improvements to private practice and is great for patient care. But as more and more of our promising new specialists join the private sector rather than stay in academia, we face a potential shortage of experts in academia as the old guard retires.

Which animal health needs are currently unmet?

In many countries, we don't have the needed crossover of medications and expertise to provide healthcare and prevent the spread of disease. Economics is a big factor, as are regulations. Even in a number of developed countries, veterinarians in both farm and pet practices cannot practice medicine at the level we enjoy.

We have made progress in aquatic medicine but not enough. And we still have a major challenge in controlling cancer. Finally, a number of equine orthopedic injuries are not treatable, and we don't have the pain medications we need for food animals.

What changes in veterinary medicine do you hope will occur in the next 100 years?

We will have to address the potential health problems as the edge of the rain forest moves inward and new diseases emerge.

Moreover, it would be beneficial if more of our foreign aid could be designated for food-animal healthcare in undeveloped countries.

Our record of cooperating with our sister medical professions has dramatically improved, but we will need to develop closer partnerships in the future.

And veterinary colleges worldwide will need to step up their cooperative efforts. This has improved greatly during the last few years, but in the next 100 years it will be key to international progress.

Advances I think we'll see in the next 100 years include the following:

  • Improved vaccines and medications with greater sharing of scientific data for approval and usage. More pharmacokinetics research will be done to better understand drug uptake and distribution.

  • Genetically improved animals with greater resistance to disease.

  • Improvements in tissue-healing technologies such as in nerve damage through cellular research.

  • Improvements in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

  • Databases and warning systems to reduce or prevent the spread of diseases internationally.

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