In the hectic world of busy veterinary practice and family life, I was not looking forward to sitting down and writing a piece for the Journal of Swine Health and Production (JSHAP) after Dr Burkgren asked! In hindsight, it has been an interesting exercise in self-evaluation and self-awareness, and a reminder of some life lessons learned so far! There was a time, in early practice life, that I described myself as having a professional identity crisis. The romantic idealism of a young veterinarian had worn thin, and being welcomed into swine practice many years ago has allowed me many opportunities to grow personally and professionally. I will try to describe why I do what I do.
In previous articles, under similar titles, Drs Burkgren,1 Holman,2 and Starke3 have eloquently outlined their passion and drive for a profession and industry that I believe many AASV members share. I share this passion as well, although I didn’t start out that way, rather developing a passion for pigs, people, and problem-solving by accident.
I was a farm kid, raised on a small dairy farm in central Manitoba. We worked hard as youngsters, pitching square hay bales, mucking out calf pens, feeding calves, and occasionally getting to milk cows if Dad was away. My passion was cows. Veterinary medicine never really featured in my plans. I had no intentions of spending any more time in school than necessary, as I was going to be a 4th generation dairy farmer. Besides, most of the veterinarians I had ever seen visit our farm were a bit strange, always in too much of a rush to spend time teaching a farm kid how to recognize problems or the contributing factors creating those problems. Those were missed opportunities for those veterinarians, and I have tried in my career not to miss teachable moments.
Obviously, I am not a 4th generation dairy farmer today! Life’s path does seem to twist and turn. In my pursuit to farm with my family, having received my college agricultural diploma, I quickly realized two things. Milking cows “24/7” is hard, relentless work, and working with family members can be even more difficult and relentlessly frustrating! Another life lesson, looking for compromise when it can be found, will often be more productive and save time. Pick your battles wisely: again, something I try to remember every day in veterinary practice.
Well, farming wasn’t in my cards, but with a passion for farm animals, I had talked myself into a veterinary career. Veterinary school was great. I met some great people and made some life-long friendships. I had little interest in the “pet-ables,” but had a real passion for the edibles. Fast-forward 4 years, and I was a single father of two little kids, starting out in a busy multi-person practice with a large component of dairy-farm clients. I had the world by the tail and was living the dream!
About 10 months into practice I was tired, grumpy, and not intellectually stimulated. My kids were usually first to day care in the morning and last to be picked up in the evening. My practice style had turned into pattern recognition, not problem solving. Life lesson number three: you must set priorities at each stage of your life, because nobody else will do that for you. While I realized a change was needed, a serendipitous meeting with Dr Brad Chappell, my current practice partner, gave me the opportunity to join a busy, progressive swine practice. I had landed in a place that encouraged personal growth, family balance, and lifelong learning.
Thirteen years later, I absolutely no longer have a professional identity crisis! My kids are no longer the last to leave day care (…not every day, anyway!) and I have the privilege of working alongside extremely talented veterinarians and practice staff. I take pride in trying to provide mentorship to our younger veterinarians and students that come through our practice, as I was mentored. I am routinely reminded of the important role veterinarians play as teachers and leaders while on-farm, in our communities, and within our profession. I have huge esteem for my veterinary colleagues within the AASV membership and the seemingly ceaseless drive to advance swine medicine, welfare, and the production of safe abundant food. My swine-practice career placed me among colleagues who share these values and allows me to find balance between veterinary science, the art of reading people, problem solving, and critical thinking. This is really why I do what I do.
Not all AASV members will have the opportunity to contribute an article like this one to the JSHAP; however, this exercise has been personally gratifying and has further helped me find self-awareness. I would suggest, if you have not done so yet, that you write down why you do what you do!
1. Burkgren T. Why do you do what you do? J Swine Health Prod. 2015;23:7.
2. Holman L. Why I do what I do. J Swine Health Prod. 2015;23:71.
3. Starke B. Why I do what do. J Swine Health Prod. 2015;23:125.
Blaine Tully, DVM Swine Health Professionals, Ltd