I was watching the Olympics last week when I saw an ad for a TV comedy premiering this fall that has a veterinarian practicing in New York as its main character. Have you seen the trailers? It’s called Animal Practice. The hook for the show is that George Coleman, DVM is great with animals but can’t stand their owners.

"We interviewed a number of veterinarians around the Manhattan/Brooklyn area and got a lot of chuckles when we talked about Dr. Coleman’s nature." Brian Gatewood, an executive producer and writer on the show told DVM Newsmagazine. "They’d either be like 'Oh, that’s like me,' or 'Oh, that’s like all of my vet friends.'"

While some aspects of the show will surely stretch reality (for instance, as far as I can tell all the doctors in the show are male), the point that most veterinarians are not people-people is right on track.

My class took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® personality assessment in veterinary school. I can’t recall all the details, but it was clear that the vast majority of my classmates (myself included) were introverts. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like people, it’s just that too much time with them can be really draining, which perhaps explains why the docs on Animal Practice relax by playing poker with a monkey.

You might be wondering why introverts would be drawn to a profession that, in most cases, requires near constant contact with pet owners. I think it boils down to two things:

1. Studying medicine of any sort is greatly appealing to introverts. We get to delve deeply into fascinating subject matter — often spending hours alone pouring through books, journals, case studies, etc. (ahhh, bliss).

2. At least our patients aren’t people, in contrast to our colleagues on the human side of things.

Of course this is a simplistic explanation, but I think it behooves (no pun intended) owners to understand that people skills may not be their veterinarian’s strong suit and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I want my own doctors to be excellent diagnosticians and technically proficient. I can deal with a lack of bedside manner but not poor skills. I’ve known very popular veterinarians whose reputations were built primarily on how well they schmoozed with clients while their patient care was substandard, at best.

In a perfect world, veterinarians would be good with both clients and pets, and veterinary schools are working to improve our abilities with the former as well as the latter. If you’ve found a doctor who excels in both of these arenas, congratulations, you’ve hit the jackpot. But, if you have a choice between a veterinarian whose strengths lie in patient care or one whose primary focus is on owners, I think I know which option your pets would endorse.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Hello, Kitty! By myfuture.com / via Flickr

Ed. Note: Added attribution to Brian Gatewood's quote from DVM Newsmagazine.