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Bartlett Address 2001
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Opportunities to Learn

R. S. Youngquist


To be the recipient of an award named in tribute to Dr. David E. Bartlett and the other founding members of the American College of Theriogenologists is a singular honor. To even be among those considered is humbling enough but to be selected by one’s peers is indeed overwhelming. A professor once told me that one of the great assets of the English language is its huge vocabulary, which provides an appropriate and precise word for every situation. Unfortunately, I don’t believe she was correct as I have searched through my unabridged dictionary and thesaurus and am unable to find the words to fully express my appreciation.


I consider it one of my life’s privileges to have been acquainted with Dr. Bartlett through our mutual membership in the Society for Theriogenology and the ACT. Dr. Bartlett and his colleagues in the veterinary department at American Breeder’s Service were kind enough to entertain several of our veterinary students and resident veterinarians during off campus experiences. By extension, I had the privilege of having Dr. Bartlett’s son, Paul, as a veterinary student some years ago.


I recall the meeting of the ACT Executive Board when Dr. Willis Parker arrived with a substantial check from the W. R. Grace Company and the proposal to endow the David E. Bartlett Lecture as an annual event. At the time, the list of the first score of recipients seemed to me obvious and my mental list of nearly all of the founding and many charter diplomates of the ACT and others have in their turn delivered the annual Bartlett Lecture. One tends to associate the Bartlett Lecture with the rites of retirement, but despite occasional aches and pains, changes in the Social Security regulations have made even early retirement nearly a decade away. I was absolutely stunned by Dr. Kloppe’s call and it has since occurred to me that perhaps someone may know more about my retirement schedule than I do.


I unintentionally made it difficult to be found as I spent the last part of July and early August in the Canadian Rockies in Banff and Yoho National Parks, more pleasing places to camp and hike I cannot imagine. Lloyd Kloppe exhausted every modern means of communication at his disposal, telephone answering machines, voice mail, e-mail, to no avail and finally resorted to contacting my daughter who tracked us down after a few days in Nebraska. Perhaps it was not the most traditional way of being notified, but the request for a manuscript by 31 August doesn’t allow a great deal of rumination about content. As an aside, many of you have fallen for the ruse that Dr. Kloppe is only an excellent equine practitioner and leader of the Society, but I can assure you that he does have a dark side and in his youth, Dr. Kloppe was quite an accomplished heifer wrangler and blood sample collector.


In an attempt to gain inspiration, I first reread all of the previous Bartlett Lectures from the first delivered in 1984 by Dr. Bartlett himself to the most recent delivered last year in San Antonio by Dean Shirley Johnston. I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have been a contemporary of these people. I have had the privilege of serving on the same faculty as several and have had the opportunity to serve with several others on the ACT board. Many anecdotes involving my interaction under various circumstances with the previous recipients came to mind. Retelling need not clutter these proceedings, but these are memories I will continue to cherish.


Most of the lectures follow a similar outline. All express the surprise of being selected (I can assure you that the surprise is genuine); all express their gratitude for the honor (I can assure you that the gratitude is genuine); and all then express terror at the prospect of having to prepare and deliver an address to an audience of their friends and colleagues (and I can further assure you that the terror is genuine). When faced with the prospect of an oral presentation, one might wish for the terse, pithy and ironic style of the oral essays by the Massachusetts psychiatrist or the mellifluous, down-home stories from the elementary school teacher from South Georgia that I hear on Morning Edition or All Things Considered during my drive to and from work several times each week.  Or, one might hope for the sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, but always on-target prose and poetry of Baxter Black who is always introduced as a "former large animal veterinarian” (I’m not sure how one becomes a "former large animal veterinarian”; I thought the hoof prints and peculiar odors associated with the vocation marked one for life). But sadly, none of these options is possible and I will have to make do with the meager talents available to me.


