As many of you may know, my family and I recently moved to another country to work with an agriculture development project. So when Tom Burkgren asked me to write about “Why I do what I do” it was a very timely topic for me to personally reflect on, and I am excited to share those thoughts with my AASV colleagues. In my situation, there are two separate “why” questions: why did I become a veterinarian in the first place, and why did my family and I move to the other side of the planet (literally)? Both decisions developed over long periods of time. The reasons behind both are innumerable, but generally involve my faith, my family, my personality, and my likes and dislikes. But in both cases, two specific events helped me to clarify things. I want to share those events and how they impacted my decisions.
There was a specific time when I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was 19 years old and was home from college for spring break. One night I was conscripted by my father to go with him on a veterinary emergency call (most of you probably know my father, Dr Paul DuBois, who is also a veterinarian and AASV member). It was not unusual for my father to take me or one of my brothers to help on emergencies, and I had been on hundreds of similar calls. But, on this trip, I developed a whole new outlook on what my father did and what it meant to be a veterinarian. We were called by an elderly couple with a heifer that was having trouble calving. We delivered a live calf, and the owners were very grateful. On the trip home, I reflected that we had helped the cow, the calf, and the people who owned them in a very tangible and meaningful way. It helped me to fully understand that veterinary medicine was a noble profession and a great way to serve and help other people. Also, it involved science, which I really loved (and still do). When I got back to college, I changed my major to pre-veterinary medicine. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The second incident occurred at the 2011 AASV Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. I attended one of the evening receptions and was sitting at a large table with several other attendees. I eavesdropped on a conversation between some veterinary students and a fellow swine veterinarian. The conversation was pretty typical. “What do you want to do when you get out of vet school?” “I want to go to into this type of practice or that type of practice, etc, etc.” Then things took an unexpected turn. The veterinarian asked the students if they had considered using their veterinary profession to serve in an underdeveloped part of the world. He laid out the ugly statistics about global poverty, the reality that millions of people throughout our world suffer from crippling poverty, disease, and malnutrition. After educating everyone on the stark facts, the veterinarian asked this question “How can we be OK with that?” He then explained that veterinarians have the education and skillset to help improve the situation for the people struggling under those circumstances. Even though he wasn’t talking to me directly, the veterinarian’s question kept bothering me. How can I be OK with that type of injustice? It also led to a logical subsequent question that bothered me even more: Is there some way that I could or should be involved in improving that situation? It would be an exaggeration to say that event alone was why my wife and I made the decision to move. That decision ultimately involved a lot of prayer, many discussions with family and trusted friends, and countless hours of research. But the questions from that overheard conversation were pivotal and helped crystalize things during the decision-making process.
The point of each story is the same, and it is something that we all know. The veterinary profession is ultimately about helping people. Whether it is helping an elderly couple with a bovine dystocia, helping someone in a developing country start a small-animal agriculture operation, or all the things that each of you do every day to help your clients and colleagues in the swine industry, they are all ways that veterinary medicine is used to help the people that we serve in our professional lives. I would encourage each of you to take some time and reflect on “Why you do what you do.” But don’t stop there. Ask yourself what you see in your town, your state, or your world that you are not “OK” with. Then ask yourself if there is something that you could or should do to help improve it.
Bill DuBois, DVM