It's the holiday season, so gifts weigh heavily on everyone's minds. But sometimes the stress has more to do with the gifts you're not so sure you should accept than with those society deems necessary for you bestow upon others. In this case, I'm referring to a subject I've treated here before: Veterinary coziness with industry's generous handouts.

It's a tough subject, to be sure. After all, everyone likes a parade — especially one in their honor and paid for by someone else. Yet it's ethically questionable for a professional to accept all but the least consequential of gifts. This is especially true when the gift comes not from a client, but from an individual or entity whose products or services are potentially a part of the professional's repertoire. Translation: If the gift risks swaying professional opinion, accepting it raises ethical issues.

So when veterinarians attend lectures sponsored (and heavily if not exclusively subsidized) by veterinary industry companies, or when we accept the offer of a spa day or dinner out on the town, among other alluring possibilities, we're always tasked with deciding whether or not the "gift" in question meets our conflict of interest standards.

For me it's usually a pretty simple decision. If the gift is far less of a commercial for a product or service than it is an educational opportunity, and it's going to a) benefit my patients and/or b) benefit my readers … then I'm usually willing to accept.

So while I will actively seek out industry sponsorships for my veterinary association's continuing education meetings, and firmly believe the resulting relationship is a win-win, I do not condone any gift or boondoggle-ish activity in which pure luxury with no hope of redemption in the form of education is to be expected.

A spa day or round of golf, for example, is pure, indefensible cush. And while I've attended events like this in the past, I will confess to having felt morally unjustified in doing so.

Dinner at the best restaurant in town? Fair game. But offer me an official CE lecture to prove you can teach me something I can use. Because if it turns out your gift of three-star dining comes with naught but talk of your goods, I'll be feeling pretty dirty afterwards … and probably no longer so keen on your product, ironically enough.

Enter a new twist: blogging. My daily blogging behavior means a lot more gifts than I could ever put to use. I get lots of books, toys, treats and all the new goops, salves, and snake oils that can be had. It's fun, really it is. And some of these products have actually earned a place in my daily life. But does that mean I write about them? Almost never (though there have been some exceptions).

It usually works more like this: I write something about a product I already use and respect. Next thing I know I'm receiving a thank you box full of the product and all its new permutations. It happens. Not always, but perhaps one out of five times. And I think that's OK. I'll take a gift on the back end, seeing as I don't feel paid, or paid off, to use it. It's just a nice thank you I honestly never intended to solicit.

After all, it's not like I'm falling into the mommy blogger trap. You know the one. It's when you set up a blog about mommy/baby products in which you review the zillions of products companies send to you from all over. If you offer a good review you get a check, a lifetime supply of the product, a trip to Disney World, etc. It's being done all over the Internet. But then, that's a business model that goes way beyond the blog.

Still, there are some questionable boondoggles I've been offered. They've involved travel, fine dining, and cozy lodging. And they've been undeniably educational, but still worth worrying over. Because there's a line there somewhere, and I feel it's hovering dangerously close any time I get to feeling really tempted.

But then … I'm sure your fine opinions on this subject will help clarify the issues completely. Please, fire away.

Dr. Patty Khuly

P.S. - Did I forget to mention that one of my educational trips involved a flight to the U.K.? Hence the creepy but cute Stonehenge pic.


Pic of the day: "stonhenge flying dogs" by Alice Chaos