Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Now? A guest post....

One of our gentle readers, Dr. PN, has requested we share this entry with you. He loves his job, but hates the associated crap. He's wondering what to do now, so if you have any advice for him, let's hear it!
So what now?
I’m lost.  Not in a wandering around the forest kind of lost.  But lost in the sense that I’m not sure which direction to take next.  How can a guy with an Audi R8 be lost you ask?  Well it starts with many realizations I’ve had over the past year, a year that has been hard on me, but not for the reasons you might think.  Here’s some background…
Where to begin?  With that question most of you are probably closing this post right now, realizing that this could be a long post.  And it could be, because those who know me know I like to chat.  This year started quietly, which is what I wanted.  I had just sold my third veterinary hospital, sold my acreage I’d developed last year, and moved onto another property which I finished developing by Christmas.  Well that all sounds great, a new property, a bunch of money in the bank, a fancy car in the garage, and all the time off I could ever dream of.  Dream is the right word, because for most people that is the dream, and that was true for me as well.  I had busted my ass for the past 13 years, founding, designing/building and working at my three veterinary hospitals, running a veterinary equipment import business, developing five acreage properties, as well as some other side gigs to keep things interesting!  So why then was I not bouncing off the walls happy?  Purpose.  Or lack of it, that’s why.  
All my life I watched family and friends struggle to make ends meet because they didn’t have enough money, and that of course continues today all over North America.  I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to rely on anyone or any government to take care of me, that I would be successful and make it on my own.  And after 13 years of non-stop work I could’ve basically retired and lived a decent life, but suddenly I didn’t care about that.  Wow, talk about a kick in the teeth.  To set huge goals, accomplish them, then realize that wasn’t what made you tick, made you happy, made you want to get out of bed in the morning.  Fast forward ten months, where am I at now?  I’m frustrated, plain and simple.  You see the reason I sold my last vet practice is because I was burnt out.  My profession now has the highest rates of suicide and burnout of any profession.  Search veterinary burnout or compassion fatigue and you’ll understand.  Thing is, I’ve always been a ‘rock’, unbreakable, able to deal with anything.  Nothing stands in the way if I want to accomplish something.  But realizing I wasn’t doing myself or my practice any good, I sold it.  Somedays I regret selling it, other days I know it was the right choice.  I feel guilty for leaving the profession I used to love, and that gave me financial freedom.  Now I have an opportunity to build another practice but struggle to decide whether or not to do it.  It’s what has given me all the ‘material’ things like a nice house/car, it’s what gave me alot of pride and purpose in helping animals, and it’s what allows me to be respected in the community.  I went into veterinary medicine to help animals, plain and simple.  I never went into it for money, I knew there were many other professions where I could make much more money, but I’ve always loved animals, and medicine, so vet medicine was the clear choice.  What I didn’t expect was to be able to channel my entrepreneurial spirit into three veterinary hospitals that grew to be very successful.  That was a bonus!  Along with that success came incredibly long hours, no vacations, and s.t.r.e.s.s., lots of it.  So yes it’s no surprise I got burnt out.  
In the past year I’ve tried to think of what else I could do, not being burdened by financial worries allows one to contemplate doing anything they really want to do.  And yet I’m stuck.  I remember all the good days I had working in my clinics, and all the great animals and owners I had the pleasure of meeting and helping.  I think some people are lucky to find what are they are ‘supposed to do’, and I’m one of those people.  It’s just that our profession has changed so much over the past decade, it’s become very, very demanding.  And yes I’ve taken on alot of extra stress, and that is my own doing, lesson learned.  Can I start my 4th vet practice, but do it in a way that I can get back to enjoying my profession?  I think so.  At least I hope so. 


  1. Hi Dr PN,

    I am a final year vet student in the UK and I read your post with great interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, vets in the UK do garner respect from their communities but we do not earn huge salaries unless you are a partner or practice owner. The difference is astounding. Secondly, I do wonder how you can be 'bored' with your chosen career as there will never be an end to the number of animals that need our help.

    This last point brings me onto my humble suggestion for what you can do next - I really think you should go on to build your 4th practice but with a very simple difference - a truly altruistic policy. Now, I realise you may well have just scoffed at or indeed possibly laughed out loud at such a suggestion but hear me out.

