December 15, 2001

 

 When veterinarians make the jump from medicine to media spokesperson

Posted Dec. 1, 2001

 

It all started out with a love for animals. Four people—the son of an Idaho farmer, a California native who loved to ham it up in front of a camera, a high school debater for the Future Farmers of America, and a Honolulu Army brat—all worked hard and pursued their dream to become veterinarians. And they did.

Dr. Marty Becker with his dogs Lllucky Boo, Sirloin, and ScooterDr. Marty Becker with his dogs Lllucky
Boo, Sirloin, and Scooter

Today, all four—Drs. Marty Becker, Jeff Werber, Jim Humphries, and Debbye Turner—are also television personalities, and media representatives for the veterinary profession.

Dr. Becker, a 1980 graduate of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, had established a series of successful clinics in southern Idaho and Utah with his partner, Dr. Bill Strobel.

"People started asking me to write about the various success strategies," Dr. Becker said. That led to a writing job at Veterinary Economics magazine, where he is currently the veterinary practice leadership editor.

But aside from the economics of the profession, Drs. Leo Bustad and R. K. Anderson, co-founders of the Delta Society, motivated and mentored Dr. Becker. They taught Dr. Becker about the human-animal bond, and it has been his passion ever since.

"When I graduated from veterinary school, my whole career was guided by the human-animal bond," he said. "It was my North Star."

Even while writing and lecturing all over the country about practice management and customer service, Dr. Becker was guided was by that bond.

After reading the popular "Chicken Soup for the Soul," Dr. Becker sent two copies of the book to the authors to sign for his children. The authors were already at work brainstorming and looking for co-authors for what would be their next book—one that involved stories about animals. Dr. Becker's name kept coming up in different circles, and the authors contacted him.

"We had a 3-hour phone call, we shook hands over the phone, and that's how it started." In 1998, "Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul" hit the bookshelves.

Almost simultaneously, a friend with whom he did charity work got him an audition for ABC network's "Good Morning America." Dr. Becker was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

"[At the audition], I wasn't showing any signs of stress," he said. "But they did one shot where they did a close-up of my hands, and [they] betrayed my nervousness."

His exposure on ABC led to numerous appearances on and in many major networks and publications in the United States. In addition, he has completed another book, due to be in stores early next year. Dr. Becker said colleagues review the information for segments and appearances he does across the nation.

"I have a phenomenal network that I lean on," he said. "I want to send my ideas out to make sure I have the most current thinking."

Dr. Jeff WerberDr. Jeff Werber

Someone who shares his thoughts is Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber. Dr. Werber has also had his share of media exposure, with an Emmy award to prove it.

The beginning of his media career started out of a drive to educate pet owners to revere the profession and to teach about veterinary preventive medicine.

"I graduated from UC-Davis in 1984 and felt like I was ready to save the world," he said. "If you went to people on the street and asked them who their veterinarian was, they'd say they didn't know, they just went to the hospital on the corner of so-and-so. If you asked who their pediatrician was, they'd know the name in a heartbeat."

He began writing a series of basic dog care videos, not knowing how they'd ever be produced. A client happened to be in the video business, and Dr. Werber showed him his script. The client loved it, and the tapes were produced and distributed to pet stores.

That video led to a guest spot on the old, syndicated "Hour Magazine" show. But Dr. Werber's biggest break came when client Leeza Gibbons asked him to come on the "Home Show" when she was guest hosting.

"It grew from there," he said. "I did the Animal Planet show ["Petcetera"], and then I did CBS. I won an Emmy for CBS News in Los Angeles.

Dr. Werber still practices medicine at his clinic, and is the president of the Association for Veterinary Communicators.

Dr. Jim Humphries and his dog, PennyDr. Jim Humphries and his dog, Penny

Being in the spotlight must've been in Dr. Jim Humphries' blood. The 1977 graduate of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine did not wait until radio or television stations came to him. He pursued them. While practicing in Dallas, Dr. Humphries did a couple of guest shots on talk radio for 570-KLS, eventually turning it into a 2-hour Saturday program.

After that, he went looking for a bigger market, and began 2- to 3-minute spots on the Thursday morning news for the ABC affiliate in Dallas.

"That wasn't an accident or a call; I wanted to do it," Dr. Humphries said. "So, I put together a small demo reel, brought it to the news director, and they liked what they saw."

Years later, and after a move to Colorado Springs, Colo., Dr. Humphries became a pets and animal reporter for the CBS "Early Show" hosted by Bryant Gumble and Jane Clayson, a media trainer to veterinarians and other professionals, and the national spokesperson for Fort Dodge Animal Health and Veterinary Pet Insurance.

Another CBS "Early Show" family member is former Miss America 1990 Debbye Turner. Dr. Turner was in her fourth year of veterinary school at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine when she won the crown.

Dr. Debbye TurnerDr. Debbye Turner

"I was in my clinical rotations, so it was easier for me to take some time off," Dr. Turner said. "I completed my year as Miss America, and came back to finish the last six months of veterinary school."

Her first job after receiving her DVM degree was as a national spokesperson for Ralston Purina's Caring for Pets program. She learned that as a former Miss America, she had gained a voice that people would listen to, and wanted to educate those who would listen.

"I found as I traveled as Miss America there was a lot misinformation, a lot of mythology, and a lot of ignorance out there regarding pet care," she said.

"I took advantage of the opportunity to educate people who really meant their pets no harm, but in most cases just didn't have better information."

Currently, Dr. Turner does segments on pets and pet care for "The Early Show" and the "Saturday Early Show".

Through it all, these veterinary stars want their messages known. "I usually try to get in a few times to urge the viewer to go see their veterinarians," Dr. Becker said. "There isn't a day that has gone by that I haven't been proud to be a veterinarian. ... My hope is that I continue to earn the trust that people have placed in me to be a spokesperson on behalf of the greatest profession on earth."

Dr. Werber wants his viewers and clients to know that "we love being out there and able to represent the profession," he said. "We want to make sure we're doing a good job, we want to make sure we're responsible in our reporting, and that the information that we provide is that which is accepted by the majority of [our] peers."

Dr. Humphries stresses that it is that message, not the messenger, that is important. "But," he says, "if they don't remember a single thing you've said about this care or that drug, at least what they should remember is that the veterinary medical profession is there to help, and that it is full of caring professionals who love animals, and that raises awareness."

For information about the Association for Veterinary Communicators, contact Dr. Jeff Werber at drjeffw@drjeff.com.