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The Pitfalls Of A Practical Profession

Veterinary academia is under heavy fire to produce more technically proficient candidates capable of self-sufficiency from Day One.

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My parents are both educated as architects. However, neither one of them practices architecture except when the stray job materializes or when willing-to-impose daughters like me ask them to design their new house.

It’s not that they’re not impressively talented with awards and accolades to show for their progressively green brand of minimalist architecture. Neither have they lapsed into early retirement. Rather, it’s more to do with how the rug’s been pulled out from under their profession’s foundation over the past 30 years.

Let that be a lesson to our profession. Indulge me as I explain how:

In the ’80s, the architecture profession underwent a transformation with the rise of the technical, specialized architect. This new breed was distinct from the traditional architect, formerly schooled in overseeing the conception and construction of a structure from start to finish in a holistic sort of way (think Antoni Gaudí, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn, among other 20th century luminaries).

The advent of this highly specialized architect, fueled in part by the computerization of the profession via AutoCAD, was attended by a concurrent decline in the perceived need to educate architects broadly as artists, craftsmen, theoreticians, engineers and historians. As established architectural firms clamored for more ready-to-work, technically trained architects, schools caved to their demand for productive warm bodies by introducing increasingly practical programs.

Consequences

Not a decade later, architecture began to experience a condition it never imagined it would ever be forced to confront: irrelevance. Given that technically specialized architects were being tracked through programs designed to develop very specific skills among graduates, newly minted architects increasingly found themselves locked into technical positions that had extremely limited opportunities for advancement.

What’s worse is that the engineering profession was concurrently churning out superior competitors for overlapping roles—clearly, a reflection of architecture’s lost moorings.

To be sure, a cultural shift in the appreciation of architectonic artistry and art in general has been somewhat to blame. Arguably, however, the profession propelled its own descent by supporting the contention that students should be trained to meet the demands of industry. Instead of remaining true to its core competencies and fundamental values, it accepted that progress lay in the direction of the commercial outcry.

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Unfortunately, following this path of least resistance represented a shocking lapse in integrity that led to architecture’s invidious role as recipient of the lowest starting salary award. No longer are architects as well-respected as engineers or veterinarians. Rather, they are more relegated to—horrors!—the rank of medicine’s true comedown kings: the pharmacists (a whole other cautionary tale for veterinary medicine).

Assessment

Do any of architecture’s challenges over the past 30 years sound familiar? Indeed they should. Here’s why:

Veterinary academia is under heavy fire by industry (practice owners, primarily) to produce more technically proficient candidates capable of self-sufficiency from Day One. Given the recessionary times, there’s apparently less patience for mentoring new graduates who are largely perceived as too book smart for their own good. 

Schools have long been showing signs of relenting. Instead of investing more heavily in research and science-based programs, they’ve moved in the opposite direction. In looking for ways to broaden their commercial base to make up for a dearth of public funding, they’ve begun dedicating greater sums to the purchase of specialty practices. By gaining a foothold in the clinical marketplace they accomplish two things: more practical training for students, less funding for the basic sciences. All, of course, accompanied by a straight-faced pitch for a bigger pie to benefit all slice-worthy stakeholders.

By way of pandering to their well-to-do, practice-owning alumni constituency, schools are responding to the short-sighted drive for more assiduous practical training at the expense of a broader-based education in the arts and sciences. Tracking, arguably a defensible sign of the times, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Criteria for acceptance to veterinary programs has never been more narrowly defined. Prospective students are asked for a specific number of hours of animal experience. Anecdotally, it seems career changers, academic outsiders and otherwise nontraditional students are less of a safe bet. God knows my art history BA would have been the laughing stock of admissions departments everywhere in this day and age. Never mind that I can at least string sentences together as a result. But who cares about a broad-based education when what we really need is someone who can competently execute a 60-pound spay by Week 3 post-graduation?

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Multipractice corporations are more interested in inculcating their clinicians into the ways of more standardized veterinary practice, ostensibly to streamline processes and improve care, but inevitably at the expense of independent thinking and clinical creativity. Moreover, these increasingly powerful entities are capable of exerting significant pressure on academic institutions to serve their own ends.

The decline of the clinician-scientist is a hot topic these days within the academic set. And I make no excuses for the fact that many of my above arguments are in line with this potentially archaic, traditionally ivory tower-ish kind of thinking. After all, its well-read, broadly educated, science-based sensibility is clearly aligned with mine.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think my business education grants me some sensitivity for day-to-day veterinary issues and the economic underpinnings of our profession. Which is why I believe my opinion on the state of the profession’s current leanings toward a more technical education are ill-conceived and represent the kind of short-term thinking the architecture profession now bitterly regrets.

Let us not make the same mistake. Let it be a lesson to us that following the path of practical expediency serves none of us in the long run. Sure, it might make some of us more profitable in the near term—an alluring prospect in this unfortunate economy—but let’s be honest: If our core competency as a profession lies in our brain trust, why would we undermine it for generations to come in the interest of a quick payout? 

Dr. Khuly is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at Vetstreet.com. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her MBA from Wharton in 1997.

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