I’m a sucker for a good story. I love mythology. I love superhero movies. I love odysseys and sagas and epics from Homer to Neil Gaiman, Aesop to Joseph Campbell, Scheherazade to Stan Lee.

I read nonfiction too. I read about presidents and Nobel laureates and titans of business. I read about British country doctors and American revolutionaries and South African political leaders. I read about philosophy and decision-making and economics. I read, what seems to me, fairly often.

And sometimes I read about veterinarians on message boards or social media or in veterinary websites or publications. Often these stories are meant to be inspiring or uplifting or fulfilling. They’re meant to set an example for others to follow or imitate, of achievement to which we may aspire. But sometimes they stray a little far from fact in a way that can be troubling.

Sometimes I read of these things and sometimes they fall a little bit wide of the truth. Details of failure or loss or personal troubles not overcome are omitted. Stories about how veterinary medicine resulted in professional success but a failed marriage or lost friendship omit facts of infidelity or addiction or personal character flaws. Stories of veterinary medical triumph include the virtues of unrelenting, martyring work ethic and lack any acknowledgment to the support of spouse, mentor, classmates, colleagues, friends, or family. Stories of business or research accomplishment gloss over the incredible good fortune to have been in the right place at the right time. 

When we tell these stories of ourselves and our profession I think we ought to be cognizant and acknowledging of our humanity. You can work hard and be lucky. You can be smart and dedicated and still suffer from depression or mental illness. You can be a great doctor and an addict. You can work hard and fail. You can care and fail. You can be right and fail. You can fail and survive. You can fail and go on to succeed. You can simultaneously experience failure in some areas of your life while succeeding in others. In relating our stories I worry we sometimes spend a bit too much time polishing and displaying the highlight reel version of ourselves and neglect to cultivate humility, and in doing so set an unattainable standard for ourselves and our colleagues. 

I mentioned I love my heroes and a good story. But I think our stories have one kind of effect when we know they are gilded fiction, and another when we treat them as though they are an unadorned retelling of fact. It can be, I believe, harmful to paint purportedly realistic pictures of ourselves that omit the flaws and wrinkles and scars. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t failed or struggled or suffered to succeed, and I think we ought to be honest with one another about that.

I’m a sucker for a good story, and I think the stories we etch in the written word matter a great deal.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

William Tancredi, DVM


William Tancredi is a small animal veterinarian in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he operates Old Ridge Veterinary Services. His pastimes include reading, spending time with his animals, and he’s getting better at being nicer to people in parking garages.