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
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
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