As an academician, one has the opportunity (obligation) to attend a number of speeches, primarily at graduation. A situation common to many graduation speeches goes something like the following: the speaker pauses, leans forward, and looks over his/her reading glasses at the graduates and then at the assembled audience and says, "If you don’t remember anything else I’ve said here today, remember this…,” and then goes on to deliver some pearl of wisdom. I’ve survived countless graduation speeches and only remember a few things that speakers have said. One applies here. At my own graduation, now thirty years  past, a clergyman was called to the podium to offer an invocation. From his dress, I would guess that he was not the CEO of the organization, but was somewhere in middle management. He rose, turned his palms up in supplication, lifted his eyes to the sky, and said, "Lord, grant those of us who are uncomfortable with public prayer patience, and those of us who offer public prayer brevity.”


Then, it is traditional to offer some personal insights with regard to one’s upbringing and career. Those who are interested can listen to a description of my genesis nearly every week on A Prairie Home Companion. I am convinced that Garrison Keillor used my hometown and the town in Minnesota where I began my career as a veterinarian as models for the mythical Lake Wobegon where the descendants of Scandinavian and German farmers continue their traditions. Those in the audience who must write service invoices for clients whose last names contain doubled vowels and silent "j’s” will understand and those who do not are likely not interested.


Several of the previous lecturers have recounted the formation of the Rocky Mountain Society for the Study of Breeding Soundness of Bulls, which after several iterations became the organization we know today as the Society for Theriogenology. I came to the organization later and do not have the experience of those formative times. The heavy lifting had already been done and those if my vintage have been able to reap the benefits of associating themselves with a vibrant professional organization.  An experience I do regret missing was hearing the lecture scheduled to be delivered by Dr. Harold Hill entitled "Volume C, No. 100; Published when the time permits and the spirit moves” at the Society for Theriogenology meeting in 1979 which was canceled by the arrival of Hurricane Frederic in Mobile Bay. In his manuscript, Dr. Hill recounts the early history of the organization and those who have access to those proceedings will find the paper interesting and instructive.


As I have thought about what I would like to say today, a number ideas have come along only to be discarded as trite or interesting only to me. The first two drafts of this paper were insufferable and the most recent only slightly improved. The theme that keeps returning is the number of superb opportunities to gain knowledge that have been available to me because I chose to become a veterinarian and a theriogenologist. We are all in the business of transferring knowledge whether it is as academic clinicians in the lecture hall and laboratory, basic scientists who transfer their new knowledge to the profession by way of presentations or publications, or practitioners who share their knowledge with their clients.


Any professional success I might enjoy is due primarily to those with whom I have been lucky enough to be affiliated. I have tried to learn and apply something from all of the people with whom I have had contact. Some lessons have been positive, some negative. Even encounters with the occasional scoundrel have been instructive. I would hasten to add that only a very few of them have been veterinarians and none were theriogenologists.   


As a veterinary student, I was lucky to have had excellent role models. Professor Frank Ramsey demonstrated that an academic career was purposeful and that mediocrity was to be avoided. Professor Mac Emmerson, one of the pioneers in clinical veterinary reproduction but a radiologist when I knew him, was a consummate and gracious gentleman. The theriogenologists at Iowa State University, Tracy Clark and Larry Evans, obviously enjoyed their work.


After graduation and a year in practice, I was lucky to be accepted into a training program where I could benefit from the clinical skills and practical wisdom of C. J. (Bush) Bierschwal, Charlie Martin (both previous Bartlett Lecturers) and Ed Mather. I have further profited from the companionship and knowledge of a long list of resident veterinarians, most of whom are now distinguished practitioners, industrial veterinarians, and academic clinicians, and fellow faculty clinicians during the past three decades at the University of Missouri. Bright and energetic veterinary students are a constant source of inspiration to try to keep the curriculum current and prepare them for the profession as it exists in the twenty-first century. It is indeed gratifying to see former students who were not deterred by their experiences while in school and who are now leaders in the profession and in the specialty of theriogenology.


