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Nexus Vol 14 No 6 October/November 2007
Dr Douglas Bryden
From PGFVS newsletter The Director - April 2001:
Former Director of the Post Graduate Foundation, Dr Douglas Bryden, was officially honoured for his contribution to veterinary science with membership of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM). The award was based on the outstanding contributions in clinical practice and continuing education made by Dr Bryden throughout his extensive career as a veterinarian. Dr Bryden has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards throughout his career, including the Gilruth Prize in 1994, the highest award of the AVA. I had the good fortune of meeting and interviewing Dr Bryden, to discover the secrets of success and learn more about the man behind the award.
It is fitting that Doug Bryden began his career as a schoolteacher working in the rural townships. In these areas the school was a community coordinating centre, and he found himself educating and leading the community, particularly with regard to agricultural matters - a role that he naturally took to. With an orchardist father and a veterinarian brother, Doug had an increasing desire to become involved in the agricultural 'scene', and to do a lot of fieldwork. Thus he was drawn to the same course of study as his brother.
Given the accolades that mark the path of Doug's career, it is intriguing to learn of the doubts he had about pursuing a career in veterinary science. "I wasn't one hundred percent sure just how I would do it," he admits, "but I knew that being a veterinarian would be an incredible challenge, both mentally and physically - I wanted to meet the challenge". Doug was fortunate to have a patient mentor in his brother, John, who had graduated one year before Doug enrolled in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. When Doug told John and his wife of his decision, they were "surprised, amazed and delighted", and John faithfully wrote to Doug, mailing biochemistry tips from overseas and arranging prac work at the top studs. Even as an early graduate, if Doug were unsure about any of his equine cases he would invite John to look them over: "It was like having a personal tutor in equine medicine at your doorstep, and he was always there to bounce ideas off". Doug also believes that his previous life experience was a critical factor in his success as a student. "Had I enrolled straight from school, I don't think I would have done at all as well", he says.
Even as a student, Doug took charge of his own learning, making an effort to understand the implications of what he learned, and approaching mentors with different areas of expertise. As a student he showed remarkable foresight. He observed that veterinarians did not always show up well against AI contractors because AI was a skill that vets simply weren't trained to do. During his university holidays Doug completed the training program at the AI Centre for NSW Agriculture. As a practitioner several years later, Doug offered an AI service for dairy farmers and found that clients preferred his service to that of licensed AI-only contractors.
Doug graduated at the end of 1963, and spent the first six months of his career in Orange, where he had spent many of his undergraduate holidays observing in the busy, general mixed practice. He recalls that his position was "not unlike 'James Herriot' style although we had more medications and procedures available to us". Fortunately this was a rather "graduate friendly" practice, run by a principal who recognised the value of the young graduates that he took on. "The principal looked to the two of us who were just out of vet school to show the way in some of the new things which we had learnt in our final years," said Doug. These included bone pinning and the development of a practice laboratory. "Something which I felt was great advice for a new graduate, was to understand how important it is to get to the source of the problem, and to show that you were well on the right track and in command of the situation on the first visit," he adds.
His desire was to establish a practice on his own and Doug wasted no time in doing so. As a graduate of sixth months, he established a practice in Tamworth in July 1964. The location proved to be an excellent choice. At the time Tamworth was the second regional town in Australia to have two practices. The practice was primarily large animal, and also serviced the large poultry industry in the area. Doug soon received requests to set up a practice in Quirindi, and another in Barraba, which he did using aircraft from his Tamworth practice - a true "flying veterinarian" service.
Doug currently holds a Command Instrument Rating, and continues to fly. He was fortunate to learn to fly on a Tiger Moth, flown from Newcastle to Orange for lessons every few weeks, where he would arrange a private lesson. He gained his private license in January 1959, just before he began studying veterinary science, perhaps without knowing that the ability to fly would enable him to provide an outstanding veterinary service. There were a number of close calls in the plane - he vividly recounts a trip home from Sydney to Tamworth one night. A short circuit caused the lights to go out and the cabin to fill with fumes, while the plane hurtled through thick cloud. He is remarkably calm about this experience: "My instructors had been good and carrying out the correct procedures enabled us to proceed safely in each case".
As Doug's reputation grew, so did his list of clients, which included work for studs, at the racetrack, and for dairies. When the meat industry crashed in 1973, work dropped off and the practice responded by increasing the service provided to clients in small animals. At this time the Post Graduate Foundation proved an excellent educational resource, and the vets from Doug's practice attended many seminars about small animal patients in Sydney. They took advantage of the "constant stream of undergraduates from Sydney and Brisbane" who undertook prac work in the practice to learn the principles of small animal medicine and surgery. This "reverse mentoring" system proved successful, as Doug attests. "These young veterinarians injected a lot of information and ideas into the practice".
