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An Interview with Dr. Richard B. Ford
This modest internist tends to downplay his own noteworthy achievements. "I'm truly humbled by the remarkable accomplishments and contributions that my former students and other colleagues are making toward the advancement of veterinary medicine."
Richard B. Ford, DVM, DACVIM, DACVPM (Hon), is a professor of internal medicine at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. A member of the Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel, he cowrote its guidelines, in addition to cowriting Kirk and Bistner's Handbook of Veterinary Procedures and Emergency Treatment.
What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?
The rapid introduction of advanced diagnostic and therapeutic technology into private practice. Driven by client demand for ever higher diagnostic and treatment standards, the entire profession will continue to be challenged to provide exceptional on-demand standards of care for our patients in the future.
What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?
A desire to understand international business markets, trade, and technology transfer would likely have taken me into a different world of science and technology. Moving scientific discovery to the level of improving people's quality of life will always be a focus of interest for me.
What book are you reading now?
Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat. It's about change in the global marketplace and the impact that change, for example outsourcing, is having on us today and will have on future generations. It's a complex subject, but it has been well-researched and, interestingly, sheds some insight on how a profession, such as veterinary medicine, may be impacted in the future.
What part of your work do you enjoy most?
Teaching. That's my passion and probably what I do best. It's certainly the part of my professional career that I gain from the most. But it's not just getting in front of an audience to convey what little bit of expertise I might have to anyone willing to listen that drives my enthusiasm for teaching, it's also the incredibly steep learning curve that comes with teaching. Whether it's teaching veterinary students, practicing veterinarians, or veterinary technicians, teaching has always rewarded me with more knowledge and insight than I've ever been able to deliver.
What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?
Change. The tectonic plates, as I call them, of veterinary medicine are shifting in such a way that we will teach, learn, and practice the skills of our profession much differently in the future. For example, one of the plates is the gender shift in veterinary medicine. Are we becoming a part-time profession? Will sufficient numbers of graduates be available in the future to meet the needs of equine and food-animal practice? Another shifting plate is the migration of clinical faculty and residents from academia into private specialty practices. Who will teach in the future? What will the veterinary teaching hospital of tomorrow look like if there are insufficient numbers of faculty to support a teaching caseload? A number of other plates are shifting as well, but you get the drift.
What animal health needs are currently unmet?
One only has to open the door of what is now called shelter medicine to appreciate the overwhelming number of animals, of all species, that are underserved by veterinary medicine. There's an irony here. In clinical practice today, the very highest standards of care are expended on veterinary patients, but only on those animals belonging to individuals who can afford our services. A much larger proportion of the domestic animal population in the United States will never have access to even the most basic healthcare services our profession can offer.
What changes do you hope will happen in the next 100 years?
The globalization of veterinary healthcare. There are few countries in the world where a veterinarian can practice to the same standard of care offered in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. I hope in the next 100 years we will share our knowledge in such a way that practicing veterinarians throughout the world, and the patients they treat, will benefit from our knowledge and expertise.
Do you have a bad habit?
No, I have several. But the one that's most noteworthy is that I'm lazy. Whenever I step back and look at veterinary medicine today, I'm truly humbled by the remarkable accomplishments and contributions that my former students and other colleagues are making toward the advancement of veterinary medicine.
What has been the greatest achievement of your career?
This is not an easy question. In fact, there may not even be an answer. But if there were, it would center on having had the opportunity to represent veterinary medicine within the department of defense, as a brigadier general, working directly with the Air Force surgeon general, dealing with high-threat human health issues such as anthrax immunization and bioterrorism surveillance and response. If that wasn't my greatest achievement, the opportunity to work with the incredibly dedicated men and women in our armed forces was certainly my greatest reward.
What makes a good veterinarian?
A good person. As a veterinary faculty member who has taught for more than 25 years, I can say, with some authority, that this is a trait of our applicants, students, and graduates. Veterinary medicine is exceptionally fortunate to have an abundance of good veterinarians, and that's not as much a reflection on how well we teach veterinary students as it is an indication of the integrity and professionalism of the individuals who seek to become veterinarians.