The Incredible Dr. Pol
WEIDMAN, MICH. — At 69, one would think Dr. Jan Pol, a mixed-animal veterinarian, might start to take it easy.
But the rural Michigan veterinarian is not only practicing—he has also taken the leading role in a new documentary show on National Geographic Network's "National Geographic Wild."
"The Incredible Dr. Pol" premiered Oct. 29 with an episode titled, "Vet Wild," followed by "How Now, Brown Cow," which features Pol juggling cases from a police dog with aggressive lung cancer, a cow with a prolapsed uterus, another with a twisted stomach topped with a case of pneumonia, a "mean" Miniature Schnauzer whose matted fur tears a hole in his leg, and another dog whose biggest problem may be the "people food" his owner insists he eat.
"Some days are easy, some days are not," Pol says during one episode after wrapping up a hectic 14-hour day.
After working for 10 years in another practice, Pol set out on his own, opening Pol Veterinary Hospital with his wife and practice manager, Diane, out of their home in 1981. Pol and his wife met while she was a senior in high school in Michigan, and he was a foreign exchange student. They kept in touch while he returned home to the Netherlands and attended veterinary school at Utrecht University, where he graduated in 1970. They were married in 1967 and, after living in the Netherlands for a short time, returned to Michigan.
In the Netherlands, at that time, there was no need for practicing veterinarians. The rest of his veterinary school class went into research and industry, Pol says. But he had other plans.
When he first moved to Michigan, his practice was 80 percent dairy, and he would do about 22 farm calls a day. There were about two dairy farms for every mile then, he says, but times have changed.
"The biggest problem (is that) the farmers are getting older, the kids don't want to take over, the farms are getting bigger all the time," he says. "The bigger the farm, the less we do."
Now, there are about 12 miles between dairy farms, and Pol and his associate Dr. Brenda Grettenberger take large-animal calls for about three hours every afternoon in between small-animal examinations and surgeries. Another associate focuses on the small-animal business full-time.
"Quite a change from 30 years ago," Pol says. "You have to adapt otherwise you go out of business."
And adapt he has. Since opening his practice, Pol estimates he has seen more than 19,000 animals. Business is good, too. He and Diane designed and built their own log home six years ago, and Pol is an avid car collector, with a 1937 Rolls Royce and a 1981 DeLorean among his collection.
But it wasn't easy. Frugality and honesty is the key to success in the veterinary profession, Pol says.
"What we did, we were frugal," Pol says. "It's easy to overspend, and I think you have to watch out that you don't go overboard."
Watch your expenses and be fair in your practice, he says.
"When I started 30 years ago, the farmers were just realizing they could get a lot of medicine through catalogs," he says. In fact, the game changed then. If a veterinarian wasn't competitive on price, client farmers would call you on it, he explains. When drug prices were comparable, he charged a little more for the work. "I'm not a salesman; I'm a veterinarian. I use my brain to make money."
And that's exactly what his newest show is about—life as a veterinarian. When his son, Charles, who works in the film industry, first suggested a documentary about his life in practice, Pol says he didn't think much of it.
"I thought, 'oh whatever.' But he came with two friends and a camera man," Pol says.
And National Geographic liked the pilot and sent a production team to Weidman in May. Two camera crews followed Pol for three weeks, both in his clinic and on farm calls.
"They were around me all the time, but the work had to be done," says Pol, who had to remind the camera crews on several occasions to move quicker. "They slowed me down a little bit," he adds.
Permission was gained by all of his clients to film the show on their farms.
"Everybody was saying, 'what's that, what's that?'" but most were very receptive when they heard what was going on," he says.
Many of his clients will be featured in the show, and the excitement about the premiere is "unbelievable," says Pol, who will watch his debut episode for the first time surrounded by his staff, family and friends at home.
"I only watched a rough draft of the first episode," he says. "Whatever the show is, I have no idea."
As for the impression he will give of the veterinary profession, Pol is unapologetic.
It's a hard, physically demanding job, and that fact will likely come through in the show. What will also come through is his love for veterinary practice.
"It makes you feel good when you get it done," he says. "Thank goodness, I have never broken any bones. Yeah, I've been kicked, and I've been sore. Last year, just before (the camera crews) came, a cow ran into me and popped my rotator cuff. It was an accident, and the surgery went well. Things happen, but I still can do it, and that, I (feel very) fortunate about."
A total of four episodes of "The Incredible Dr. Pol" will air on "National Geographic Wild," at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Oct. 29; 9 p.m. on Nov. 5 and 9 p.m. on Nov. 12.
"I'm an eternal optimist... I try to laugh a lot, because that's life. There's no use going through life crying over spilled milk. That's life. Milk a cow and get some more."