Dr. Michelle Oakley is too busy to talk about her hit reality television show. It’s the weekend, and she’s taking a break from her solo mixed animal practice in Haines Junction, Yukon, to compete in an ax-throwing contest. It isn’t a stunt for the show—competitive ax throwing is just part of living in the Canadian wilds.

Much of Dr. Oakley’s life has been documented on screen since 2014, when the pilot episode of “Dr. Oakley, Yukon Veterinarian” aired on Nat Geo Wild. The show, which just wrapped filming on its eighth season, follows Dr. Oakley as she treats domestic and wild animals in a remote, mountainous region known for its brutal winters, while raising three daughters with her husband, Shane.
Depictions of veterinary medicine on television have changed dramatically since “All Creatures Great and Small,” the scripted British drama from the late ’70s to early ’90s based on the life of veterinary surgeon James Herriot aka James Alfred Wight. Entertainment tastes evolved with the explosion of reality television’s popularity, pets became family, and TV producers noticed. In the past two decades or so, at least 25 reality shows about veterinarians have appeared on U.S. television, primarily on the cable channels Animal Planet and National Geographic.

The genre of veterinary reality television is not without its naysayers. Most are veterinarians themselves, critical of an ineptly performed procedure or an insensitive comment about the profession. Veterinarians interviewed for this article about their experiences on reality television are hypersensitive to the opinions of their colleagues. Nevertheless, they see the shows as a powerful medium for teaching audiences about the profession they love while also showcasing their medical skills and the importance of caring for animals.

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