Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday morning motivation: how to start a vet school with fifty pounds (well, in the 1800s anyway)

Ripley eats her dinner on the bench so her hungry canine housemate doesn't get it all first. And she has a GREAT view of the TV from this position.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about higher education resources and reforms (as you do), and lamenting my own list of things to do (who doesn’t do that?) so I was absolutely fascinated to read about the guy behind the Royal Dick vet school. He wasn’t wealthy but he saw a need for a vet school and just started one - and bankrolled the school with his own cash. I can’t see that happening today (though William Dick likely didn’t have to contend with the degree of bureaucracy around today, and probably didn’t have Youtube/Facebook/Twitter to distract him from just getting the job done).

The passage comes from Brian Wain’s “Vets in Kelso”, a book I can’t find in print (if anyone knows the details please let me know, it was published in the UK in 1986). [And if you're really impatient at least read the very last paragraph - but you'll probably want to read the whole thing to make sense of it].

Vets in Kelso by Brian Wain.
William Dick’s story is an interesting one. He was born in White Horse Close, Edinburgh in 1793 and educated locally. After leaving school he worked with his father, John, a farrier of unusual ability. William had a great interest in the ailments of horses and his father gave him a lot of encouragement to study them. Now the University City of Edinburgh at this time was a hot-bed of genius and sparked off an idea in the young man’s mind to found a veterinary school. Dr JohnBarclay, a director of the Highland Society, was sympathetic to the idea and did much to help him. He persuaded William to attend Professor Coleman’s course at the London Veterinary School. This School had been founded in 1791 by the Frenchman, Charles Vial de Sainbel, and was the only veterinary school in the British Isles at the time.
Young Dick completed his veterinary course satisfactorily and obtained his diploma. He then returned to Edinburgh and lectured to students on Veterinary matters for five years in two institutions, gaining valuable teaching experience. In 1823 the University authorities recognised the desirability of a veterinary school but not wishing to take action themselves referred the matter to the Highland Society. The latter approved a grant of 50 pounds to Dick to implement a course of lectures on veterinary science. Thus the Highland School’s Veterinary School came into being. William Dick, furnished with his father’s Clyde Street forge and tools of the trade for practical instruction, began his first course of lectures on the diseases of the horse, black cattle, sheep and other domestic animals. Twenty-five students attended the course of forty-six lectures for a fee of two gns.
On satisfactorily completing the course to the required standard Dick’s students received the “Certificate of the Highland Society”. The Highland Society were delighted with the School’s progress and publicised the venture, encouraging the intelligent working blacksmith. The School grew and by 1833 larger premises were needed and so a new lecture room, museum, dissecting room, infirmary and forge were constructed. These were paid for by Dick personally out of funds from his extensive private practice.
Regarding his professional skill and abilities it is written “He was head and shoulders above his contemporaries, his opinion was sought throughout the land, and in law suits his word was final.” By 1839 there were one hundred students at the School, and the titles of College and Professor were bestowed upon the School and lecturer in response to a student petition.
Dick never married but his elder sister Mary was a pillar of strength and looked after the finances of the School. In 1844 the Veterinary Art became a profession when the Royal Collegeof Veterinary Surgeons (R.C.V.S.) was established. One of the first undertakings of this governing body was to try to standardise the examinations of the Edinburgh and London Schools before allowing graduates membership of the R.C.V.S. This in practice was not successful and produced a great deal of friction between Edinburgh and London. Many of Dick’s students preferred the Highland Society’s Certificate rather than the Diploma of the Royal College. This unsatisfactory state of affairs was not resolved in Dick’s lifetime. It took until 1880 before the Highland Society Certificate was phased out and William Robertson of Kelso played a major role in sorting out the differences.
In 1865 there was an outbreak of cattle plague in England and the Highland Society asked Dick to go south and study it. The ageing professor who was suffering from heart disease went, but the exertion proved too much for him and he died on the 4th of April, 1866. Charnock Bradley later wrote that “the foundation of the Dick Vet was remarkable, for no wealthy man had endowed it: no public subscription list brought it into being: no appeal was made to or support given by a state: a famous University could not help. A poor man, the son of poor parents, started out on a venture supported by nothing more than a promise of 50 pounds. He cut his coat according to his cloth and continued so to cut it – weaving the cloth himself.”

It doesn't sound like much of a way to go but on the other hand William Dick was clearly a doer - so probably better that he went while working as I doubt he would have opted for a quiet retirement. Of course doing isn't everything and success isn't measured in the number of vet schools one has founded (thank goodness). Check out this fantastic interview with Bradley Viner on success in practice here.