The Vet as Problem Solver


Over the past 17 years, whenever I travel or otherwise find myself out and about, people often ask, “What’s your job?” When I was a neophyte in the profession, I would answer straightforwardly: “I’m a veterinarian.” As my career progressed, my answer to this question became more nuanced. I specify that I practice clinical medicine and perform surgery with dogs and cats. Last week, a co-worker asked me to comment on one of her essays for admission into veterinary school; when she asked what veterinarians do, I answered without hesitation: “We are problem solvers.” I could see in her eyes that a light bulb had clicked on.

The question arose while we were looking at why our practice management software was not loading on her computer. I noted that the computer is our patient and that it is not well. First, we determine the problem; in this case, the software was not opening. We started with the fundamentals: were the cords connected properly? Next, we assessed the functionality of other programs on the computer, with positive results; a variety of applications opened successfully. Then, we investigated internet access; this was the source of the problem. We effectively performed a physical examination on the computer and ran a lab test: opening a web browser window. Upon opening system preferences, we learned that although the network signal was strong, this computer was not connected to it. With one additional click, the practice management software began working as normal.

I turned to my co-worker and said, “This is how we approach our cases. First, identify the problem; look for other issues associated with the primary problem; perform a physical exam; map out possible diagnoses; run appropriate tests; and interpret these data to derive a solution.” I added, “This is no different than when a puppy comes in with diarrhea, a condition with many causes, including parasites, food-based distress, and foreign bodies. Collecting a detailed history and working through a case systematically are the cornerstones of our work. Every patient has one or more problems that requires careful analyses and potential solutions.”

The role of a veterinarian extends beyond seeing ill patients. In this profession, we need to be “Jills” or “Jacks” of all trades. After addressing the computer issue, I met with a person whose cat was urinating outside of the litter box. Then, I consulted with our hospital administrator to finalize next month’s schedule, balancing our clinical responsibilities while coordinating staff requests for time off. Each of these situations represent problems that require thoughtful solutions.

My official title is “veterinarian,” but as demonstrated above, my true role is “problem solver.” So Sydney, you can’t copy this word-for-word, but this is my answer to your essay question.

Dr. Dan Teich is the Medical Director for District Veterinary Hospital, Eastern Market. He is a Hill resident and can be seen walking to work with Dr. Brian, his golden retriever sidekick.