Most medical shows drive me nuts. They’re usually melodramatic soap operas with stethoscopes, scrubs and defibrillator paddles. They don’t portray medical reality any more than Miami Vice or Hawaii 5-0 portrayed true police work. It got to the point that my wife banned me from watching House because I spent the entire show yelling at the screen: “No, nobody starts an experimental treatment on a coin-toss hunch!” “No intern is able to perform a brain biopsy to diagnose an exotic parasite!” A recent VetzInsight post highlighted the problems with medical shows. It got me thinking – are the veterinary “reality” shows any better? Sadly, the answer is probably not.
Now, I have a small insight into the world of veterinary reality TV because I was there at the inception. In the mid-90s, I was featured in several episodes of Animal Doctor – an Australian fore-runner to the current crop of veterinary reality TV. For two weeks, Tom Burlinson (of Man from Snowy River fame) hung around the veterinary school where I was working as an internist/cardiologist. The film crew filmed a dozen or so cases that I was managing. In one instance, I vividly recall doing a spinal tap on a Kelpie with suspected meningitis, and being asked to repeat the hand-off of the tube with the CSF, while telling the student to “get this to the lab, stat!” for dramatic effect. I’d never uttered the word “stat!” in my life prior to this request! At the end of the filming, several cases had resolved, several patients had been euthanized, and some cases were still open, awaiting a final diagnosis.
When I saw the finished product on TV, the producers had carefully selected only those cases with a happy ending (oops, I mean a successful outcome). Anything that had been euthanized or diagnosed with a terminal condition was curiously omitted from the final show (the meningitic Kelpie made a recovery and was featured in one episode. Several of my veterinary classmates started yelling “Stat!” at me, whenever they saw me - oh, the cruelty of fame!
Last Thanksgiving, in between helpings of turkey and stuffing, I happened across an episode of Bondi Vet (seen in the U.S. as Dr. Chris Pet Vet). The 6’ 2” (or 6 ’5”, depending on your source) Dr. Chris Brown is much more telegenic than I am. He is handsome, buff and lives near a surf beach where he surfs daily. He’s a hunk! (That last was an editorial comment by our editor, who apparently appreciates Dr. Chris a bit too much.) The episode I saw featured a small stray kitten that had been found abandoned and dropped off by a concerned Samaritan. The kitten was lame, and it was clear that it had a broken leg but was otherwise just fine. Nevertheless, for three-quarters of the episode, Dr. Chris dramatized the “possible hyperthermia, dehydration, and maybe spinal injuries” that the kitten clearly was not suffering from. Any 8th grader would be smart enough to figure this out (which makes me wonder - Do the producers think we’re not smarter than an 8th grader?). Finally, with radiographic confirmation of a fractured femur, the broken leg was repaired and the kitten recovered without issue. It’s something that I, or any other veterinarian not on TV, would have managed in a quarter of the time with none of the melodrama. Of course, that doesn’t make for gripping, life-and-death TV, does it?
Veterinarians on TV aren’t portrayed the same as physicians in ER suites. There is no pediatrician George Clooney (although Dr. Chris probably comes close). There are few cries of “Dr. Greene to ICU, stat!” or “He’s coding!” or “5cc adrenalin push!” Gurneys are not slamming through swinging doors. But the portrayal of the professional and sometimes personal lives of veterinarians is no closer to reality than the medical dramas with high production values and large budgets. It is still a made-for-TV situation. It’s not real. Of course, if you’re lucky, your vet will look like Dr. Chris, Bondi Vet.
So the next time you’re watching a supposed “reality TV” show featuring veterinarians, listen to that little voice that’s telling you this just seems a tad too dramatic and consider turning off the TV stat.
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VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.