The Veterinary Medicine Interview: Dr. Barrak Pressler


This internist has a passion for teaching and sees great changes ahead in the realm of veterinary education. "The future of veterinary medicine lies in subcertification, meaning students being trained only in small-animal or large-animal medicine."

Barrak Pressler, DVM, DACVIM, is an assistant professor of internal medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and will receive a doctorate in immunology in 2008 from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several clinical articles and is a Veterinary Medicine editorial advisory board member.

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

The availability of veterinary advice through telemedicine. Textbooks and journal articles are still the gold standard, but the practical advice and community offered online have allowed many veterinarians who previously would not have had the means or desire to consult with others to ask for help.

Who was your most memorable patient?

Bitsy, a Chihuahua with diabetic ketoacidosis. She was the first patient of my internship—my first patient as a veterinarian—and she died because I was too proud to ask for help. Anytime I feel my ego swelling, I remember Bitsy.

Who inspired you most in your career?

There are many finalists for this honor, including my parents and my mentors, Drs. Shelly Vaden and Larry Cowgill. However, it was Dr. Carol Reinero, a faculty member at the University of Missouri who was a resident when I was a senior student, who made me fall in love with internal medicine.

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

During my undergraduate studies, I minored in English literature, and I got better grades in those classes than I did in my science classes. If I hadn't pursued veterinary medicine, I would have studied English in graduate school and spent the rest of my life reading.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Up until the start of my residency, I was a dog person. Then Nuisance, a domestic shorthaired cat that lives up to his name, entered my life. What can I say? I just had to meet the right cat. Thankfully, he's still with me.

What book would you recommend?

Just one? I hope nobody lives a life in which he or she is forced to pick just one book. Veterinary medicine inspires me, but the thoughts stirred by what I've read have shaped me into who I am.

What books are you reading now?

I'm alternating between Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, a classic with a cynical view of the world, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, on which the movie The Golden Compass is based.

What favorite musicians or songs would you include on your personal jukebox?

My current favorite bands Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, and Of Montreal and classic rock staples, including the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Boston.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

My job is a balance among teaching, seeing patients, and doing research. Without a doubt, my top reason for doing what I do—and what I find most rewarding—is the didactic and clinical teaching. If I had to pick one, I would just teach.

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

The future of veterinary medicine lies in subcertification, meaning students being trained only in small-animal or large-animal medicine. The amount of information we're forced to teach in four years is daunting. In the future, we'll have to heavily track students to ensure that graduates practice high-quality medicine.

Do you have a bad habit?

Procrastinating! All-nighters do not end at graduation. I routinely finish lectures, notes, and interviews for Veterinary Medicine at the last possible minute.

What makes a good veterinarian?

It all comes back to what we try to teach in veterinary school—approaching patients by using the problem-oriented method. Anybody can look stuff up in textbooks, but you have to think like a veterinarian to be good at what we do.

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