‘The Incredible Dr. Pol’: Dr. Pol’s Color-Blindness and How It Affects His Work

NatGeo WILD’s The Incredible Dr. Pol really is a remarkable vet. His show has a strong following because of his can-do, energetic attitude. Not much stumps the doc.

Dr. Jan Pol of 'The Incredible Dr. Pol'
Dr. Jan Pol of ‘The Incredible Dr. Pol’ | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

One of the very few limitations Dr. Pol has, he admits, is his color-blindness.

The doctor met the challenge of learning English

Arriving to the United States in 1961, Dr. Pol, like so many others, could not yet speak English. He met that challenge head-on. The 77-year-old just made himself learn it. Having his American wife, Diane, by his side made learning it even easier.

In his memoir, Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow, Dr. Pol described his first time on an airplane as he left the Netherlands to come to America.

“Like most of my classmates, that was my first time on an airplane. While for many people the concept of going to live in America might be exciting or scary, the Dutch are pretty stoic; we tend to accept things as they happen without showing a great deal of emotion.”

Dr. Pol took to his new homeland quickly and before he knew it, was speaking the local language just as swiftly.

“It took eighteen hours to fly from Amsterdam to Detroit. We arrived in the middle of August. I spoke a passable British English. We were told that within three months, we would be dreaming in English, but for me, it was only two weeks.”

Dr. Pol has adapted to becoming an almost instant TV personality

Thirty years into his private practice in Weidman, Michigan, fame came calling at Dr. Pol’s doorstep.

His son, Charles, had been working in L.A., when he had the idea of developing a reality show around his veterinarian dad. Dr. Pol couldn’t imagine who on earth would want to watch him stick his arm into cow after cow, but he went along with it.

It’s an incredibly adaptable person -especially someone who’s already been doing things a certain way for 30 years – who will have an open mind to allowing cameras and chaos into their everyday lives.

“I agreed to let his camera crew follow our staff for a few days, still wondering if anyone was going to watch. It turned out Diane and I raised a smart son,” Dr. Pol writes in his book.

How color blindness affects his practice

As stated, Dr. Pol is color blind, and particularly has trouble with the colors green and brown. He hasn’t allowed this to slow him down in his work as it just requires confirmation from whoever’s around him to help him with anything he might have trouble reading the color on.

He writes about this challenge, “I have always had a hard time learning from books. Show me how something is done and I’ll remember it. Show me a surgery one time and I can do it the next time. What made it even more difficult for me was the fact that I’m color-blind. That made pathology especially hard. I couldn’t make the diagnoses that were based on the color of the tissue.”

In the clinic, then, the doc has one of the staff help him out with microscope slides.

“. . . we now have a very good microscope with a camera on it,” he wrote. “But for me, there are things I can’t do under a microscope because I’m color-blind – I have to get the slide ready and ask someone else to look at it for me.”

Read more: The Incredible Dr. Pol’: The Countries His Show Is Popular In May Surprise You