Later in the seventies, the practice was asked to attend an international pig fair, and three companies requested routine services as a result of their involvement. The practice had not dealt with the pig industry previously, but Doug saw this as another opportunity to learn. The practice charged clients a moderate rate, "we told them that we weren't worth any more than that" said Doug. They visited piggeries on a fortnightly or monthly basis, and identified 'resource people' in the field. Doug was having a cuppa with one of his piggery clients one afternoon, who turned to him and said, "Well, Doug, I don't know if you're making any money out of your pig service, but we certainly are!!!" Doug's strategy to the practice was simple but effective: do your research, always get practical advice, get back up advice, call the experts and even use consultants. This recipe saw the practice servicing eleven piggeries on a weekly to monthly basis, allowing the vets to become part of the management team and to solve problems before they arose.
Throughout his career as a practitioner, Doug ensured that the practice was an education environment -- they subscribed to 13 journals, produced educational leaflets, ran field groups and attended courses. He was an enthusiastic customer of the Post Graduate Foundation during this time.
In 1972 the PGF asked the New England Branch of the AVA to plan a course on Pig Production. Doug was seated beside Dr Tom Hungerford at the conference dinner. Dr Hungerford obviously saw a great deal of potential in Douglas Bryden and encouraged him to sit the College exams. The result of this meeting for Doug was eighteen months of study, punctuated by a seven week PGF tour of North America and the UK for beef cattle veterinarians. He obtained Membership of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in 1974. Although his membership did not have a direct effect on clients, Doug says that "it made a difference to my understanding of the cattle work I was doing and gave me confidence to approach this work with more assurance".
Doug's reputation for producing excellent courses grew, and he was invited to plan and run a course on artifical breeding in cattle in Tamworth, 1974. Other requests followed and that year he became Honorary Secretary of the PGF. Doug's energy, organisational skills, flair for communication and expertise as a veterinarian rendered him instantly indispensable to the Foundation. He was persuaded to train as Dr Hungerford's understudy, and during this period became Associate Director of the PGF. Initially Doug commuted to Sydney from Tamworth, and did most of his work from home.
Meanwhile the PGF received increasing international recognition. Doug attributes this partly to the fact that the PGF flew out overseas experts, to provide continuing education of the most up-to-date and internationally high standard. However, he also believes that the quality of the audience was just as, if not more important. "The international speakers recognised the quality of the audience," he said, "Australian vets ask penetrating questions, they challenge people ... and they want their continuing education; they're determined and they'll get it one way or another".
Such was the reputation of continuing veterinary education in Australia that Doug was elected Chairman of the Fifth United Nations Consultation on Veterinary Education in Rome during 1993. When nominated, he was "elated and fearful at such an enormous task". "I thought about it and thought, well, if they have faith in me, I should be able to do it", adds Doug. He recalls the view from the head of the table as he made his opening address:
"I could see the Circo Massimo and the ruins of the Forum and the Palatine Hill, and I felt the antiquity of the scene and the long history of this great city fill me with resolve to make this a really momentous consultation".
Doug's contributions during his term as Director of the PGF were indeed momentous. He initiated and toiled away at innovative projects such as the Distance Education program, the Vade Mecum series C, the Control and Therapy series, TimeOut courses, the PGF Article Summaries and the website. He worked from 6.15 every morning, with, in the words of Dr Tom Hungerford, "a seemingly unlimited driving force, immune to weariness or 'burn-out'".
Doug's capacity for hard work was supported by a strong belief in the value of continuing education and lifelong learning, and his ability to implement creative programs. He always valued the PGF as a dynamic organisation which fostered exciting ideas: "it was the organisation that sparked the imagination of so many. Some groups like the AEVA were formed at our meetings or with PGF help. The PGF worked with many groups such as the acupuncture and greyhound societies, the pig group, Chapters of the College like cattle and pharmacology - it has always applauded vets who wanted to do continuing education."
It would be easy to conclude that Dr Douglas Bryden has worked hard and reached the pinnacle of his career, having achieved "success". However, the secret to Doug's success is his absolute commitment to learning - and this has driven him from the outset. By constantly identifying his own weaknesses, and being determined and prepared to do something to rectify these as they arise, (whether that be to attend a course, find a good mentor, hire a consultant or become an expert in an unfamiliar field) Doug has been able to make outstanding contributions to his profession and community. To make a difference, explains Doug, one needs "a constant awareness of the contribution your community and clients require of you".
This also shows in his ability to relate to colleagues. Staff at the PGF remarked on his managerial methods. "DB (as he is fondly known) has a way of asking you to do things - he says that he knows you can do this, and that you can get it done now, and he has so much faith that you can't refuse him - and then when you do it he is so genuinely thankful for you doing it and it makes you feel so good", said Melissa Eaton.
Having interviewed Doug Bryden I felt there is another factor at play here, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It appeared later, during an exchange of emails, where Doug casually added: "I refereed rugby every Saturday in the winter season for 24 years without missing one appointment and I have always felt this was good for my practice". If there is indeed a "secret" to Doug Bryden's success, I believe it lies therein.
By Anne Quain