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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Television Vets

Monica sent this to me, and it's something that I haven't addressed in several years (I did talk about it in relation to Dr. Pol back in 2012).  The TV landscape has changed a bit since then so I think it's a great time to revisit the topic.

I thought this would be an interesting topic to get your opinion - what do you think of the TV vet shows? Are they realistic? Unrealistic? TV vet shows such as The Incredible Dr. Pol, the Australian TV show Bondi Vet, and the recently aired series on NatGeoWild Aloha Vet are all shows I have watched. I've been watching them to learn more about the veterinary career and get more insights. I actually really like them! They're really interesting and I have learned a lot from them. My favorite one is the new show Aloha Vet following Dr. Scott Sims in Hawaii. Have you seen any of these shows or other TV vet shows? Do you think they accurately portray what a vet does and how they work? I read an article once about Dr. Pol saying that his methods are actually inhumane and that some of the procedures he did, he did them incorrectly. I thought you would give a very insightful answer to this, as I know many TV shows inaccurately portray professions and the lives of people, as most media does. I also thought it would be a question many other people would be interested in as well, as TV vet shows are becoming more popular.

I honestly don't typically watch veterinary shows at home because once I've left the clinic I don't want to think about work.  I want to focus on not being a vet, and if I watched these shows I'd be comparing them to what I do and expect.  That being said, I'm familiar with several of them based on what has been discussed in the veterinary community as a whole.

From everything that I've seen, Dr. Pol is NOT a good vet.  He's had more than one complaint and the state veterinary board has fined him and found him in violation of medical standards.  I don't know of a single vet who thinks he practices appropriately.  If he comes up in discussions with other vets it is never in a positive way.  Some of my staff have watched the show and they have been appalled at the lack of basic care and medical quality.  Yes, he seems to be a very nice, very genuine man who cares about his clients and patients.  The problem is not only his sub-standard care, but the fact that with his great popularity this are many people that see him as how all vets should be.  I can promise you that the vast majority of vets out there don't practice as he does, and for very good reasons.  Unfortunately the average viewer will walk into their own vet potentially expecting the same costs, practice, etc.  When we offer what is real medical quality, they think that we're trying to overcharge them.

So why is he still on the air?  Ratings, pure and simple.  This is the highest rated show the National Geographic Channel has ever had, and they stand behind him because he brings money to their channel.  It doesn't matter to the heads of the channel that he's had more than one state board judgement against him or that the veterinary community universally denounces how he practices.  All they care about is that they get the viewers and advertising dollars.  In my opinion, which is shared by numerous vets, the show needs to be pulled from the air immediately.  National Geographic Channel is being greedy and not caring about the impression they are giving about veterinary medicine. 

I've heard less about Aloha Vet, but what I've seen from other veterinarians is that he also doesn't practice great quality.  However, it's not as bad as Dr. Pol, and he admittedly is trying to do things in very rough conditions where his options are limited.  I believe that the appeal of his show is the tropical setting and the unique circumstances of his job.  I absolutely would not consider him an example of what vets do for a living.

The one show that I've seen that did portray our jobs accurately was Emergency Vets and its spin-off, E-Vet Interns.  The first show ran from 1998-2002 on Animal Planet, and the spin-off went from 2007-2008.  The show focused on Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and accurately showed a quality emergency practice.  I'm sure the show's producers picked and edited scenes and cases to be the most entertaining, but I never saw anything "bad" on the show.  One of the primary vets, Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, is well respected in the profession and has taught at the University of Colorado, authored chapters in text books, and lectured at veternary conferences.  He is a good example of what a veterinarian can do and be.  Though the show hasn't aired in many years, I'm sure you can find full or partial epsidoes online, especially YouTube.

Everyone watching shows about ANY profession needs to remember that TV producers are typically more interested in entertainment than education.  They make their money by producing shows that will allow them to sell advertising.  All reality shows are heavily edited, and there have been many articles about how scenes are sometimes staged and rehearsed.  While some parts of the shows may be accurate, nobody should expect everyone in the profession to be the same way.  For veterinary shows, I would recommend asking your personal vet if they've seen it and what they think.  But in general take anything you see on TV with a grain of salt.