Veterinarian Holding Files

What would you think about a veterinarian who took great care in examining your sick pet, evaluated all necessary diagnostics, and then looked at you thoughtfully across the exam-room table and said, “I don’t know”?

Would you be disappointed? You shouldn’t be, especially not if those words are followed by, “But I’m going to find out.” I’d rather have such a doctor for myself any day, and as a veterinarian, I am not, nor have I ever been, embarrassed or unwilling to seek out the wisdom of my colleagues. When you stop learning, you stop growing, and when you stop growing, you’re done.

A Thirst for More Knowledge

I never stop learning, and I love it. Last year when I was on book tour for Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual, my support team spent their days off on the road mostly resting, catching up on e-mail and doing laundry. Not me: In every city I found museums, galleries and more. I ran up the Rocky steps into the Philadelphia Museum of Art and later toured medical mysteries at the Mütter Museum. In Kansas City I beat feet to the National World War I Museum and … well, you get the point.

Is it any surprise that I can’t stay away from veterinarian conferences, can’t pry my nose out of veterinary journals and can’t help but buttonhole top veterinary specialists after their presentations? When I say, “I don’t know … but I’m going to find out,” the person I’m talking to knows I’ll be tapping into a world-class, worldwide collection of veterinary expertise.

Your own veterinarian likely is too. “I don’t know” is nothing less than the beginning of better health for your dog or cat.

A Team Approach to Care

When I’m not speaking or making media appearances, I make time to practice as a veterinarian — I never want to be someone who just plays a vet on TV. I work at the North Idaho and Lakewood animal hospitals, and, in both of them, I make sure every pet I see gets the benefit of all the expertise on staff. I consult not only with other veterinarians but also with the expert veterinary technicians.

The more minds you can put on a mystery the better, I have always thought. And I’ve always been blessed to work with other health-care professionals who feel the same way. Even as I’ve tapped them for their thoughts, they’ve asked me for mine.

Reaching Out for Help

Before the days of the Internet, I lived on the phone. A lot of that was phone tag: I would call a colleague, and then I’d be seeing a patient when he called back, and then he would be seeing a patient when I called again. While I’m still not shy about calling, e-mail and texting sure make it easier to get help from a top specialist who’s usually not just a colleague but a friend as well. There are other resources as well, including veterinary-only communities for discussing cases, issues and trends. Because I often write for trade publications, I tap the editorial staffs at those as well.

My search for the latest and best thinking isn’t always limited to my profession, either. I’ve worked with and written books with physicians, and I’ve kept them in my network as well. It works both ways: As a member of Core Team Oz, I’ve helped Dr. Oz with information on care for his own pets, and I’ve done the same for many of the ABC-TV journalists I’ve worked with over the years.

While my network may be bigger than many others because of my years in practice and my work as “America’s Veterinarian,” asking for help isn’t unusual, and it isn’t at all bad. In fact, while many people may think “I don’t know” is the end of a discussion, the truth is that it’s just the beginning.

There’s an answer out there, and a good veterinarian won’t stop until it’s found.