An Interview with... Dr. Stephen J. Ettinger


How often have you said, "Look it up in Ettinger's?" Dr. Stephen J. Ettinger co-edited the renowned Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, now in its sixth edition. An internist and cardiologist, he practices at California Animal Hospital in Los Angeles.

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

Stephen J. Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM (internal medicine, cardiology)

The development of the veterinary specialties—not only the veterinarians who are board-certified but also those general practitioners who have developed on their own—advancing this profession as well as themselves.

Who was your most memorable patient and why?

I honestly don't think I have an answer to that. I have been blessed with so many wonderful clients and patients. Every day I see new and old clients, people who are on their third generation of pets with me and who I still love to meet and greet. As a perfectionist, I tend to remember those patients that, despite my best efforts, I did not succeed with. Regardless, I've learned from my mistakes and, I hope, have became a better veterinarian as a result.

Who inspired you most in your career and why?

Without a doubt it was Dr. Bob Kirk, who gave me the impetus for small-animal medicine and who let me know what we as veterinarians could do. I owe my career to his mentorship and teaching.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

The worst was when, as an undergraduate, I was told that I had no aptitude for veterinary medicine. The best: My own feelings that I loved the profession and had to go for it.

I am reminded daily of the saying, "Every man who has a dog to adore him needs a cat to ignore him."

What would you advise a new graduate?

Every year, I tell new graduates how fortunate they are to be in a profession where we love what we do—the pets, the science, and the owners. Even after all these years, going to work is still a pleasure.

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

Become a veterinarian.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

We have both at home, but I think I bond more with the dogs. However, I am reminded daily of the saying, "Every man who has a dog to adore him needs a cat to ignore him."

What book are you reading now?

I read a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. I like all of Paul Theroux's nonfiction travel books, and I just finished The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I have read most of Peter Matthiessen's books, and I especially enjoyed reading both the fiction and nonfiction of V.S. Naipaul. I usually read two or three books at a time. On my desk now are Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels, In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, and Angels & Demons by Dan Brown.

What would you include on your personal jukebox?

I listen to music from the 1960s and '70s, plus a good deal of classical music. My kids think it is all terrible—just what I thought of the music my folks listened to.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

The people and their pets. Without the people the pets would often not be terribly interesting, but with them the story is complete.

What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?

The tendency to work less and, perhaps, to take less personal responsibility. I hope that these are just the thoughts of an older person reflecting on newer times.

Which animal health needs are currently unmet?

Large-animal medicine has been given away, and we need to recover it. We are still all animal vets, and we need to pay attention to all aspects of the profession, not only to what specifically interests us.

And veterinary medicine has a big problem in small animals because costs are skyrocketing and the lower and middle classes are being squeezed. This problem needs attention. Young veterinarians come out of school with no training in psychology, and they sometimes approach clients with an attitude—they fail to recognize how much money they are asking people to spend and how hard it is to come by. Young veterinarians need to be aware of clients' needs and how to make clients feel they're getting what they're paying for. Veterinary medicine is not an obligation—it remains a choice for the client.

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

Full medical care for all pets. But it will still be the owner's responsibility to secure that care for his or her pet. We cannot give it away; we must be able to charge for what we do, and we must be able to continue to do it well.

Medical genetics is rapidly developing. I suspect someone looking at the new edition of Ettinger and Feldman a hundred years from now will laugh at what we all had to say. We must remain alert to growth and the changing paradigms in medicine.

My prediction for veterinary medicine: More growth, more good science and medicine, better use of alternative medicines and tools, and an even more compassionate approach to the way we handle the sick.

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