I do not consider myself particularly well versed in politics, and as a veterinarian, one could argue that political issues do not play a major role in my day-to-day activities. Yet the recent government shutdown is something few of us can ignore, even those of us who work with animals for a living.
The perspective of a veterinary oncologist may not amount to very much in the grand scheme of the recent unfortunate turn of events in our country, but I still feel that my inexpert outlook could be worth deliberation.
It’s an understatement to say the shutdown has instilled anxiety in many Americans. We can all sympathize with those insensibly forced into a furlough, or share frustration with those who rely on governmental programs now shut down without any indication of when they will be reinstated. We’ve all heard about the clinical trials put on hold, eliminating treatment options for humans with advanced medical conditions. Even something so simple as not being able to visit a national monument or go for a hike in a national park; we all feel some sense of loss related to the change.
So how does the current state of our political governing body (or lack thereof) affect me as a veterinarian? You may be surprised at what I’ve noticed over the past several days.
The shutdown directly influences my career because I work in a suburb of Washington D.C., and a large number of owners of pets I treat with cancer are employed by the federal government. Their lack of job and income security means less discretionary funds for pet care. I’ve seen a number of cancelled or postponed appointments in the past week, as well as a palpable dip in the number of new referrals.
When push comes to shove, most people view veterinary oncology as an elective field, and when finances are tight, corners are cut where necessary. Even if this means postponing or denying treatment for the pets they consider part of their family.
The indirect effects of the current state of our government on my career as a veterinarian are somewhat more concerning to me. I see people becoming less trusting of leaders and advisors, and as a medical professional I am not exempt from related criticism. Though last week’s article focused on my amazement in the faith instilled in my by owners, I also recognize how current affairs impact personal philosophies and the ability to maintain such faith — the breakdown is palpable.
There is a widening gap between the integrity of government officials and healthcare professionals, and I’ve noted one key difference where I think a change could really be effective. It seems politicians are unwilling to compromise their ideals, regardless of the impact of their stubbornness and pride, whereas those of us in a health profession career are expected to (and willing to) cooperate, negotiate, and modify our diagnostic and treatment plans, often on a moment’s notice.
Although I possess confidence in my ability to manage cancer cases, I also retain a sense of humility, allowing me to know that my way is not the only way, and sometimes the recommended option isn’t really ideal for a patient because of extraneous factors such as traveling constraints, financial constraints, or even an owner’s particular beliefs and philosophies.
One of the centralizing themes of medicine is the “almighty” second opinion. In some cases owners will seek another opinion on their pet’s care, hoping to learn additional information about what their pet was diagnosed with, to possibly have alternative options for treatment, or because they are unhappy or uncomfortable with the first opinion. In other cases, I’m the one looking for help from colleagues with more experience, or searching for a new way to tackle an old problem.
I can’t imagine feeling so remarkably self-assured that I would only present one way of diagnosing or treating a patient. Likewise, I can’t fathom digging my heels in and refusing to compromise my beliefs with such adamancy that a patient could not receive treatment simply because I was too selfish and arrogant to change my way.
Many are looking to place blame of the shutdown on a particular political partisan group, or find fault in “the system” or any other number of scapegoats. I would urge rather than pointing fingers, we push for those currently in the thick of the voting to consider the benefit of negotiation, concession, and perhaps an ounce of humility.
If those of us in the medical field can recognize our limitations, seek opinions from others, and cooperate, why then can we not expect the same from those making the choices about our own healthcare? I would assume they would desire a similar standard of care from their own doctors.
And yes, because I believe deep down they really do have the ability to act unselfishly and experience the unconditional love of an animal, they likely expect the same from the veterinarians caring for their own pets.
Dr. Joanne Intile