It’s Still Called Practice

It’s Still Called Practice


On June 2 I had the hard to believe it’s even possible pleasure of celebrating thirty years (30 years!) of being a veterinarian.  The New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell said goodbye and sent me on my way. (By the way – that is the official name of our vet school. It is actually a SUNY school, but that’s not commonly mentioned.  These days it’s all about branding and Cornell has well, better name recognition so they say.) Yup, I was minted smack dab in the middle of the ‘80s. 1985 to be exact.  It was a great time to have been in college- yes kids the ‘80s were as much fun as it looks like in the movies. It was a pretty interesting time to start a career.

Veterinary medicine was just beginning to really sort itself out. A focus on companion animal practice was just starting to be discussed and understood. Animals were wonderfully becoming members of the family.  No way could we envision them being called “fur babies” back then as they are often referred to now.  Technology was just beginning to be used in veterinary medicine. Computers were a pretty simplistic, but very expensive commodity.  During my senior year, students had to sign up for time to use the one word processor the school’s library owned to type up our senior seminars. That’s right – one computer for 80 students.   I still am proud of the fact that during my senior year of high school I was the only boy in the typing class even though it caused me to receive quite a bit of grief. I figured it would help me type up term papers.  I never imagined it would be the main way we communicate today.

The changes I’ve seen in thirty years are impressive. When in school, we weren’t even taught about dentistry – “animals don’t have teeth issues”, we were told. Now we know that improving dental health saves animal’s lives.  Cornell’s radiology department had just obtained a human ultrasound machine. The radiologists were playing around with it to see if it would have any use in animals. Now it’s virtually impossible to practice without one.  An office visit was $17 dollars. And yes I walked to work and carried my lunch. The greatest change I’ve seen in our profession is that for the first time ever, there are more practicing female veterinarians than male veterinarians. Veterinary school classes are currently 75-90% female. The face of our profession has literally changed. I think it’s ultimately for the better.

In thirty years I’ve seen enough appointments to fill Yankee Stadium three times. That’s around 150,000 appointments. I’ve performed over 7,000 surgeries.  No wonder I’m so tired some days.  Those numbers are really hard to fathom.  Yet, nearly every day I see a patient that presents with a problem I’ve rarely or never seen before.  It takes constant research, dedication and continual re-education to stay current and provide the best, up-to-date care for every single one of my patients.  You really can learn something new every day. I make it a point to. 

That’s why it’s still called practice. No matter how much I know there’s still more to learn.  Being a good doctor is a combination of art, science and sometimes luck. Practice makes perfect. The new challenges every day brings remind me that I’ll never be perfect. Even after thirty years I’ll keep practicing.


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    Dr. James Zgoda

    Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. Animal Behavior 1980 Rutgers Univ., M.S. Zoology 1981 Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, D.V.M., 1985 Owner and chief veterinarian of Otterkill Animal Hospital in Campbell Hall, NY ... Read Full
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