An Interview with... Dr. William J. Tranquilli


While this professor, researcher, and well-known veterinary anesthesiologist loves teaching veterinary students, he tells graduates that they will gain the most from experience. "Most of what you will eventually know to be true about medicine and life does not come from a book or from other people."

William J. Tranquilli, DVM, MS, DACVA, is a professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University ofIllinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a coauthor of Pain Management for the Small Animal Practitioner.

Dr. William J. Tranquilli

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

The sophistication of diagnosis and treatment rapidly evolved because of the development of specialty medicine. Society drove this change by having high expectations and respect for the veterinary profession, and the profession responded by working hard to meet the public's demands and maintain that respect.

We should all be proud of our profession's high standards and our high standing in the public. Many veterinarians still believe that money is not the most important consideration in how they practice. Our professional image has been well-served by this value system. My hope is that the corporate model for veterinary medicine will not jeopardize this perspective.

Who inspired you most in your career?

As a veterinary student, I was inspired by Dr. Erwin Small because of his lifelong dedication to the brotherhood of veterinary medicine. And as a veterinary anesthesiologist, I was inspired by Dr. John Thurmon because he believed in my enthusiasm for discovering and applying new knowledge.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

My dad, a factory welder, sacrificed much for my education and reminded me that I should always take advantage of and appreciate my education or else his life and sacrifice would be rendered foolish. I hope I've held up my end of the bargain; my father—now 89—would never tell me otherwise.

Who was your most memorable patient?

Grizz, an old yellow Lab. In his last months, he had many maladies but was a good-spirited friend, always trying to make his humans feel better when the prevailing demeanor in his small part of the world was less than optimal. I learned a lot from him that had little to do with medical diagnosis or disease but much to do with my care for him and his kindness and patience with me. He did the better job.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Take care of your life and work with a purpose to learn from your experiences. Most of what you will eventually know to be true about medicine and life does not come from a book or from other people.

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

As a younger man, I was interested in human motivation and fancied myself as being good at coaching a sports team. As an older man, my interests have turned toward the environment and ecosystem health—I would be happy working as an ecologist.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I'm more of a dog person but only because I can't understand why cats do what they do as easily as I can decipher a dog's actions.

What book would you recommend?

The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown can weave a story like few others. As for nonfiction, I like to read about people who were willing to take a chance doing what they thought was right even at great personal expense. David McCullough's books John Adams and 1776 come to mind. And any book about Lincoln's life is often inspirational.

What is your favorite film?

My favorite films include Glory, Saving Private Ryan, and Reds. The common theme is not violence but personal sacrifice for a noble cause. These movies will allow future generations to remember these pivotal moments and sacrifices in man's struggles to advance civilization.

Seabiscuit is another one of my favorites. Considered damaged goods, this small horse was able to overcome incredible odds, typifying a whole generation of Americans who had to overcome the economic deprivation of the 1930s. The inescapable message is that without selfish or greedy motives, our spirit and hope can pull us together, helping to make sense out of our collective lives, man and animal alike. This is a refreshing concept most veterinarians seem to deeply appreciate. It's also why it has been a privilege to be associated with this profession. Every day and in many ways, veterinarians find themselves working for the common good of their communities, which, in turn, enhances their lives.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

As a professor, a life-sustaining experience for me has been to help students and veterinarians grasp new concepts and apply new knowledge to the benefit of their patients. The opportunity to discover and then share new information beneficial to patient care has been as personally rewarding as anything I've experienced in life. For example, during the last few years I have been involved in the development and safe use of multimodal analgesic therapy to better control chronic pain.

What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?

Losing perspective on our important role in the overall health and well-being of mankind. There may well be an inappropriate use of existing resources within wealthier nations to the detriment of millions of people in less-developed countries. The bonds and dependencies between animals and man are extremely complex and often oversimplified by certain sectors within our profession with detrimental consequences to other aspects of veterinary medicine and society as a whole.

Do you have a bad habit?

My wife has a list but I can't think of any right now.

What is the greatest achievement of your career?

Advancing pain management as a major emphasis within companion-animal medicine has been my focus in recent years. To the extent that my efforts may have actually resulted in less animal suffering, I consider this a worthy career achievement.

What makes a good veterinarian?

A good person. I'm continually amazed by the talented people in our profession. They are often the most intelligent, well-educated, and caring members of their communities, driven by neither greed nor technological advances but rather concern for their community and its citizens. Perhaps it's because of our close working association with animals that veterinarians seem to intuitively know that it's not so much what or how something is said or done that makes the biggest difference in our lives but rather how one is made to feel.

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