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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Veterinary Medicine Meets Reality TV

Are you tired of reality TV shows?  Me too.  But apparently most people aren't because more and more crop up.  I think there is voyeuristic part of us that likes peeking into people's lives.  And the TV producers like it because the shows cost much less than scripted ones with paid actors, sets, and special effects.  The veterinary profession is not immune to these shows, and apparently there are more coming.

I remeber Emergency Vets on Animal Planet being one of the first, if not the very first.  I've also seen commercials for a show following veterinary students in the UK.  Honestly, I've never watched either one because by the time I get home I want to forget all about veterinary medicine rather than watching shows about it.

One of the most recent is The Incredible Dr. Pol on National Geographic Wild.  The show follows an older large animal vet as he sees patients.  Again, I haven't watched the show myself, but it's creating a good amount of controversy and backlash in the veterinary profession.  Complaints have been lodged by other practicing vets that Dr. Pol's medicine is very old-fasioned and sub-standard, creating a misperception in the public's eyes of how animals should be treated.  DVM Newsmagazine recently had an article on this controversy.  For example, here's a quote related to the type of medicine he practices. 

Brothers goes on to cite Pol splinting a calf's leg using wood slivers from a bushel basket and stitching a dog's tail that had been cut off by a screen door with little anesthesia and the owner holding it down.

I can't comment too much, as I haven't seen the show myself, but the complaints I've heard seem legitimate.  From the articles I've read, I'd be in big trouble practicing like he does.

National Geographic responds with comments like this....

It is an undisputed fact that Dr. Pol has helped thousands of animals throughout his 40-year career as a veterinarian. His very successful clinic has been in business for 30 years, where residents of Michigan count on him to help their sick pets and farm animals.

I hate to say it, but number of pets treated and length of time practicing does not automatically mean that the quality of that medicine and surgery is appropriate.  I've seen plenty of older, long-term vets who practice substandard medicine that borders (or crosses the line) on malpratice.  But I don't want to spend this blog picking on Dr. Pol.

Another foray into this topic is a new YouTube channel, Veterinarians on Call, which has webisodes following several livestock veterinarians from across the US (and according to the channel they are going to expand this to small animal vets).  I find this a little more interesting, as it seems that the type of practice is closer to the reality of most vets in that part of the profession.  I do like that people are getting to see more of what the daily life of a vet is like, which was one of the points of starting this blog in 2008.  Oh, and as an extra bonus, the boy who played Charlie in the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Ostrum, is a currently practicing large animal vet and is one of the doctors featured on this channel.

Even though I don't have cameras around me, a blog like this (and other veterinary blogs) shows those things that go on "behind the curtain" of a vet practice.  As I've seen over the years, this reality can surprise many people, and it's not always in a pleasant way.  Recently it has come to the forefront of my mind as I think about the things I've written over the last three and a half years.  I'm being introduced to some opportunities that may get me some national media exposure (no, not my own reality series...I certainly DON'T want that!), though we'll see how that works out (remember my GabCast TV experience?  No?  Search the blog archives).  However, as I contemplate being on morning network TV shows I wonder about how some comments in this blog will be perceived.  Because if I end up on the Today Show you darn well know people are going to Google my name and find this blog.**  I don't regret things I've said and I stand by all of my comments, good and bad.  But in this era of instant internet searches what you put out there is easy to find.  For better or for worse, Dr. Pol and the doctors of Veterinarians on Call are now in the public eye and are having their lives and practices scrutinized.  Will they regret what they say and do when brought to a national stage?  If I end up becoming more well known, will vets and pet owners be kind or cruel to this blog?  We'll just have to see.

And yes, I'll talk more about these opportunities if they pan out.

**If you do a Google search for "Chris Bern" the top search result is for the president of the Iowa Teacher's Union, not for me.  But I'm not far down the list, and I'm noticing that I'm getting higher in ranking compared to last year.  Yes, periodically I search for my own name.  Has the man in Iowa ever come across me and wondered?


  1. I will admit, I have watched the show, just out of curiosity. I agree with the comments in DVM magazine, just read the article the other day. I think it gives the public an incorrect perception of proper veterinary care. My concern is that these people seeing this show, will then question the way their veterinarian treats their animals, if it isn't the way Dr. Pol did. I have to mention that there was a part of the episode I watched where a dog had a severe tail injury, and he let the owner hold the dog while he "fixed it" under very light anesthesia. It was hard for me to watch, because I knew this was not only unfair to the dog, but also a liability if the owner was bit during the procedure. I really hope they don't renew this show, it just is not a good picture of veterinary medicine.

  2. I have watched the show -- I caught the day when they were doing a marathon of episodes and I recorded several.

    It's definitely a "small town" clinic -- I think there are only two vets on staff (at least that they show) that handle all of the large & small animal duties. Then there is his son that follows him around and helps out, even though he has no actual schooling.... I've never gotten that, but oh well.

    What it does show well is the crazy schedule of a small town vet who is on call 24/7. Seems like a day doesn't go by that some sort of emergency doesn't get called in right as Dr. Pol is leaving to go home and get dinner. ;o)

    He's a good natured man with wisdom to match his years, but his methods certainly are antiquated. His patients don't seem to mind, likely because they don't know any better, themselves. I don't think that anyone is (or should be...) holding that show up as an example of modern day veterinary standards.

  3. I watched the Dr. Pol show. He's practicing a terribly poor standard of medicine. FHO under injectable anesthesia with no mask = just one example. Is he incompetent? No, just out-of-date, and don't forget dirt cheap. What his clients do not realize is that his profit margin is much larger than mine. Penicillin, B complex, and dex injectables cost pennies, so when the animal dies, no biggie. I can't get too excited about him as an individual, as there are a few Dr. Pol types practicing in my neighborhood, but I think his show should be taken off the air. It's a lousy portrait of veterinary medicine in the 21st century.

  4. sometimes u gotta do things the old fashioned way.. u and ur rich clients are lucky if uve never had to cut corners.

  5. When "old fashioned" and "cutting corners" puts patients at risk this is NEVER acceptable. Believe me, my patients aren't rich. Most of mine are lower middle-class to firmly middle-class, with the occasional upper middle-class. Definitely no wealthy clients at my practice. And believe me, you'd be surprised how many times a case where corners are cut turns into a lawsuit because the outcome wasn't what the client wanted, even though they tied the vet's hands.


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