Yesterday I had lunch with my longtime mentor, Dr. James Michael Harris, whom I am lucky to have called a close friend for 23 years. When I moved to the Bay Area he seemed to take me under his wing and teach me. From Jim, I not only learned how to take care of pets (he often shared some nice insights and asked provocative questions), but also how to take care of their owners.
Jim helped hone my understanding of how the unit of the patient, the pet owner, the primary vet and I, as often the tertiary vet, fit together. It was not just diagnosing a complicated disease that was the difficult part, but the caregiving afterward and the communication that followed. It is not just diagnosing a dog with Cushing's disease and diabetes, but the education that came after; making sure that everyone – including the dog – was on the same page. Jim taught me how to make the pet parent feel confident that I would look after their pet through thick and thin as I was holding their precious furry family members in my hands.
I had not seen Jim for six years, but spending time with him yesterday, he reminded me of the beauty of the old ethos of what it means to be the best veterinarian you can be. And that now it is my responsibility to pass that on to our next generation of veterinarians.
Not every veterinarian is as lucky as I was to have a Jim Harris, but there are many excellent professionals out there who understand not just the education part, but the true caretaking that is involved in being a veterinarian. And there are many who feel passion for the work that they do every day. For really, there is nothing like cuddling your patient and kissing it on the nose and being kissed back. Where else can that happen?
Finding a veterinarian who will be a true advocate for and partner in your animal’s health takes a lot of research, and maybe some trial and error, but it is well worth the investment of time. And once you find that special individual, be sure to make the most of that relationship. Bring your pet in for regular visits. Ask your vet questions. Get his or her recommendations for keeping your furry family member in optimal health. Your veterinarian should be your advocate. You should not feel like you have to prod for answers; he or she should provide information before you even ask!
Your veterinarian should be there for you to the extent that you don’t feel the need to consult “Dr. Google” when something is wrong with your pet (which is generally a very dangerous idea). The practice does not always have to have the latest equipment, or most modern design, but your veterinarian should always give you a sense of how that equipment will be used, how information will be matriculated and how the appropriate care will be delivered.
There is a saying among some doctors, “It is not having the best stethoscope that makes the difference, but what is between the stethoscope.” That is what counts. That and the heart.