Photo courtesy of Andrew Morrell

With a blind, deaf, 18-year old toy poodle who has dementia (canine cognitive disorder), I’ve gotten to know our friendly neighborhood veterinarian very, very well. Dr. Robert Z. Berry, DVM at The Village Vet has helped us manage some strange symptoms and supported us in the last year since Roxie was diagnosed with dementia. Just like people doctors, vets must have excellent bedside manner, and Dr. Berry has it in spades.

I also noticed that he does quite a bit of math in his work. Roxie has been on a variety of medication, as we’ve looked for the right combination to keep her happy and healthy. And she’s only 6 pounds. That means converting measurements like crazy. At a recent visit, I finally got the idea to ask Dr. Berry to answer my Math at Work Monday questions. If your kid aspires to be a vet, read on!

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I examine sick and healthy animals, provide preventative care such as vaccinations or parasite (intestinal and blood born worms) screening and offer early disease detection, blood tests or imaging (xrays and ultrasound). In the case of sick animals, we can hospitalize and provide medical care or medical surgical care to help return them to normal health. Additionally we provide routine surgical and dental services such as spaying , neutering, tumor removal, dental cleaning and extractions.

When do you use basic math in your job?

Everyday, from basic math skills to algebra. Here’s an example : An animal weighs 22 pounds and needs medication which is dosed at a rate of 20 mg/kg and given three times a day. The animal’s weight is measured in pounds, so the first step is to convert to kilograms. Then I need to multiply the weight in kilograms by 20 mg/kg. Now we have a milligram dose of 200 mg. But things can get even more complex. Suppose the drug is supplied in 400 mg/ml strength? I use division or an algebraic formula to arrive at a milliliter (or cc, cubic centimeter) dose of 0.5 ml.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?

I really prefer not to use a calculator because I think it can make my brain become lazy. It is remarkable how much agility you lose (even basic math skills) when you don’t use basic math skills on a daily basis. I calculate in my head but verify with the calculator.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

It’s absolutely necessary with any sort of drug therapy.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I feel very comfortable with math and have all of my life. Vets must be mentally sharp and learn to rely on their most important assets — their brains! I took calculus in high school, and I felt very confident in the class. School prepared me very adequately for the nuts-and-bolts part of my job. I was fortunate to have good teachers and also to have been raised in the time period before calculators were allowed in school. A good primary education prepares one for the rest of his or her life.

So there you have it, a vet who is both compassionate and math-savvy — a great combination! Were you surprised by the math that Dr. Berry uses in his practice? Share your response in the comments section.