Mind Over Miller: A passion beyond the profession


Cultivating friendships as well as outside interests makes for a rich life.

In 1960 I started the Sierra Veterinary Medical Association (SVMA), the world's first veterinary ski association. The idea was to meet annually at a California ski resort, have a qualified CE program and enjoy skiing. If the golf enthusiasts could do it, why not those of us who love skiing?

The first year four veterinarians attended, plus their spouses and a few nonveterinary friends. From there on the organization grew, and grew, and grew. Eventually we began to meet at many different North American ski areas and in Europe as well.

We have met twice in Austria, twice in Switzerland, and in France, Italy and the Pyrenees. We added an annual summer meeting as well.

Since we founded the SVMA in 1960 my wife and I have only missed one winter meeting (she was in labor), with the most recent being the 2016 meeting in Whitefish, Montana, in February of this year. The SVMA has had a major influence on the quality of our lives, not only because of the wonderful skiing adventures it has provided, or for the excellence of the CE, but for the friends we have made.

The hotel in Whitefish, Montana, that hosted the most recent meeting of the Sierra Veterinary Medical Association featured a beer they thought would be popular with veterinarians: Moose Drool Brown Ale, by Big Sky Brewing Co.

Our membership is now international, and there are many other veterinary ski associations, but the long-term members of the SVMA are unique people. They are dedicated to their profession and successful in it. They are respected citizens in their communities. They love snow skiing but all have other passions. Some, like Debby and me, are involved with horses. Others golf, or scuba dive, or tour on bikes, or hike.

In more than half a century involving hundreds of people, only once did I see an attendee get drunk (and he never came to another meeting). Maybe he thought we were too “square.” Or maybe he fell into a bathtub full of water, as he did that year, and drowned.

I love our profession and have been devoted to it throughout my career. However, other interests led me to create an extremely large practice group so we could all have lots of time off to pursue other interests, including family activities. As a result, I have sometimes wondered if my “work ethic” was distorted or distracted.

In SVMA I learned that there are many colleagues like me: veterinarians who are fiercely dedicated but who have an equal commitment to many nonmedical passions, including recreational things like skiing. Consequently, over the past half-century, some of our dearest friends, people we love and respect, have been SVMA members.

Debby and I have attended many other veterinary ski meetings as well: state associations, specialty groups like the orthopedic ski association, the annual equine ski conference at Lake Tahoe and so on, and we have enjoyed all of them, but we find the SVMA to be unique in its traditions, enthusiasm, camaraderie and warmth.

At one of our meetings a few years ago, I went up the chairlift with a stranger. He turned out to be a psychiatrist, attending a CE conference.

“Oh!” I said. “Is there a psychiatric conference being held here?”

“No,” he replied. “This is a general medicine meeting. I go to this meeting because it keeps me updated on general practice. But mostly I go for the people. They are amazing! Hardworking GPs absolutely dedicated to their profession, but equally dedicated to recreation and adventure like skiing and many other aspects of life.”

“Gosh,” I responded. “That's like me! I'm here for a veterinary conference. I'm retired from practice but still involved in my profession and I love the people in this group. It almost seems incongruous that we all have the same passion for skiing and other unrelated activities as we do for our profession.”

“Oh, no!” he said. “It's not incongruous at all. There's a reason some people are as passionate about their careers as they are for their pastime activities.”

“Really?” I said. “What's the reason?”

Just then we reached the top of the chairlift. He sped away from me, but as he did he lifted both arms and shouted, “It's because we live!

I have never forgotten that incident. This doctor helped me to understand myself and my lifelong SVMA friends.

Like to ski? Love your profession and equally dedicated colleagues? For information on how to join and where we are going this summer or next winter, visit our website: skisvma.org.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmiller.com.

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