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An Interview with... Dr. Donald L. Piermattei
Even after 52 years, practicing medicine doesn't get old for this surgeon, teacher, and author. "I find that I enjoy my patients more each year."
Donald L. Piermattei, DVM, MS, PhD, DACS, is a professor emeritus at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and maintains a part-time surgical practice. He is the author of many scientific articles and the coauthor of An Atlas of Surgical Approaches to the Bones and Joints of the Dog and Cat and Handbook of Small Animal Orthopedics and Fracture Repair.
What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?
Speaking as a surgeon with 52 years' experience, I would have to say improvements in technology. I remember well poring through manufacturers' catalogs of surgical instruments for human medicine, searching for instruments that would be useful in veterinary surgeries.
Dr. Donald L. Piermattei
Who inspired you most in your career?
Dr. Wade Brinker. He was my surgical instructor in veterinary school and my mentor for the four years I worked as an instructor at the small-animal clinic at Michigan State University—today it would be called an internship/residency position. He was a model of professionalism. I remember being amazed seeing him look at a postoperative radiograph, shake his head, and go back into surgery at 5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon to make it better.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
As a young clinician, I tried to steer an elderly man with what seemed to be few resources toward a less expensive, but suboptimal, treatment plan. He sensed this and said to me, "Sonny, don't try to put a price on my pleasure." Since then, I have tried to refrain from prejudging a client regarding the cost of services.
Who was your most memorable patient?
One of President Gerald Ford's two golden retrievers. The dog had a tarsal injury that I repaired in the early '80s. My colleagues and I personally delivered the dog back to President Ford in Beaver Creek, Colo. We also met Mrs. Ford.
What would you advise a new graduate?
You have one of the best and most versatile degrees in the world. Look at the many areas for specialization besides clinical practice. Honestly evaluate your people and business skills before considering private practice. Develop a life apart from the profession that includes your family and community service in some form.
What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?
Something involving aviation. I have been a pilot for 49 years and am actively flying an airplane that I built. I likely would have pursued aeronautical engineering if I had been better in math.
What part of your work do you enjoy most?
I find that I enjoy my patients more each year. When you see the trust in their eyes, it makes you take your responsibility to them and their owners seriously.
Are you a cat or a dog person?
I honestly believe that I am both. We have two of each, and each one is a treasure in our lives.
What books are you reading now?
Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by President Jimmy Carter and Heartwood by James Lee Burke, my favorite fiction writer.
Which animal health needs are currently unmet?
Many animals receive suboptimal care because of the cost of providing services. I don't know if it will solve all of the problems, but I do hope that pet medical insurance becomes widely used.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having written two books that have found widespread use in the profession, and having had a positive impact on the training and mentoring of many students, interns, and residents. Several former students have told me that something I said or did many years ago had significantly affected their lives. Although I rarely remember the incidents, hearing about their impact reminds me that those in leadership become role models, for better or for worse, like it or not.
What makes a good veterinarian?
The same things that make a good and productive citizen: honesty, integrity, respect for and tolerance of all, and concern for the welfare of all living creatures.