By Dr. Pierre Bland

I was invited to participate in an adoption event in Ft. Lauderdale recently. It was a huge annual event and the invitation was extended by its founder and organizer. He was aware of my practice and some of the unique services I offered, and thought it would be a great fit for both the event and me. Since part of being a successful veterinarian is self-promotion, I thought accepting the invitation was worthwhile.

I arrived at the venue early the morning of the event. It was a Sunday, so there were great expectations for attendance from the various vendors and participating animal-rescue organizations. Attendance the previous year had topped 100,000, so expectations were high.

I soon realized I was the sole veterinarian in attendance, which was surprising. No, I didn’t really want to give up my only day off, but thought the opportunity to give back and network with a potentially huge group of pet owners and enthusiasts was worth the tradeoff.

I was shown to my designated table and set up my display of signage, business cards and brochures. When my area was finished, I changed into my signature work outfit: a dress shirt, bow tie, and a crisp white lab coat.

I soon realized the obvious: Dressed as I was, I stood out like a sore thumb in the ultra-casual shorts and T-shirt couture of late summer South Florida. Even though we were in an air-conditioned building, it quickly dawned on me it was going to be one of those days.

As the event opened to the public, visitation to my table was brisk. I received many compliments on my attire. A middle-aged African-American woman motioned to me and whispered in my ear, “It makes me proud to see you looking so good doctor. Keep up the good work.”

I guess word got around and the event organizer asked me if I would be willing to take the stage and speak about my practice. I accepted the invitation. Upon completion of my presentation, an older African-American gentleman met me as I left the stage. He exclaimed how happy he was “to see a brother onstage,” and asked if I would be around. I told him I would be there all day. I returned to my table and continued to meet and greet,

About an hour passed and I noticed the gentleman was back and was not alone. He had returned with eight young African-American men and women ranging from as young as eight to preteens. They too stood out like a “sore thumb,” all dressed like they were fresh from attending church.

He introduced the group to me en masse and I took the opportunity to speak with each of the young men and women, shaking the hand of every one of his young charges, and thanking them for coming to see me. As they departed, the group exclaimed “Thank you Dr. Bland,” in that sing-song way only kids can. I was touched in a way that brought tears to my eyes as I waved goodbye.

I can honestly say I have never considered myself a role model; maybe more of an object lesson, but never a role model. You never know what you or your presence may mean to someone. I just try to do me as best I can and some days are better than others.

I guess I must have hit the nail on the head that day. As the day closed, the event organizer thanked me for my participation and remarked that from his observations and feedback it seemed I had had a very good day.

“Yes,” I replied. “Best day ever!”