Like travel, veterinary CE should expand our horizons

Like travel, veterinary CE should expand our horizons

Think of a convention program as a map, with unfamiliar topics like unexplored cities.
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May 07, 2018

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In nearly 50 years of involvement in veterinary medicine, one of my hobbies was organizing continuing education (CE) programs on a local, national and occasionally international level. I realized early on that it was a great way to hear from experts on topics I was interested in and also to meet the giants of our profession.

Years ago I was speaking with a lifelong learner, Dr. Larry Lippincott of Los Angeles, when I wondered aloud why some subjects attracted just a handful of attendees while others spilled over into the hallway. Dr. Lippincott pointed out a truth that I’ve found applies not just to CE but also to personal preferences in food, travel, societal interactions and even politics: People tend to go where they’re comfortable. We’re drawn to people like ourselves.

Yeah, I know that!

We tend to read, watch and listen to topics we agree with and avoid those we aren’t familiar with or disagree with. We sit in a lecture and nod our agreement … damn, we’re smart! Why should we expose ourselves to anything new when our comfort zone is so, well, comfortable?

Flipping through the program at a CE meeting we generally skip topics we’re not interested in. And for many veterinarians, that means anything not clinical in nature. But is enhancing our existing clinical skills always our best option? Is it a good idea to have our knowledge grow deeper but not wider—in other words, to learn more and more about less and less? Maybe it’s time to dig a wider ditch, not just a deeper one.

No goat cheese, please

I see similar issues among people who “don’t like” something even though often they’ve never experienced it or learned about it. I am my own example. I’ve always been a meat-and-potatoes guy; I do love ethnic food and have had more than my share of Cachaça (a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice) and Mekong whiskey, but I don’t eat fish or goat cheese.

I grew up in a time when fish for dinner meant frozen fish sticks or canned tuna … so I don’t eat fish. The same is true with goat cheese. I was in my 20s when I found out there were cheeses other than Velveeta. I have come to love cheese, but I won’t even try goat cheese. It tastes like goats. I’d rather eat green eggs and ham.

Let the trip take you

If you follow my columns, you know I love to travel. I used to tell people if they put me on a bus to Bakersfield, California, I would go. (Although with apologies to folks in Bakersfield, once was quite enough.) Travel is the greatest developer of personal horizons that I can imagine—and I don’t mean a weekend at the lake.

Travel should be one surprise after another. I like unexpected experiences and sites, and while I don’t eat fish or goat cheese, I’ve had Indian food from street vendors, mystery meat tacos in the Yucatan and who knows what in China.

And somehow that brings us back to CE!

Our approach to CE should be like traveling to a place we’ve never been. Make it special.  Expand your horizons. Attend a few sessions on topics you have no experience in and will likely never use. In my time in Anguilla we’ve cared for an injured seal that was way off course, dolphins that had been brought to the island from Cuba and more goats than I can recall. I wish I had sat in on a few more lectures on pinnipeds, cetaceans and caprine reproduction.

Some of this and some of that

Consider that conference program as sort of a road map. Mix in a smattering of curiosity-driven choices that will expand your horizons—just as travel does.

Dr. Mike Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.


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