Words to live by

Words to live by

Jan 01, 2006

Dr. Carl A. Osborne
ST. PAUL, MINN. — "What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others lives on."

It's been a guiding principle for Dr. Carl A. Osborne, a world-renowned veterinary urologist, educator and philosopher from the University of Minnesota's (UM) College of Veterinary Medicine, who's career now spans more than 40 years, three text books, a number of presidencies and 585 continuing education presentations.

To offer a point of reference, more than 2,500 veterinarians have gone through Osborne's classes throughout the years; there are only 1,423 DVMs in the state of Minnesota.

Christened last year with the American Veterinary Medical Association's first Robert R. Shomer Award for veterinary ethics, Osborne talked with DVM Newsmagazine about veterinary medicine's path, his career, the early years and his battle with Parkinson's disease.

A personal mission

One hour with Osborne, and one walks away knowing this man is about clarity of purpose, mission and generosity.

It all starts with such a simple premise: the golden rule. Adorning his personal mission statement, Osborne explains, "I would like to care for my patients as I'd like to be cared for myself."

If you accept it as a treatment and dab it liberally to your professional and personal life, its curative properties offer balance. It also serves as ethical bedrock.

And veterinarians face many life and death ethical dilemmas during the course of a career. Fees, euthanasia, life-long learning, bed-side manner, treating abandoned injured animals, adoption protocols; the list is long and varied.

"If I had to look at the ethical make-up of the veterinary profession, I would say that it is really quite high. Some things we don't want to change are our ethical values. They should be rock solid principles that we live by."

So, what's on his mind?

One ethical concern that has become more pervasive in American society, Osborne says, is putting profit motives too far forward in relation to veterinary medicine's role as a service profession.

"We are seeing more and more emphasis on fees for profit rather than fees for patients. I am concerned about that. There is nothing wrong with generating fees for service. The big question is: What is the intent? Is the intent to get adequate salaries for staff and equip a functioning hospital, or is the intent to improve the bottom line so we can become wealthy?"

And while veterinarians' salaries are lower than other healthcare professionals', the observation is simply one of balance between the delivery of patient care and profit.

"There is also great need to educate the public about the costs associated with the delivery of veterinary care. I don't think they appreciate how much goes into it," he adds.

Of mirrors and candles

Credited with more than 43 awards, author of hundreds of scientific articles during the course of a 40-year career and the founder of UM's Minnesota Urolith Center, it's safe to say that Osborne won the credentials of a sage medicine man.

"If you look at it, there are two ways to be: One is to be a candle and the other to be a mirror. Most of the time, we are mirrors; we are reflecting other's knowledge that we gain. It's important to be a candle and generate new information if there is going to be advancement. I think it is important for all of us to accept that responsibility whether we are in private practice, universities or industry and that is to make things better," he says.

"The best teaching hospitals in the world not only use contemporary knowledge, they create it."

His greatest learning experience was learning how to learn. It was his freedom that was fueled by his lifelong, insatiable curiosity on how things work.