Academic practitioner: to be or not to be? - DVM
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Academic practitioner: to be or not to be?


DVM360 MAGAZINE


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.

It's academic

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 101F on one day, and a normal temperature of 105F 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.


Carl A. Osborne DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM
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.

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.


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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