Practice savvy can come in rather unsophisticated ways


The only difference between humor and tragedy is who it happens to.

I recently went to Chicago to take the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners Equine Certification Exam. This is a 12-hour test that concludes a long process of paper writing and credentialing that allows one to call himself or herself an equine veterinary specialist, a feat that only 84 people (as of January 2006) have been able to accomplish.

Illustration: Matt Collins

It was a great experience packed full of learning and growth, and it made me reflect on how my 15 years of practice led me to this point.

It all started in Claredon, Texas, with the wonderful Dr. Chuck Deyhle. The 68-year-old was my mentor, complete with 40 years of practice experience. I was fresh out of school and able to recite the mechanism of action of almost any pharmaceutical in existence, and I was about to be taught by a man that declared that upon graduation, a well-equipped veterinarian had a lariat rope and a bottle of topical sulfa drugs.

In veterinary school, we would put on scrubs, sterile gloves, cap, mask, gown, surgical covers on our shoes and then scrub for six minutes prior to anything that even looked like it might turn into a surgery. In Claredon, you knew a serious surgery was about to take place if Dr. Deyhle stripped down to his undershirt.

Academia is furnished with every possible new diagnostic doo-dad, and they are used to their fullest potential. We would spend hours running diagnostic tests and interpreting them. In Claredon, we still had a one-hole microscope, dipped our X-rays the old-fashioned way and never even considered an ultrasound machine.

Where do you think I learned the most? I can remember thinking that I must have stepped back into the caveman days for the first few months in Claredon. How in the world was I going to be able to practice good medicine if I didn't have all those toys? But somehow, we muddled through, and by the time my two-year stint in Claredon was over, I had learned the other side of practicing veterinary medicine ... the art.

My last day in Claredon was spent with Dr. Deyhle at a feedyard. This entailed a two-hour drive, which gave me some time to talk to him a bit before I departed. I was his biggest fan by now, and I was ready to get a few more nuggets of knowledge from him.

I asked him specifically to tell me any last bits of wisdom that I would need when I ventured off on my own. As soon as we got back to the clinic, I wrote them down. He said Bo:

  • Never deodorize a skunk.

  • Always leave a small crawl hole when dealing with clients.

  • Practice for a good reason.

  • Above all, do no harm.

  • Spend time with people.

  • The only difference between humor and tragedy is who it happens to.

  • Learn to laugh at yourself, and don't ever take yourself too seriously.

  • Perception is reality when it comes to clients.

  • Count your successes and don't dwell on your failures.

  • Persist in the face of failure.

  • Avoid professional menopause.

  • You can always spot pioneers because they will have arrows in their fannies.

  • Look for the obvious; if you find something else, they will name it after you.

I still have the faded restaurant receipt I used to write those thoughts on, and even though those words seem geared toward humor, they are very true and packed with meaning that makes more sense with every year I practice.

I'm hopeful that 15 years of practice and study have qualified me to make animals happy. I received a nice diploma for the test I passed in Chicago. It says I fulfilled all the requirements set forth to be called an equine specialist.

All I got from my study in Claredon was an old restaurant receipt with a few sentences scribbled on the back. I often wonder which one taught me more.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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