By Dr. Pierre Bland
It is my belief and personal experience we can be our own greatest obstacles to success. I discovered this the hard way. I have achieved success and personal fulfillment at this stage of life because I finally learned how to get out of my own way and effectively utilize my talents and gifts rather than aimlessly exercise my ambitions. I equate this aimless exercise of ambition on my part with Kryptonite; the mythical radioactive remnants of the home world of Superman which is the only thing (other than the affections of Lois Lane) that can harm him. I came to the realization I am my own personal Kryptonite.
Although I have always known I wanted to be a veterinarian, I didn’t want to be just a practitioner. I have always thought of and seen myself as much more than a “dog doctor” as many still often suggest to my frustration and chagrin. I earned a medical degree and wanted to utilize it to make a difference as a scientist, not necessarily in the traditional venues offered veterinarians. The challenge I faced early in my career was I saw myself as described but the world, both professional and at large, did not. My professional goal was to utilize my skills in both the scientific and veterinary communities. I found I was accepted with open arms in the scientific community and not as well received in the veterinary community.
From the beginning of my career, I worked in the two communities as I had planned. My first full time position after graduation was as an epidemiologist for Georgia Department of Human Resources. I also held a position as a practitioner on weekends at a small animal clinic and occasionally worked evenings at an emergency clinic. In the mid-80s I was just as much a professional oddity as I am today. There were very few African- American practitioners in the area I lived. Even though institutional segregation was not as prevalent, self-segregation was very much alive. When I sought full time work as a practitioner, my efforts were unsuccessful and often met with statements of “…we are not sure how our clients would accept a black doctor.” or “…you should go practice on your side of town.” Needless to say I was frustrated and determined to establish myself as a practitioner. To prove my point, I decided to leave the relative professional safety of the scientific community and enter the veterinary community full time.
For several years, I toiled as a journey man veterinarian. My professional life consisted of a series of positions at clinics I was less than proud to hold due to the level of professionalism and the quality of medicine services delivered to patients or quality facilities at which I was no more than a cog in the machine which did not care what I thought, only in what I produced monetarily. To say I became jaded and bitter was an understatement. While I was gaining contribution I was making to society and the practice of veterinary medicine was negligible in my estimate. I came to the conclusion the world didn’t want me as a practitioner and returned to the community of science in which I was appreciated for my intellect and contributions, not marginalized due to the color of my skin.
The issue was not how the world saw me but how I saw myself. I was so busy chasing the dream, I failed to enjoy the rewards no matter how small and continue to dream. It was and is up to me to determine where I belong no matter what others think. I am a very good veterinarian as a result of being a product of both the scientific and veterinary communities. The best way to receive the opportunities not offered by others is to create them myself. Yes, it is scary while being both personally and financially challenging, but worth every ounce of angst and minute of lost sleep. Although I wish the realization had come sooner in life. It may not have come when I wanted it, but when it did arrive it was right on time.
I am sure I still harbor plenty of my own personal Kryptonite. I may even have a pocket full right now and not realize it. But now I know it exists and knowing is half the battle.
Dr. Pierre B. Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients. His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.