If there ever was a poster child for “old timer” in veterinary medicine it would have to be Dr. Jan Pol. As far as I can tell, no one else is so gleefully in the running for a designation that denotes a pigheaded unwillingness to practice medicine to modern standards.
In case you don’t know Dr. Pol, that’s quite all right. It’s probably because you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the kind of reality television programming that passes for infotainment these days. Which can only be a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.
But I digress …
Dr. Jan Pol, AKA “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” as his reality show on National Geographic Wild is billed, is all about an “old school” veterinarian’s way with the animals, James Herriot-style. Which makes for undeniably compelling content –– for reality TV or otherwise –– if only if Dr. Pol weren’t so … well … old school.
Veterinarians have been complaining about Dr. Pol since the very first episodes revealed that his methods –– how shall I put it? –– glaringly ignored many of modern veterinary medicine’s standards of practice.
“Atrocious,” “appalling,” “absolutely unforgivable,” and “embarrassing” have all been used by fellow veterinarians to describe Pol’s version of veterinary care. They decry the mass media exposition of old world ways like his as misleading to the general public. Dr. Pol, they say, does not represent the profession’s high standards.
Lax aseptic technique, a free hand with steroids, and minimal attention to anesthetic and pain relief protocols are a few examples that explain why most veterinarians I know agree Dr. Pol delivers substandard care. It also explains why so many veterinarians have called on Nat Geo Wild to cancel his show.
But it’s not just veterinarians. Plenty of in-the-know pet owners are concerned, too. Here’s one typical non-vet comment (this one appeared in the community forum over at DVM360.com):
“Dr. Pol (The Incredible....NOT)
Dr Pol sucks! He doesn't care about animals. He uses a rubber band on a bulls balls! Now people are doing that to their dogs, cats and domestic animals. I saw someone do that to a dog’s tail! Please take him off the air! I saw a cow whose uterus came out and he was putting it back into her and ripped it. He went into his truck and got a needle "from somewhere in the truck" and proceeded to sew her up with no anesthesia or pain meds and NOT SANITARY! REALLY NOTHING INCREDIBLE ABOUT THIS BLOKE!”
This kind of viewership backlash is impressive enough. But when owners of Dr. Pol’s patients allege incompetence and licensing officials are asked to step in, the ante gets upped; higher still when the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs serves him with probation for negligence and incompetence related to an April 2010 incident in which he egregiously mismanaged the case of a pregnant dog. (Her pups died after Dr. Pol repeatedly failed to perform a C-section despite clear evidence of fetal stress.)
According to the state of Michigan, Dr. Pol misread an ultrasound, inappropriately treated his patient, didn’t keep adequate records, and failed to ensure that his staff kept proper documentation of telephone calls in his treatment records.
In his defense, Dr. Pol claims that his misdeeds all came down to minor record-keeping infractions and that the whole debacle was engineered by a rival colleague who “sicced” the Board on him, intimating that professional jealousy is at the root of his troubles. But he goes further still, claiming that veterinarians should not –– indeed, cannot –– take issue with his methods. After all, this is how he’s practiced his whole career.
Ignorance of one’s own shortcomings is bad enough –– especially when they impact animal welfare directly –– but it’s worse knowing that his network backs him unreservedly, if cluelessly, in spite of serious complaints, including the one still lingering on his license:
As National Geographic Wild’s Rajul Mistry explained blithely to DVM Newsmagazine, “The recent fine placed on Dr. Pol is due to an administrative complaint, not malpractice or misdiagnosis.” (A fine legal point I’m sure the owners of ten now-dead pups would take issue with.) Meanwhile, he continued to assert the network’s support for Dr. Pol, crowing that “The show is currently the No. 1 show on Nat Geo Wild and we hope it has a long and successful future as part of our network.”
To be sure, the network’s giddy glorification of Dr. Pol’s cowboy style rankles, but it’s the the flippant dismissal of animal suffering that really boils my blood. More so when Dr. Pol pleads innocence based on semantics, regulatory technicalities, and, as he continually claims, the fact that his show is intended as entertainment and should be viewed in that light alone.
Just TV, Dr. Pol?
If so, then I’m forced to conclude that perhaps the good doctor shouldn’t be allowed to practice on any real patients.