UCLA’s Dr. Natterson-Horowitz addresses GBA’s consortium via video. Photo by Tom Stoelker

There is an inside joke amongst veterinarians: What do you call a veterinarian who can only treat one species?…Physicians.

Author and cardiology professor Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., shared the joke at Fordham’s Consortium on the Purpose of Business on Sept. 29, where she discussed her book Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing (Knopf, 2012).

In it, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz draws parallels between humans and animals.

From diseases such as cancer, to risky behavior by adolescent males, the parallels between humans and animals are too striking to be ignored. Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said she found animal research applicable to human beings on substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive behavior, suicidal tendencies, depression, and even obesity in nature.

But as intriguing as her findings were, plenty of her fellow physicians resisted, she said.

“Some of my colleagues were curious, but some asked ‘What are you doing with your career? Why are you wasting your time with animals?’” she said.  “But there’s this parallel world of knowledge and expertise on the animals’ side that we physicians know little about.”

The doctor, who has taught for more than 20 years at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said she also found the human habits of veterinarians worthy of observation.

She noted that veterinarians deal with patients who do not communicate with words, making vets observe gait, demeanor, and living environments a bit closer than their physician counterparts. While physicians in a medical center might not have the same time to devote to observation as vets in a zoo, veterinarian research could nevertheless inform certain human conditions.

Recently Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said she was the only physician in a room of nearly five hundred veterinarians at a conference on animal obesity, but that she “heard strategies that I’ve never heard before” for dealing with the disease.

Just as a few of her own colleagues were skeptical, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said she met resistance from territorial veterinarians as well.

“Those are just typical challenges of trying to work between disciplines,” she said.

The consortium, the fifth in an ongoing series sponsored by the Schools of Business, investigated the crossroads between business and health.  While conference featured the practical side of providing health care in the workplace, it also honed in on preventative care and wellbeing.

David A. Gautschi, Ph.D., dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration, said that Dr. Natterson-Horowitz’s presentation held implications beyond healthcare.

“What this shows is exactly what we’re bumping up against in business,” said Gautschi. “It’s about crossing boundaries and uncovering assets hiding in plain view.”