Senator Scott, Chancellor Modica, Dean Ogilvie, Dean Emeritus Sis, St. Georges University Veterinary Faculty, Parents, Students, and other distinguished guests, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you tonight.
I bring you greetings from the American Veterinary Medical Association and our 85,000 member veterinarians and 12,000 student members representing more than 80% of the veterinary profession of the United States.
To the members of the St. Georges University Veterinary School, class of 2018, I extend my congratulations and I welcome you on your entry into the veterinary medical profession. I want you to grasp and appreciate that even as beginning veterinary students, you are now a part of the greater veterinary community. As of today – you are a professional – always remember that as you progress through the rest of your life!
Ya know, I can remember being in your place at the beginning of my veterinary school career. Yeah, yeah…I know it was many, many, many, years ago, and long before anyone had ever conceived of holding a white coat ceremony – but I still do remember it clearly.
When I first arrived in Tuskegee, I was nervous – will I learn everything I need to know to be a good veterinarian? Everybody looks so smart. The workload is twice what I had in college…will I ever be able to memorize all of it? What’s up with this tiny, funky little, town, so totally out of my realm of experience? Will I ever fit-in – what was I thinking!
I was scared. Animal’s lives, people’s beloved pets, or animals upon which they depend for their livelihood – will be in my hands. Am I up to that awesome responsibility?
I was excited. I’m taking a critical step towards realizing my dreams!
I was worried. If I screw this up – how will I ever face my new wife and…my mother!
All of my hopes and dreams, as well as my insecurities reeled around me. I felt like I was standing in the center of some bizarre whirlwind of elation and self-doubt. I said to myself, “This is really scary and I’m sure it won’t be easy, but ya know, it’s time to just go for it!” Moreover – F-Y-I…if it were easy, anybody could do it and when you graduate, they probably wouldn’t call you “Doctor.”
Ok, now let’s all take a deep breath. C’mon, with me…let’s take a big breath…hold it …Ok, let it out slowly…better? Well you know what? You’re going to be just fine. You’ve made it this far, and that required a mind-blowing amount of determination. You’re here – you actually made the cut. Think about it – you have already passed the most critical threshold to becoming a veterinarian. I have no doubts that you are good enough to make it the rest of the way.
No, I take that back. You’re not merely “good enough.” You have all of the right stuff – you are the best! You are the future of our profession and you have endless potential. Right here, right now, you start your journey in to what I unconditionally believe is the finest and most fulfilling profession in the world. What other career offers such varied and rewarding vocational paths? Who besides veterinarians are capable of concurrently providing for the health and well-being of animals, humans, and the environment? What other profession so successfully celebrates and promotes that very special bond between people and animals?
Now, let me ask you, what got you into veterinary medicine? Show me your hands! How many of you have wanted to be a veterinarian since you were very young? How many of you had an experience with a sick or injured animal that made you want to become a veterinarian? How many of you fell for the romance of the James Herriot, or similar books?
I’m sure we all have different stories to tell. However, since I’m up here, I get to briefly share with you, why I chose to become a veterinarian.
Well unlike many/most of you, I came to the decision to become a veterinarian later in my educational career. I was in the first year of a Master’s program, studying pharmacology. Part of my responsibilities as a grad student involved assisting in research labs and acting as an aide in pharmacology and physiology teaching labs, for medical students. Well, over the course of that year, I witnessed several things that really concerned me, regarding the use and treatment of the laboratory animals. By the end of that year, I had decided that I wanted a career helping animals. I needed to be a veterinarian!
As Shakespeare said, “The world is your oyster.” Well today, it truly is and I want to encourage you all to open your ears, your eyes, and your mind, to the fact that every experience is a chance to learn, it really is entirely up to you.
Next, I want to share with you one of the secrets to finding success in a veterinary (or really most any) career. That is learning how to deal with, and communicate with people. After 38 years in this profession, I have yet to see an animal come in to my practice that wasn’t in some way, attached to a human being. Anyway, I worked my way through college and one year of grad school, selling women’s shoes. Through that experience, I learned that to be a successful salesperson, you have to listen carefully to what people want and need. That skill is also very important if you truly desire to do your best for your patients. You must actively listen and make a real effort to communicate clearly with your clients, so that your patients get what they need and deserve.
I also want you to tuck, somewhere in the back of your mind, another very useful tool that I learned as a sales clerk and one that has helped me to find success. And that is, that selling isn’t bad; it isn’t a dirty word! It is merely explaining something and then providing a service or product that someone desires. I promise you that one day, that little tidbit will come in handy.
For me, one of the best aspects of being a veterinarian is being able to learn life lessons by observing animals. I’d like to take a couple of minutes to show you a cute little video that I believe can teach us all something worthwhile. (Be More Dog Video)
Okay, now I’m not taking sides in the eternal ‘cats vs. dogs’ debate. I really am an equal opportunity animal lover. You don’t have to be “less cat” or “more dog” to be better; I just want you to be willing to give yourself the chance to accept challenges as they come along; because if you let them, challenges turn into opportunities. They allow you to learn and thereby improve yourself, so that you can be the best veterinarian – and the best person – that you can be.
