Is collegiality dead?

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Jan 01, 2003

It was a crisp fall morning in the Midwest. The angled light shining on the roadside maple trees made them glow as though they were lit by some unknown internal energy source.

What a glory! Just experiencing the morning gave John Templeton a warm, nutty satisfaction-an inner glow so often felt in autumn.

As a member of his state veterinary medical association program committee, John had just spend a grueling but satisfying day with colleagues at his veterinary alma mater hammering out the details of a spring meeting.

John suddenly realized that he was just a few miles away from a veterinary clinic that he had worked in a number of years ago. His former partner had sold the practice last year to a young lady just a few years out of school. John decided to drop in and meet his colleague, have a "look see" at a hospital that had been the backdrop of numerous triumphs and frustrations.

He would also like to encourage her as a colleague. It took about 15 minutes to drive off the interstate.

Initial symptoms

John noticed the client parking lot was empty with only a small pickup truck parked in the staff lot in the back. If the doctor is in, his timing will have been perfect. He certainly couldn't expect to see the owner quickly if there were a lot of patients to see.

Opening the door, John was transformed back 20 years. It seemed that everything in the waiting room was just as it had been. The unique smells of the practice still lingered in the air and stirred the synaptic chemistry of John's memory. John noticed an increase in his heart rate in anticipation of seeing his former practice. John waited for several minutes because no one was apparently at the front desk.

"Anyone here?" queried John.

Silence.

A young lady in her 20's casually walked to the front area in search of some item and ignored John.

"Hello, is the clinic open?"

Apparently surprised that someone was here, the woman responded laconically that it was. She continued with her search.

"Can I talk to the doctor or tour the building?" John meekly implored. "I used to work here for many years in the '70s and even owned part of the practice."

The lady looked at John and stated that the doctor was busy in the back, but that she would look into it.

After a futile search that seemed in slow motion, she slipped to the back. All was quiet.

Several minutes passed and John's stomach informed him that the noon hour was approaching.

The lady emerged and said that Dr. Jones was too busy to see visitors right now.

John innocently asked, "Is she in surgery?

"Oh no, she is on the Internet paying bills. She also said that you cannot tour the practice."

"Did you tell her that I used to be a veterinarian in this office?" I lamented.

Without even engaging my eyes, she blandly said, "Yes I did."

John was dumbstruck. It was too much to even comment on.

Dr. John Templeton drove away. The warm and nutty autumn feeling of a short time ago had vanished.

This story was adapted from a real life experience that the author had two years ago. Is this an isolated incident? Someone might think so, but I again had a similar experience not very long thereafter while trying to visit a "colleague" in another part of the Midwest.

Colleague and collegiality

The two words above are originally from the Latin meaning: ones chosen and bound at the same time as another (together); those joined together in a common cause and duty-friend and cohort. It implies those with the same privileges and duties and is, in part, derived from the word "college." Webster's defines collegiality as "cooperative interaction among colleagues."

Some questions that need to be addressed concerning collegiality:

* Have we moved on in this profession to a point where we have isolated ourselves into our own private world of veterinary medicine?

* Has veterinary medicine now evolved into a post-collegiality era?

* What kind of factors may be leading this profession to the conclusion that others within the profession are either competitors or irrelevant to their practice life?

* What, in fact, is a colleague--and is there value to collegiality?

* Can we move forward as individuals in this profession walking a high wire without a net?

* Do we owe our colleagues anything once we graduate from veterinary school?

Hopefully, what follows will try to answer some of these questions and get this issue out on the table where it belongs.

A wall of indifference

Regardless of the type of practice, the Internet and the frenetic pace of life have contributed to the isolation that we all feel in society.

The information highway has made it easy to seek answers to questions in the profession via the sterility of computer modem.

Can there be a need to go to a local veterinary meeting where by definition the subject at hand is limited to one or two speakers?

Can there be a need to drop in on a colleague to discuss issues within the profession?

Consequently, the art of veterinary medicine is more and more learned in isolation or only in conjunction with other veterinarians working within the narrow confines of a given practice. This art is now, in large part, learned by mistakes and misfortunes that arise from daily interaction of man and animal. The missing ingredient consists of the stories and learning experiences that can be cultured within a networking environment with experienced veterinarians. The nature of society has changed our attitudes to each other. Many view this life as a competition-and thus colleagues are those who practice more than 50 miles away