Learning and study redefined
Now that we have defined knowledge, wisdom and understanding, how would you redefine learning? I propose that Webster's dictionary
definition of learning and study be expanded such that they become acts or processes of applying the mind in order to acquire
knowledge, wisdom and understanding. As we personally experience the deep satisfaction of saving a patient's life, or restoring
its health as a result of application of our knowledge, wisdom and understanding, learning often becomes an energy-deriving
and exhilarating process. What at first seems to be a disciplined exercise becomes, with time, a form of great satisfaction.
So, are you an academic practitioner? How do these principles relate to our theme of whether or not it is practical? Perhaps
you are thinking about the meaning of the word academic. Although the exact definition of academic may vary depending on the
context in which this term is used, in context of medical vernacular, an academic diagnosis often is associated with the stereotype
of being theoretical or something that has no direct practical application. Likewise, an academic clinician is often perceived
as one who is associated with the ivory tower, and one who lacks practical experience in dealing with the real world. However,
in context of providing quality patient care, is this perception valid?
Please consider this point. Differences in missions of university veterinary teaching hospitals from missions of veterinary
hospitals staffed by colleagues in private practice have often been misinterpreted to reflect the mistaken notion that academic
problem solving by university faculty is fundamentally different from practical problem solving by general practitioners.
Again, I ask the question, is this distinction valid?
When viewed in context of appropriate application of knowledge, wisdom and understanding in caring for patients, it is apparent
that this difference is conceptually inaccurate. True, there are unavoidable differences in the quantity of readily available
knowledge, wisdom and understanding in veterinary teaching hospitals that are staffed by many specialists compared to private
practices that are staffed by one to four primary-care veterinarians. However there is no barrier, except a self-imposed one,
to acquisition and use of knowledge wisdom and understanding that aids in management of patients in either environment.
Please let me illustrate my point by asking you to consider this question. If you or a member of your family were faced with
a life-threatening illness, would you have more confidence in the recommendations of a physician trained to think in an academic
way that incorporated the fundamentals of evidence-based medicine, or in the advice of a physician who adopted the philosophy
of empirical thinking in a practical way?
What is the point?
In context of appropriate patient care, the point is that the true nature of academism relates primarily to the orientation
of our thoughts, rather than our relationship to a private practice, specialty practice or veterinary teaching hospital. The
key issue is realization of the need to think in an academic or scientific way. It involves the way we look at things. In
providing care for our patients, shouldn't we seek and rely on verifiable diagnostic and therapeutic observations that could,
if necessary, be reproduced by other members of our hospital?
To illustrate, would you continue to rely on a thermometer that measured a normal temperature of 101ºF on one day, and a normal
temperature of 105ºF the next day?
In context of quality patient care, scientific thinking is a major responsibility for all of us. We should all be striving
to practice academic ways of thinking. The concept of academic practitioner should be encouraged. Why? Because the application
of such thinking to our patients allows us to demonstrate our compassion in the way most expected of us, namely by being professionally
competent. One of the most important goals of our profession is to foster, encourage, promote and demand academism from ourselves
and from our colleagues. Of course, in the process, we should not minimize the need for practicality.
However, our allegiance to practicality should not be misdirected. Practicality may be a virtue, provided one does not hide
behind it as an expedient excuse for ignorance.
Carl A. Osborne DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM
Dr. Osborne, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is professor of medicine in the Department
of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.