The age of specialization

The age of specialization

Practice in the real world
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Mar 01, 2007

Veterinary school: fall semester, 1969


(Photo: © 2006 JupiterImages Corporation)
J.D. Mason moved quickly down the hall, an armload of books on his hip. The sound of his classmates' voices grew louder as he neared the student recreation room. He entered and soon realized that this was more than the usual buzz.

Four of his classmates sat around a small table. Usually they played hearts with an old deck of cards (a select few knew that the queen of spades was nicked ever so imperceptibly at one corner). But today the cards were still on an old lab counter donated from the microbiology room. The four were talking excitedly.

"Hey, J.D. Have you heard the news?" asked Tom Franklin.

"Say what?" J.D. replied, dropping his books on the counter.

"Mike Johnson is leaving the small-animal clinic to start his own practice in Chicago."

J.D. was stunned. Dr. Johnson would have been the school's junior surgery instructor this semester. Everyone considered him the best surgeon on staff. He was the type of teacher that students love — big into the practical approach to veterinary medicine and surgery. He spent five years at the Animal Medical Center in New York before coming to the university.

"Hey, J.D., that leaves only Dr. Morris and Stanley Kramer in large animal to teach us this year," piped Chuck Nelson, a short redhead from southern Indiana.

"Mike was gonna let me scrub in this year on some of his back surgeries," lamented Peter Wise.

"Yeah, it's a pity," said Randy Fox. "Mike would take the time to explain surgical stuff to us even when we were freshman and we stunk with formaldehyde from anatomy class."

J.D. looked down at his friends. They were all committed to doing a lot of surgery when they got out of school. Most wanted to work a couple of years doing mostly surgery and then start a practice or begin a surgical residency somewhere. The Holy Grail was finally to work in the clinics of a vet school. All five were considered the sawbones by the rest of the class of 1970.

Other classmates had started showing preferences as well. Some wanted to do cardiology or dermatology. They were all looking out to a world full of sick animals and bright careers.

As for Mike Johnson, this was an aberration. The pinnacle for a veterinary surgeon was to work on the clinical staff at a prestigious university and to be on the clinical staff — both teaching and doing all the referral surgeries sent in from veterinarians from all over the country. This is just the way things were.

The group consensus was this: What was Mike Johnson thinking? Leaving the university would be a big step down. He certainly couldn't compete for the best surgeries, because local veterinarians would always refer the most involved and most interesting cases to the vet schools. He would be marginalized. Mike would likely be back here with the "big boys" after he finds out that private practice without spays and rabies shots just won't work.

As it turned out, Dr. Mike Johnson did just fine.

September 1971 Rochester (Ohio) Animal Hospital

J.D. Mason's right index finger was red beneath his surgical glove.

"Drat, there must be another hole," he thought.

"Mary, bring me another pair of gloves, please."

This was his third pair of gloves as he labored to repair the left tibia and metatarsal area of a large Doberman. He had been in surgery for about two hours and was finally satisfied with the combination of pins, wires and plates he had used to complete the fracture fixation.