Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared on Pets Adviser in 2012. It has become one of our most widely read (and debated) posts of all time. Recently, a new complaint was filed with the Michigan state licensing board by a fellow veterinarian against Dr. Pol; the investigation is ongoing.
A few months ago, my technician said, “Hey, are you watching this vet on TV? How the heck is he getting away with this stuff?”
She was talking about The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo Wild. A lot of my colleagues feel the show should actually be named The Incompetent Dr. Pol.
Since it’s out in the news that Jan Pol, DVM, has been found to be negligent by the Michigan Veterinary Board, the Dr. Pol controversy is in full swing.
The incredible, or incompetent, Dr. Pol (depending on which camp you’re in) is a mixed-animal veterinarian in rural Michigan, and a new star in the world of reality television. He is almost 71, practicing just the way he did when he came from the Netherlands, with a Dutch veterinary degree, in 1970. He was a large-animal vet and practiced exclusively on cows for years.
Based on his bio and his TV show, I have no idea where or when he tried to become proficient in small-animal medicine. The show takes him through his long days, out on farms treating horses and cows, and back in the clinic, seeing small animals.
Low Prices Should Not Mean Substandard
Many, many people who watch the show love Dr. Pol because they think “old-school” means caring about animals and not charging a lot of money to do what he loves. Well, I’m a bit old-school, love my patients, and my clients’ pocketbooks are never far from my mind. In terms of pricing, I have been told by a number of veterinary business consultants that my prices are too low.
Be that as it may, my gripe with Dr. Pol is that “low prices” never has to mean substandard care or unnecessary deaths. Dr. Pol may look like the wonderful ol’ family farm vet, but his medicine is antiquated. He could be compassionate and considerate of folks’ finances, leave all the bells and whistles behind, but understand that animals have a pain center and surgery requires clean gloves.
Let me give you some examples from the show:
- A dog’s tail is amputated on an exam table without proper anesthesia or sterile technique.
- A dog’s femoral head (top of rear leg bone) is cut off without proper pain medication and sterile technique.
- A mauled puppy is placed in a cage and dies.
- A dog that probably had a ball stuck in its GI tract dies without the benefit of hydration or surgery.
- A Boston terrier’s eye is removed without sufficient anesthesia, pain meds, sterile technique or intubation (anesthesia delivered via a tube down the trachea so this brachycephalic dog can breathe.) They have enough trouble breathing when they’re awake!
Those are just a few sad cases that should not be happening in 2012. Dr. Pol’s fans believe his kind of veterinary medicine is acceptable because he isn’t a high-faluttin’ city vet who costs a ton of money.
Well, fans, please take this from me, a non-high-faluttin’ country vet: Basic standard veterinary practices don’t have to cost a lot of money. I am not advocating that every animal needs state-of-the-art monitoring systems, referrals to expensive veterinary centers, etc. But every animal, if not in a war zone or undeveloped country, deserves proper anesthesia and pain control, sterile surgical technique and, most important of all, a chance at survival.
The last time I checked, rural Michigan was not a third-world country. Neither is the Netherlands.
Cheap Can Mean Big Profit Margin
Let’s take one example, Dr. Pol’s tail amputation. He performed a surgery without minimal acceptable sterile technique, with limited anesthesia and pain medication. Could he have done this a better way and still just charge a tail, not an arm and a leg? You bet. Here’s how:
- Anesthetize the dog on an anesthetic machine, providing oxygen and respiratory support. Cost of a short procedure? Less than $50.
- Use sterile technique. Cost? One large latte. Or a Danish.
- Dispense proper pain medication. Cost? Two large lattes. (Maybe in rural Michigan we should replace the “latte” with the cost of a Budweiser and a hot dog.)
Basic anesthetic and cleanliness protocols are not bells and whistles, or hoity-toity veterinary medicine. Every pet deserves a chance to have pain controlled and not develop a nasty infection because of a dirty surgical procedure.
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