Veterinary practice: Stranger in fiction?

January 9, 2019
Mindy Valcarcel, Editor, Medicine Channel Director
Mindy Valcarcel, Editor, Medicine Channel Director

Mindy Valcarcel is the Medicine Channel Director for dvm360.com, Vetted and dvm360 magazine.

These actors aren't vets, but they played them on TV. A retrospective of how TV and movies portray vets and veterinary practices.

(htpix / stock.adobe.com)

All of us here at dvm360.com and Fetch dvm360 conference live and breathe veterinary medicine, from afar. Though only a few of us have had direct experience in the care of animals other than our own pets, we have come to have the veterinary profession continuously on our minds. We've even had the chance to play vets or odd veterinary clients in some of our videos-does this freaked out client feel at all familiar? (I swear I'm not this ridiculous at a veterinary appointment. I hope ... )

Hey Hollywood-show the truth in the fiction

I'll get on my soapbox and say I think it's important for the veterinary profession to be portrayed in as good of light as possible in this age where it is more deeply hit by quick, random comments from pet owners out in the world, as shown in our Leadership Challenge on cyberbullying this year. Yes, many professions are stereotyped in TV and movies. (Yikes, the personification of lawyers.) But I feel so privileged to work every day to help vets and their teams in their work in any way I can. So any moment that rings false and negative in a fictionalized world brings great frustration.

So in our spare time, we can't help but take note of veterinary characters in TV and movies. Long a favorite and dreamy profession for many people-“Ah, the chance to work with animals … ”-it's interesting to consider how vets are portrayed. Here's a collection of some of our favorites, or at least the most memorable.

It all starts with All Creatures Great and Small, which may have inspired you too in your career, as it has for many vets. There was a BBC adaptation of James Herriot's beloved books in the '70s that caught the hearts of some of us here at dvm360.

Robert Hardy and Christopher Timothy as veterinary surgeons in All Creatures Great and Small. (BBC)

 

In the most ill-fitting last name for a veterinarian ever but a much-beloved personification of one, Dr. Dolittle hit our memories in two different incarnations. The original movie (1967) starred Rex Harrison as an animal doctor who can verbally communicate with animals. Gee, wouldn't that be nice?

 

Rex Harrison as Dr. Dolittle (Twentieth Century Fox)

A more modern adaptation in 1998, starring Eddie Murphy as Dr. Dolittle with a special ability to relate to animals, holds the hearts of many of our team as well. A memorable quote when Dr. Dolittle is interacting with a rat:

Dr. Dolittle: “You know how to do CPR?”

The rat: “CPR?! I can't even spell it!”

Eddie Murphy as Dr. Dolittle (Twentieth Century Fox)

And another new adaptation is in the works, due out in January 2020. This time titled “The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle,” the story will feature many famous folk as voices of animals and star none other than Robert Downey Jr. as Dr. Dolittle. It remains to be seen how much of a Stark contrast Downey will bring to the role as opposed to another superhero he has portrayed.

 

 

The infamous Dr. Varnick (Universal Pictures)

Here's an example we all love to hate: Dr. Herman Varnick from the movie Beethoven, who was out to dognap the star of the show for cruel experimentation. Luckily, he wasn't truly a vet but only posing as one and is arrested for his animal cruelty.

 

A recent and well-loved veterinarian is Hershel Greene on The Walking Dead. We meet this vet in the second season of the show when he helps fix up the son of the hero of the series. Hershel's family soon joins forces with our heroes and they all journey out together to see what they can make of the world full of zombies and, even worse, some of the abominable people who have survived. Hershel is one of the true souls of the series with his wisdom and heart, as, of course, a veterinarian would be in a zombie apocalypse.

(AMC)

 

Another recent example, Rick and Morty. This Cartoon Network Adult Swim cartoon centers on mad scientist Rick and his nephew Morty. Morty's mom, Beth, is an equine cardiac surgeon. Wow, that's specialized! There's a little joking in the show that she's not a real surgeon, mostly by her husband. But she's smart and one of the most capable people on the show. Here's a moment when she bursts into a nearby veterinary office and saves a deer she accidentally hit with a car:

Beth as she's reviving a dying deer:

(Adult Swim)

 

Now I get to bring up my favorite moment-one that made me clap my hands in the moment because they nailed the world of veterinarians. This moment comes courtesy of Supernatural, which follows two brothers, the Winchesters, as they battle creatures of all types-from ghosts to witches to vampires to werewolves to demons to angels to … well, you get the idea. In one scene, one of the Winchesters is shot and in need of immediate medical care, and they reach out to veterinarian Dr. Gregory Marion for help, no questions asked. Since it smacks of something illegal, he at first declines, but when offered a lot of money, he agrees. When asked why, he replies:

(Warner Brothers)

Wow, spot on, Supernatural! (For those of you feeling Dr. Marion's pain, don't miss our recent Leadership Challenge on student debt.)

Now it's your turn! Do you have favorite fictional portrayals of veterinarians? Or one you hate because it paints completely the wrong picture? Share them with us! Write us at vm@dvm360.com.