Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dr. G....veterinary medical examiner?

There's a woman here who is a bit quirky, a bit non-conformist, and a bit intimidating. She's become a legend in her own time. Any student here can easily tell you one or two folktales about the doctor I am now christening Dr. G. (The "real" Dr. G is a medical examiner who has a TV show on Discovery Health. She always gets to the bottom of mysterious deaths.) This quirky, out there vet and professor earned this title last week, after a lecture she gave, in which she, too, got to the bottom of some mysterious deaths. In this case, the victims were pigs who were living in their owner's backyard. Dr. G was called to the farm when the first pig died. It was sent to necropsy, but the results, while inconclusive, hinted to Dr. G that some sort of toxin might be involved. She's the kind of person who would sit down with every book on toxicities and poisonous plants in the library, and her list of symptoms and findings, and go through page by page until she had generated a new list of every possible cause of death. Dr. G is thorough, to say the least. After many sleepless nights, sneaking into the library under her Invisibility Cloak to steal books from the Restricted Section, writing scroll after scroll.....

Dr. G took her list and returned to the backyard, whereupon she asked the owner one question: "Do you shoot clay pigeons?" The owner replied, "No, but when I moved in here, there were piles of shotgun shells out back."

A close inspection of the backyard did, in fact, turn up some shards of old clay pigeons.  The discs' interiors are coated with pitch, which is, apparently, poisonous to pigs when ingested.

Dr. G is also the professor of the Poisonous Plants course, and a small ruminant specialist. She is most often seen dressed in cargo shorts, with her T-shirt tucked in, wearing Birkenstocks or Tevas with socks. Her favorite sport is orienteering. If I had to survive in the wilderness, I would want Dr. G by my side.

There are many more stories about Dr. G (and I'm sure I will acquire new ones) for future sharing.


This semester one of my electives is Poisonous Plants. Sounds like Harry Potter, right? Luckily, though poisonous, none of the plants we're learning about have teeth, or the ability to produce ear-splitting screams. The first two sessions of class involved tromping around campus actually looking at plants, which was great, but the rest of the semester is all lecture based. Either way, I enjoy going out in the woods with my dog, and being able to identify some of the plants we see. I like knowing the names of things, whether it's part of a boat that offers no hint as to its location or purpose (like pintle and gudgeon), or constellations, or birds and plants, I like knowing the answer to the question "What's that?". I imagine I started asking that not long after I started talking, and even if I don't verbalize it everytime it pops in my head, it's often on my mind.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Where's the love?

Unlike the majority of my classmates, whose degrees are in animal science, my undergraduate degree is in biology. This leads me to say things like, "I love cells!" and, "I miss biochemistry lab..." or "It really is all about electrons, isn't it?" at which point my classmates roll their eyes and shake their heads.

In my mind, medicine is as much a science as biology or chemistry or physics. In fact, just as history, literature, languages, philosophy, and art can be collectively studied as the humanities, medicine is truly the collective study of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and, I would argue, art and language as well.

Our curriculum begins with the study of anatomy, a subject which is somewhat set apart from the rest. It is both a foundation and a culmination. The organism must operate within the boundaries of its anatomy, but, as they say, form follows function. Since returning from spring break, we have embarked upon our study of physiology, the functions that follow said form.

I love physiology. We talked current and resistance, concepts I first encountered in physics, when we were learning cardiovascular physiology. We talked mass action, one of the most important concepts in chemistry, when we were learning acid-base disturbances as well as endocrine physiology. I love making those connections and seeing how what we're learning fits into the larger context of what I have already learned through my biology curriculum, but I often feel like the only person who sees those connections.

Those connections are the whole point. I am not in school to learn to be a doctor. I am in school to acquire (or at least to begin to acquire) the body of knowledge that is medicine, which will allow me to be a doctor.

Defining the "job" of a professor

Interesting conversation on our way to school this morning. Friday means neuroanatomy, and neuroanatomy means 2 hours of lecture followed immediately by 2 hours of lab. Who is the lovely soul who gets to preside over the entire class of first years for 4 consecutive hours? Let's call her Pia Mater. No one would envy her her task...neuroanatomy is a notoriously difficult course, and P. Mater has exactly 28 hours of lecture and lab to build us a foundation that will support our future endeavors in the neurology course and clinical rotation. The conversation this morning stemmed from an interaction, via email, that one of my housemates had with P. Mater. Housemate had emailed P. Mater with a question, which P. Mater had answered with the suggestion to investigate some further sources. Housemate contended that P. Mater was shirking responsibility to reply as she did, and this is what sparked our conversation. Are we, as students paying tuition, customers? Do we employ our professors? I cannot subscribe to this mindset. I believe we pay tuition for the privilege of studying under and learning from the professors employed by a college. Learning is not meant to be passive. It is not the "job" of a professor to ensure her students' success, especially at the graduate and professional level. This gets right back to my belief that as vet students, we are truly students first. To matriculate in this program is to have some love of learning for learning's sake. If you don't enjoy the pursuit, it's going to be a long four years. Learning how to learn is equally important for this career. Not every case fits neatly into the flow charts and dichotomous keys of Ettinger's Veterinary Internal Medicine. Practicing the skills that allow us to dig up information when we're not even quite sure what we're looking for, or where to look for it, is an investment that will pay dividends down the road. This was one of those conversations where my reaction was in the form of a very strong conviction, which, at the time, I had a very hard time articulating.