Longtime small animal clinician
Dr. Michael Schaer retires
By Sarah Carey
After 34 years of mentoring veterinary students, internal medicine residents and faculty, weathering many periods of environmental and administrative changes and taking countless calls from alumni and other referring veterinarians to help them with their animal patients, Dr. Michael Schaer, a professor of internal medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, has officially retired.
Unofficially, he now hopes to do more of the same.
A reception held by the college in Schaer’s honor on April 24 was attended by many former students, residents and colleagues. On April 30, Schaer’s last day in the office as a full time faculty member, he appeared happy and relaxed.
The next day, he was back in a new role, volunteering his time with the Emergency and Critical Care Service in the UF Small Animal Hospital. His schedule involved ICU rounds at 7 a.m., ICU journal club from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., some desk work, attendance at a senior exit luncheon, more desk work, then an interview. One might say the day looked almost like business as usual.
Schaer looks forward to continuing to do what he’s good at, but with a less demanding schedule.
“I’m so grateful everybody at the university was willing to work with me to let me keep doing what I love to do,” Schaer said. “I feel good about things, and I’m looking forward to giving back.”
Facing retirement after his long and distinguished academic career was a bit like walking to the end of a plank and not knowing what lay ahead, Schaer said.
“The paradox of the whole thing was, here I was having to retire because of the State of Florida DROP incentives, but I didn’t want to retire, nor was I ready to retire,” he said. “There was a fear and an angst, because most people look at retirement as a chance to get other things done and do other things, but medicine’s my passion and it’s been my life. I still continue to get total pleasure out of it and teaching runs parallel to that.”
Schaer said he was grateful to the college’s dean, Dr. Glen Hoffsis, and executive associate dean, Dr. John Harvey, for allowing him to continue working with the Emergency and Critical Care Service. Board certified in both internal medicine and emergency medicine and critical care, Schaer performed rounds with both services while on faculty, and felt a part of each.
“The emergency group worked me into their scheme and we all got very comfortable with one another, which made it possible to take it to the next step,” Schaer said.
He will now oversee the Intensive Care Unit three mornings a week from 7 a.m. to noon and may assist as needed at other times.
“I worked ICU this past Sunday and haven’t had that much fun in years,” Schaer said. “It was like the Wild West show; it was so busy and so educational for everyone there that it gave me the chance to teach like I haven’t done in a long time. If I have more opportunities like that, you are going to be talking to a very happy and satisfied guy.”
Since joining the college faculty in 1978, Schaer has worked with seven administrations, including deans and interim deans. He has enjoyed watching the college grow and has loved teaching the entire time.
“The highlight of every year is always graduation for me,” said Schaer, who will present the keynote address to graduating veterinary students — the third time in his career he’s been invited to do so — May 26 at the UF Phillips Center.
He may talk some about his proscribed rules for veterinary practice — commonly known as “Uncle Mikey’s Maxims” — but because he’s spoken of them many times, Schaer is wary of overdoing it. At the same time, a few of these maxims are bound to come up.
Schaer’s maxims are the result of accumulated experiences that had massive momentary impact on him in a clinical situation, he explained. He started out with 10, but the list has grown to include as many as 34, Schaer said…ironically, one for every year of his service at the college.
“Aside from my books, I hope they are my biggest legacy,” Schaer said.
Pressed for his favorite maxims, Schaer said they would have to be ‘Treat for the Treatable’ and ‘Where am I with this Patient and Where am I Going?’ He added that the maxims were key to avoiding the pitfalls of veterinary medicine and students who keep them in mind should see their clinical lives run fairly smoothly.
Among the lessons he’s learned in his career that Schaer would like to pass along to students and faculty alike: “You can’t learn when you’re upset.”
“It’s become my responsibility not to let that happen, but I was pretty bad about it earlier in my career,” Schaer said. “I’ve learned through my mistakes to be a better person, hopefully, and to make everyone around me feel as comfortable as possible. I’ve also learned that you get the greatest performance out of a coworker if you respect them. Putting people down is about the most destructive thing anyone can do, and I’ve made that mistake, too.”
Schaer looks forward to continuing to support the college and to being “a good parent, grandparent and husband.” He’s trying to get motivated for his third book, but in the meantime intends to value life and keep up his rigorous fitness routine — which involves getting up at 3 a.m. each day for a 1.5 hour weight workout, and running in the evenings.
“I would rather have my energy be spent here at UF, because this is where I’ve made my biggest investments,” Schaer said. “You can’t separate me from my students. I just don’t work well without them.”