I am also extremely fortunate to have to have been able to work with a group of skilled and unselfish collaborators in the Animal Sciences Department. Primarily with Dr. Allen Garverick and his students, but also with other colleagues in the College of Agriculture, I have had the opportunity to combine clinical applications with more basic research approaches and participate in research projects that were interesting and possibly useful. In addition, I have had the opportunity to serve as a member of numerous graduate committees and work with some very talented graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. Comprehensive examinations are an excellent educational opportunity for both the candidate and the committee. Such occasions also serve as an opportunity for my colleagues to again reexamine the data that show first-service pregnancy rates in dairy cows were approximately 50% when I began as an assistant professor and have plunged to the neighborhood of 25% currently.


Beyond the campus, I was fortunate to become a member of the American College of Theriogenologist at a time when the opportunities to participate in the business of the college were abundant. My years on the examination committee and later as an officer were most instructional. The opportunities for continuing education while a member of the examination committee were without parallel. Perhaps unappreciated by the candidates, preparation and grading of the examinations have improved markedly during the intervening years, but the bedevilment of an intense group of primarily food-animal oriented clinicians trying to prepare cogent and pertinent test items related to dogs and horses is not an experience soon forgotten.


My time as secretary of the college was in the days before professional management and  the business of the college had to be conducted with an IBM typewriter (and a good deal of correction fluid) through the postal service. No e-mail, no fax, difficult access to Federal Express. I recall the time when Ron Elmore obtained the department’s first personal computer. Ostensibly, its purpose was to maintain breeding and palpation records, but we found that it could be used to store and print address labels for mailings to the members of the college. Progress was rapid in those days, and soon the first word processors came available so multiple letters could be prepared but each page of stationary had to be hand-fed into the printer. The programs were simplistic. The first one would only print uppercase letters and only an extra-cost upgrade available some time later allowed the recipient to feel that he or she was not being shouted at. Lack of anything remotely like a spell-check program coupled with deficient proofreading skills allowed wide dispersion of numerous and sometimes awkward typographical errors. But the members of the college were tolerant. I think one of the hallmarks of progress of the organization is to have matured sufficiently to be able to retain the services of professional managers and allow the volunteer leadership to concentrate on programs and planning and leave operation of the organization to those who do it well.


Similarly, it has been my high privilege to interact with the talented veterinarians who have served on the Board of Directors of the Society for Theriogenology for nearly a decade. Trying to gather material for the newsletter drives one to the literature and encounters with topics that would otherwise pass unnoticed. Numerous colleagues have responded generously with contributions to the educational content of the newsletter when requested and I will take this opportunity to publicly thank them for their help.


I’m not sure why editors at W.B. Saunders asked me to compile the textbook Current Therapy in Large Animal Theriogenology (probably the first ten people they asked were astute enough to turn them down), but the experience did indeed provide (and continues to provide) an educational opportunity unlike any other. The most important lesson from that experience is the enormous generosity of the section editors and nearly 150 contributing authors, many of who are attending this meeting. I continue to be encouraged by the amount of effort they expend for precious little but the satisfaction of providing a current reference for their specialty. Less important educational experiences include excursions into the subtleties of the English language, the elasticity of deadlines, and the challenge of searching out accurate bibliographic citations for obscure publications. 


Near the end of these presentations, if the conventional outline were followed, it is traditional to offer some philosophical comments. If you will allow, a comment on the use of the word "theriogenology.” From time to time, frustration is expressed at various levels that the public and even some of our fellow veterinarians do not know what the word "theriogenology’ means. Probably only a few here know what an "apiarist,” a "philatelist,” and a "numismatologist” are but most of us recognize a beekeeper, a stamp collector, and a coin collector. Education is sometimes a slow process, but I believe that if we link a phrase something like "dedicated to the study of animal reproduction” to the word "theriogenology” often enough, the audience will eventually understand.


In closing, please know that I sincerely appreciate being selected to receive the David E. Bartlett Award in 2001. I thank you all for the privilege of your counsel and companionship for the past thirty years and hope to continue to learn from you for many more.


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