This past weekend I had what I hope was an insightful thought about our profession in a very unlikely place. My father and I took a road trip to Detroit to see Bob Seger perform in possibly his last concert in Detroit. Those of you of a certain generation and from the Midwest know that Bob Seger is something of a musical icon in the area. Rumour has it that in the 1970s he had 3 of the top selling albums of all time in Detroit. The other 2 were albums from The Beatles. In other words, he is really popular and has been around for a real long time. Usually when we see musicians from the 60s, 70s and 80s tour again they are going through the motions hoping to get another payday to replenish the bank account exhausted from years of indulgences and bad financial decisions. Not so with Bob Seger. At the age of 66 this man was as enthusiastic and appeared as happy on stage as when he was first starting out. I don’t remember ever seeing a musician having such a good time singing a songbook of classic rock as Seger- no going through the motions here. I also was so impressed at how down to earth he was. The man had grey hair, old man glasses and a paunch! There was no Elvis girdle or hair dye in sight, nothing flashy or new, just good classic rock and roll. He was also so gracious, constantly acknowledging and thanking his long-time band members. Contrast that with the brash, cocky, self-absorbed opening performer who strutted around the stage showing off every rock star cliche. It was a display of vanity that became comical when compared to the genuine and heartfelt performance by Bob Seger. This was a man who was enjoying the appreciation from fans that have been with him for up to 40 years from the days when they were teenagers and young adults together. This was a man who was as comfortable on stage in front of 16,000 people as he is in his own living room because he had done this so many times and knew what it took to make his fans happy.
The contrast between the two reminded me of how I felt 10 years ago when I graduated from vet school and I thought I was pretty damn smart. I thought I knew it all and couldn’t figure out why everyone thought the older vets were so special. Didn’t people know that I had the most current education? Why don’t these old timers retire so I could get some clients? These thoughts seem pretty harsh now when writing them down but when you are young, hungry, and ready to take on the world one doesn’t often stop to think of another point of view. After 10 years of practice though, I am beginning to see the allure of the elder vet and why they are not going to retire as long as they can still tube a horse and flex a hind leg. From a client’s point of view there is a comfort level that comes from a long history of routine patient care interspersed with the occasional emergency. After a few years, some degree of humility develops after one realizes that bad things happen and that in spite of our best attempts we do make mistakes. Measured against this humbleness is a quiet confidence that most situations can be handled with minimal fuss. From the vet’s perspective, they have survived years of making a real difference in the lives of their patients while seeing babies of clients become teenagers become parents with their own animals. After 10 years I can now begin to see this progression and it is very comforting knowing that I have shared some amazing experiences with some special people.
To the new grads that feel as I did upon graduation, all I can say that your profession improves with age. In spite of the challenges facing veterinarians, success is attainable if you approach your new clients with respect, humility and appreciation. And don’t expect your older colleagues to retire when the turn 65. From what I see at local vet meetings, as long as they are physically healthy, can do the job, and make their clients happy, they aren’t going anywhere. Why should they? Their medical education might not be as current as yours but years of experience have given them knowledge that can only be earned. Hopefully Bob Seger decides to keep performing and maybe my father and I can go see him when they are both in their 70s.
By the way I am going to go see Gordon Lightfoot with my wife and a couple of our younger associates tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to seeing another master at work.