If we give ourselves a half-a-chance, we can learn from animals all of the time. For instance, last week I was in my practice, attending a lunch meeting with our Dr. staff. One of our clinic cats, whose name is Butters, (Butters photos) jumped up on the conference table and began intently staring at a partially opened box of pizza. The sheer concentration on his face was fascinating. I could tell that nothing was going to divert his eyes from that pizza box. He had chosen his goal, had his eyes on the prize, and he didn’t waiver until he fully opened the box, perused the slices, and found the exact piece of pepperoni that he wanted, and of course, then tried to escape with it. While pepperoni might not provide the optimum nutrition for a cat, I did have to admire his level of determination and his devotion to his goal. All of us should all be so steadfast. Well, that type of commitment is what got you here – don’t lose it now. I guarantee it will definitely come in handy over the next few years and throughout your career.
Now, you and I realize that if I had perhaps tried to distract Butters with a tastier and more appropriate cat delicacy, he might actually have changed his focus and found the newly proffered treat even more to his liking. So, the lesson here, is when you have a goal, pursue it. However, always keep an open mind, because sometimes an unexpected prospect – maybe a better snack – can become the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe you have always wanted to be a companion animal practitioner, living in an urban area, but as previously mentioned, the veterinary profession offers many different and very satisfying career paths. Don’t reflexively shut the door on new or unexpected opportunities. Give yourself a chance to fully explore and understand them.
Another thing that I have learned from watching animals comes from playing with my dogs. Anybody here ever played fetch with a dog – thrown a small stick, only to have the dog come back carrying half a tree in his mouth, instead of that original stick. The moral of this story is that anything worth doing…is worth doing well. So go for it ALL… and go big.
Now, I think my favorite animal attribute is that when life doesn’t quite go their way – throws them a curve – they adapt – they don’t just give up. They don’t feel sorry for themselves, they just keep trying, and they keep doing the best they can, with what they’ve got. We could all certainly benefit from being more like our animal friends and being more flexible and maintaining a positive attitude.
To illustrate this, I’d like to share the story of one of my favorite patients, from many years ago. This is Sugar’s story, a dog who was as sweet as her name. When I first met Sugar, she was a small, 5-year-old German Shepard mixed-breed dog who came in limping very badly on her right rear leg. After an examination and appropriate diagnostics, we discovered that her lameness was unfortunately caused by an osteosarcoma – a cancer – in her femur. Sugar’s owner didn’t have much money and instead of electing to try medical treatment of the osteosarcoma and thereby save her leg, he opted for an amputation. Well, after losing her leg, Sugar never slowed down, she just kept right on going – for about 2 years. And then she did begin to slow down and exhibited signs of significant pain in her remaining rear leg. Sugar had developed severe osteoarthritis in her left hip joint. Not a good thing in a dog with only one rear leg! Well, we tried all sorts of treatments, but over the course of the next year, her condition continued to deteriorate. We recommended to Sugar’s owner that he consider a prosthetic hip joint, but that was out of his price range. After much discussion, we decided to try a surgical procedure called a femoral head and neck osteotomy. (Show pictures – briefly describe) Most regrettably, during the procedure, the femoral head was not removed cleanly and her femur shattered. After discussing the grim situation with Sugar’s owner, he elected euthanasia, but he asked if we could keep Sugar in our hospital, making her as comfortable as possible, until his son returned from college in about 10 days. Well guess what…over the course of those 10 days, that dog learned to walk – rear-end hiked up in the air, only using her forelegs. A day later, we amputated that bum left rear leg. And you know what? Sugar, being the special dog she was – continued to get around on those front legs..…for six more amazing years. Wow! Never give up!
Have you ever wondered about a dog’s thought processes? Well, one of my favorite flow charts shows just how a dog thinks about the world. It begins at the top of the chart with the very first decision being: “Is it edible?” If after a very methodical sniffing, the answer is yes, then the decision will be to eat it. Done! If the answer is no, then the decision will be to pee on it and then move on. Done!
Now, try thinking about that in the metaphorical sense – carefully and thoroughly evaluate every opportunity with respect to its truth and its benefits in both the short and the long-term. If the opportunity seems genuine and is something that will be of benefit, embrace it. However, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the sniff test, or doesn’t offer enough value – well I’m not telling you pee on it – but just move on. That is the essence of critical thinking and utilizing it will benefit you every day of your professional life.
One other admirable instinct many of our animal friends possess is the recognition that there is strength in numbers. Whether it’s a dog pack, a flock of birds, or a herd of grazing animals, a group brings power as well as safety. In the veterinary profession, your pack, your flock, your herd, is organized veterinary medicine. By being a member of your Student AVMA Chapter and then following graduation, joining the American Veterinary Medical Association, and your state and local veterinary organizations, you lend your strength to the whole group, and in-turn you benefit from the group’s combined strength and support. Loners are left behind…or eaten – the pack survives and thrives!
My final example of animal behavior, can I believe, offer some lifelong benefits for all of us… that lesson, is that sometimes we just need to be more cat. Take a break, slow down, enjoy life, and just do what makes you happy. Don’t worry about what others think. As the old adage goes, those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.
There’s a world of opportunity out there, so seize it – carpe diem. Carpe stick. Better yet, carpe that bigger stick. Take it for your own and give it a good shake. Make it yours – bend it to your will. Learn from every experience – don’t miss out on new opportunities – think critically – learn the intricacies of communicating with others. Build and maintain relationships – remain flexible, and never, ever give up on your dreams!
Welcome to the world of veterinary medicine…It is… the very BEST profession!