We humans know all about being tested. Sometimes it feels like we get tested on a daily basis. It can be tiring, but I have always relied on the saying that we are never dealt something that we can’t handle. At least, so far in my 67 years, that seems to be the case.
There is a concept that has always been important to me: integrity. Since integrity is a word and all words are concepts or abstracts, there is no absolute truth in them. So, we have to define those words ourselves. Integrity, to me, has always represented the ability to look at myself in the mirror each morning and not being ashamed of what I see. Yes, we all have flaws and make mistakes, but there are just some things that we try not to step over the line.
As a veterinarian, I have often been tested. I remember a time years ago when I had just moved to Idaho and joined a large practice. I had worked there for some time and I was offered a partnership that I gladly accepted. Not long after I started working there, I needed to have a letter written by an attorney. I did not know any attorneys in the city, so I happened to ask a client and friend of mine. She worked for a reputable company in town, so she gave me the name of their attorney and I contacted his office. They were glad to help, provided me with the one-page letter and a bill for a whopping, $1200. Needless to say, I almost had a coronary event.
As fate would have it, several months after having paid the bill, guess who walked into the clinic with a dog with a torn cruciate ligament? Yep, the attorney who had popped me for the bill. I had learned shortly after paying the bill that this particular attorney was notorious for over-charging. Since, I was the only vet in the practice that did this particular surgical repair, he had no choice but to deal with me. I repaired the dog’s knee and sat down to figure his bill. Most of my colleagues knew the story and were keen for me to seek revenge. I was in the captains chair and had the ability to charge whatever I wanted. The consensus from my colleagues was the same as he had charged me for the letter. But, my integrity jumped in and wouldn’t allow me to and I charged him the same fee as I would for anyone else. I had promised myself that I would retire from veterinary medicine without knowingly taking advantage of anyone. Since I retired seeing pets this April, I can happily say that I kept my word to myself.
The next time my integrity was tested was when the report came out by the AVMA that our current annual vaccination protocol for pets was most likely harming our pets. It was recommended that we go from our, standard annual vaccination protocol to a three-year protocol. Considering that annual vaccination income for the average practice was about 28% and the average net income was about 24%, it was a shock to the practicing veterinarian. It was a test for all of us and it led me to selling my portion of the practice, with little more than a pocketful of cash and a maintained integrity.
Now, in the twilight of my career, I am being tested again. I have been blogging about a storm brewing for a long time now. That storm has developed into a raging battle between conventional veterinarians and veterinarians who practice alternative modalities. The same is going on in the human medical field.
For several years, the conventional vets have been turning a blind eye towards vets that practice alternative methods. We were not considered a real threat. You know, sort of like an annoying fly buzzing around your head. But, with the tides shifting in consumer awareness towards a more natural approach to health care, we are now being considered a viable threat. It had to happen. Once again, each veterinarian is having to look in the mirror and questioning his or her integrity. Do I react to this threat with fear or do I allow it and learn from it? It appears that the former option is the most popular.
Many of you know my story. After having practiced conventional veterinary medicine for over 20 years, it became obvious to me that this approach had severe limitations. I faced too many dead ends, too many bad options and felt like my clients ended up victims to a flawed system. So, I went back to school to learn Chinese medicine and acupuncture. It opened the doorway to a whole new mindset where restoring health and well being was an option instead of treating symptoms, using potentially harmful drugs and not getting to the root cause of the problem. In time, I developed a holistic approach to pet health care where I looked at all possibilities ranging from diet to stress in the pet’s environment. I thought that was my job. I think I remember taking an oath to do so. I have never condemned conventional medicine as it has done a wonderful job for so many health conditions and I always referred to abandoning this method as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But, I won’t hesitate to point out the limitations and opt for something natural instead of pharmaceutical if I can get the same or better results. It’s that old integrity thing.
The problem for those of us who practice from an alternative perspective, is that we face an enormous opponent. Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, is a giant industry, generating billions of dollars annually and with that comes a lot of political power. The veterinary profession is also a self-regulating system. Our laws dealing with animal care are written by state legislators under the guidance of the veterinary profession. And, regulation and discipline is also carried out within the profession. Each state board of veterinary medicine is composed of veterinarians and some have a solo member that represents the public. This is mostly for show. I will give you an example that most people don’t think about.
Imagine that you have a chronic back problem and someone tells you that you might benefit from acupuncture. You decide to give it a try and you Google an acupuncturist in your city. You have some treatments and your back gets better. Some time goes by and you find out that your dog is also having some chronic pain. Your mind tells you that she might benefit from acupuncture and you Google an acupuncturist that works on dogs. Your dog gets a few treatments and she gets better as well.
If we look closer, we see a big difference. The person you called to get some acupuncture treatments for yourself, was not likely a medical doctor. He was just a certified acupuncturist. However, the person that did the acupuncture on your dog was a licensed veterinarian. Why is this the case? Because the veterinary profession does not want anyone who is not a veterinarian working on a pet in any manner that is not that person’s pet. This is a major control issue, based on fear of competition hidden under the guise of safety for pets.
Now, the same powers to be are turning their fury on the alternative veterinarians. As I mentioned, each state has written legislation regarding who can give medical treatment to pets. That legislation is dictated by conventional veterinarians and written by the state legislators and passed as state law. Most states have it clearly stated that no one other than a licensed veterinarian will work on an animal. The only exception is that you are allowed to treat your own pet. It clearly states that animals will be treated by methods accepted by the state veterinary board and will not be treated by non-scientifically proven methods. This includes all alternative modalities. In fact, any veterinarian practicing alternative modalities on an animal is breaking the law and they can lose their license and have their clinic shut down. And, they are shutting down alternative practices all over the country.
In California, many alternative practices have been forced to close. The state of Connecticut has passed a law prohibiting the use of homeopathic treatment for the entire state and it is strictly enforced. The entire country of England has done the same thing. A friend of mine who is an alternative practitioner in Canada had his licensed revoked and closed his practice because he wrote an eBook about alternative medicine and the downsides of conventional medicine. It made the local veterinarians angry. What once was a flicker has now erupted into a huge, out of control fire.
When I heard about my colleague, who I had met at a convention last year, I realized that he wasn’t doing anything different than me. My immediate response was to back off, water down the truth and not irritate the powers to be. But, my old friend, integrity stepped in. It has served me well over all these years and why would I want to change at this state of the game. In my many years I have learned to trust life instead of fear. What ever happens needs to happen and I will not stand in its way. If I lose my license, well, so be it. Who out there can better understand both sides of the fence? But, I will continue to keep my oath, provide the best information that I can so that people who love their pets will have the best opportunity to provide them the health and well being that they deserve. And, I can still look at myself in the mirror each morning.