Introducing two veterinary prototypes: Dr. Codger and Dr. Greenskin

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Introducing two veterinary prototypes: Dr. Codger and Dr. Greenskin

One of the more obvious discrepancies in veterinary medicine stems from the natural antagonism that arises between the old farts and us newbies. Here’s a closer look.
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Jan 01, 2016

How much do you really have in common with your current boss? Take a close look at those ripe experienced practitioners who want nothing more than to sell their two-man practice and retire. Now examine the throngs of wet-behind-the-ears, newly minted DVMs who just can’t wait to take on that first cat neuter in their large corporate-run practice.

Ryan Ostrander and Anne McDonald Campfield, DVMIt seems that the last couple of decades have jumbled some widely accepted ideals and left some of us wondering which way is up. Sure times are changing, but who is right in all of this? We young’uns are pushing for work-life balance and career satisfaction. Yet we would never have any room to move forward if it weren’t for our forefathers who have lived out tough careers in the trenches and may not necessarily have a whole lot to show for it.

Ryan Ostrander and Anne McDonald Campfield, DVMOf course, this phenomenon isn’t unique to our profession. To quote Tupac and Grand Puba: “What more could I say? I wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave the way.”

Or take Lloyd Christmas’ insightful perspective in Dumb and Dumber: “Senior citizens, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose.”

I’m dedicating this column to the ever-growing generation gap in veterinary medicine and the divergence in the way we view our mission, approach business opportunities, and even how we practice medicine or communicate with clients. I don’t intend to comment on whether such differences are mostly “good” or mostly “bad.” After all, veterinary medicine is constantly evolving to serve the needs of society and provide better care for our patients.

We newbies have a lot to gain from respecting and paying attention to those who have been doing this stuff for longer than we’ve been alive. Likewise, those crotchety old dudes will need to stay abreast of current medical and business trends if they wish to stay relevant, or at the very least be able to cash out and sell that practice.

To illustrate some of the foundational differences in a hope to find some common ground, I’ve taken on the role of moderator between two fictional characters. In the coming months, these two are going to have to hear out each other’s differences on a variety of subjects. Let’s meet our two prototype veterinarians in this great drama:

The good Dr. Codger

  • Student debt at graduation: What’s that?
  • Career summary: Graduated in 1963. Worked for an even older guy for three years, then bought the practice. Been working there 6 a.m. till 10 p.m., six days a week ever since, except for that one week trip to the Grand Canyon with the family in 1972. He has protected the environment by producing zero medical waste during his entire career. Well, there was that one piece of catgut that one time, but his boss put an end to that real quick.
  • Hobbies: Fly fishing. Basic woodworking. Reading the newspaper—yes, the actual paper one. Backgammon with the boys is a real thrill on Friday nights. Model trains. Not wasting anything.
  • His clients: Love him. The diagnosis is always right. He doesn’t even need all those fancy tests. The more injections the better. No medical record? No problem.
  • Exit plan from veterinary medicine: Been “working” on selling the practice. For some reason the last prospect done and runned off. Them kids just don’t know how to work these days.

The new Dr. Greenskin

  • Student debt at graduation: $150,000 (omg)
  • Career summary: Graduated top of the class. Completed an internship in a large referral practice where she was allowed to complete medical records and got too close a cat’s abdomen one time. Her current four-day workweek in general small-animal practice is so. much. stress. She’s waiting for her dream job to open up: developing microvascular procedures for ferrets. 
  • Hobbies: Binge-watching Orange Is the New Black and Bravo reality shows. Dressing her cats in costumes (most of the guys she dates don’t stick around long for this reason). Instagram all day, every day. Baking brioche.
  • Her clients: Mildly terrified she’s there. Often ask, “Will the real doctor be coming into the room soon?” and “When is your boss back from vacation?”
  • Exit plan from veterinary medicine: Wait, what? My Roth IRA should have me covered, right?

So which of these veterinarians is most like you? I would venture to guess that the Dr. Greenskins outnumber the Dr. Codgers by a wide margin these days. We’ll see what these two doctors are up to next time, in Old School, New School!

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.