Is There a Doctor in the Barn?

John Pollock, V97

For Dr. John Pollock, V97, the large animal practice means not only responding to a variety of animal needs, but also building trust with animal owners. "You help make decisions that affect the lives of everyone on the family farm," he says. "That's a very satisfying part of my job." Below, a farmer gives a friendly send-off.

Back in 1987, Dr. John Pollock, fresh out of college with an economics degree, packed a backpack to travel around the world. If there was any question then about his future career plans, it was settled by the time he returned home two years later. He would be a large-animal veterinarian.

The decision, recalls Pollock, emerged from a pledge. Whenever he needed to earn money, he kept a deal: "I told myself, 'You can't do anything you could do at home,'" says Pollock, who grew up in a suburb of Boston. Following that promise, he found work in places such as a New Zealand sheep farm and a Sydney, Australia, racetrack. "I realized this work was perfect for me," says Pollock. "I never wanted to put on a suit and tie and breathe recycled air in a stuffy office; I wanted to use my head and my hands in an outdoor environment."

Today Pollock is one of six assistant professors at the Tufts Ambulatory Clinic. A 1997 graduate of the Veterinary School, and the first graduate to join the faculty, he came to the clinic from a mixed-animal practice (both large and small animals) in Vermont when he saw a great opportunity to focus on large animals. He also welcomed the new challenge to teach students and work with a "diverse and experienced" staff of Tufts veterinarians. "I saw the move back to Tufts," he says, "as a very good way to become a better doctor." Pollock has certainly found his niche here, bringing the requisite air of composure and confidence to teaching and practice. Like others on staff, he has many commitments, sometimes lecturing at the Veterinary School's main campus in North Grafton, Massachusetts, and demonstrating clinic skills in the school's barns.

But most often he starts the day inside the farmhouse that serves as central depot for the clinic, reviewing the day's assignments—anything from vaccinating dairy cows to examining a horse with lameness. The rest of the day will find him driving a team of veterinary students over the backroads of north central Connecticut making farm calls. Indeed, what's different about the large-animal practice from the small-animal, says Pollock, is summed up in the word ambulatory. Whether rain, snow or sleet, the veterinarians and students are on the move. And just as in any medical profession, there are those emergency middle-of-the night phone calls to help with a breached calf or a horse thrashing with colic. "You never know when an animal will present with illness," he says. "When you're called, you have to go."

And while the complexity of veterinary medicine for animals as diverse as llamas, cows, horses and bison is important to master, building trust is half the job."You need very good people skills to work with animals. The ability to communicate with clients about their animals' medical conditions and on the appropriate treatment in terms they can understand is imperative," he says. "I find it easy to talk with people and instill a feeling of honesty." For the many dairy farms he visits, that philosophy is particularly critical, he adds. "It's not like you're treating a small pet; you may be helping a sick dairy cow that is one of 80 head of cattle and a considerable asset in terms of milk production. You help make decisions that affect the lives of everyone on the family farm. That's a very satisfying part of my job." While most students don't have a farm background, he finds them "very eager" to learn. Few, however, will ultimately go into the profession he has chosen. The hours are long and unpredictable, and the income often less attractive than that of lucrative small animal practices.

"It takes a special kind of person to do what we do," he says. "You can make a living at it, but I don't do this for the money. I love the challenges of medicine combined with the fact that because we visit farms on a regular basis, we establish a much closer relationship with our clients. I think they also know that since we are Tufts vets and students, they will get the very best of care. People always enjoy seeing us pull up to the barn." -Laura Ferguson







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