    I believe you, like many others, became a vet because you simply wanted (and still want) to help animals. If we look at the bigger picture i.e. strip away this somewhat 'artificial' world of pet ownership and the need to care for our farmed species and what are we left with for vets to do - treat wildlife. Now, one option for you may be to invest the rest of your life saving the World's endangered species but there are many charities dedicated to this and wildlife conservation is not for everyone - I get it.

    There are hundreds if not thousands of pets owned or not owned in this world and no doubt in your State, Town or neighbourhood that are in need of a vet's services. You spent years at college gaining knowledge and practical skills and have spent a further 13 perfecting and honing these and so so many more skills. So, why not invest them into a brand new practice that at its core has a policy of non-profit?

    Just think of all those pets you have either seen leave your consult room or even had the sad task of having to put to sleep simply for the sad fact that their owners despite giving A1 care and attention to their pet for years cannot afford to repair it's broken leg, have a cruciate repair, replace an arthritic elbow joint or treat a lifelong dermatitis.

    The bane of all vets' daily working lives are having to see pets go home untreated or PTS just because of a lack of that toxic thing called money! Being able to offer these owners the gold standard treatment that you know their pet so desperately needs would surely be on every vets Christmas wishlist.

    I know pets are a privilege not a right and I 100% agree with this sentiment but we all know there are so many owners for whom their pets are a lifeline. I also appreciate there are many charities that treat animals for free or discounted rates but imagine having a regular vet practice where clients from ALL backgrounds come but for those that are struggling just a bit you can offer payment plans or cost priced options but still have the highest quality of care for their pets. Profits from regular clients paying for neutering, vaccinations and so on would go to supplement those that are struggling.

    Perhaps I have not explained this concept very well but I'm sure you get the idea. Anyway may I wish you congratulations for succeeding so well at all your ventures and good luck in whatever you decide to do next.

    Best Wishes Judy

  2. I'm not a vet, so maybe my advice doesn't count... but having a large number of pets and specifically performance dogs has me visiting vets on a pretty regular basis. One thing I've noticed is that there are several vets that focus their practice on performance dogs. They are few and far between and we drive many miles to see them. The appointments must be made months in advance and we will likely be with the vet or her/his staff for an hour. It is not inexpensive.
    I've often thought, if I were a vet, this is the type of specialty practice I would want. I'm sure it took a significant amount of time to build, but once established, they do not deal with the types of clients that I would expect cause the most heartbreak for a vet. They see a lot of healthy, fit dogs with owners that are seeking to keep them that way. Sure, they see injuries, but these dogs belong to owners that will pay for underwater treadmill therapy, invest the time in rehab exercises, and honestly work with the vet. And as far as I know, they are not asked to respond to emergencies.
    To me, this is the gold mine of veterinary practices.

    1. Hi Border Collie Mom,

      Building these kinds of practices is quite difficult. You have to be in a major metropolitan area and often have to build up a general practice before you can bring in just the working and performance dogs. For vets who don't have much interest because they don't do this stuff anyways, there will not be that much incentive. However as a working and performance dog vet, I am glad that you do support our services. :-)

  3. "Wah, wah, wah. I'm so wealthy and everything I touch turns to gold, but my life has no purpose! Can anyone help me?" Sorry, but you sound like a real douchebag. My heart bleeds for you, it really does.
    JP had a nice idea but something tells me hell will freeze over before you give away your services. Buy yourself another Audi whatever; you'll feel better. Oh, and don't post again. You're an ass.

    1. Who made you queen of what everyone should feel? It's obvious that money doesn't buy everything, and he is expressing that sentiment. You've no right to make fun or belittle that feeling.

    2. I certainly wouldn't attack the writer of this piece the way Runner has but I'll admit it fell flat for me too. The writer became a vet "not for the money" but because they loved animals but in 13 years they started and ran 3 practices because they wanted to be sucessful and financially independent, then felt burnt out, sold them and now feels bored. It sounds like the writer simply doesn't know what he/she wants so it's hard to give them advice. Also, their situation is so unusual that it's hard to even sympathize. Luckily, unlike most people, the writer appears to have plenty of time and funds to figure it out for himself. However, I suspect starting a 4th practice will yeild the same results as the other three without serious introspection about what is really important in the writer's life.

  4. Could you build up a practice and client base for some aspect of vet med that you have a great passion for? Or is it something else in your life that is missing (friends, family, a hobby that makes life amazing, etc.)? Honestly, it sounds like you are very motivated and capable, but may not be as self-aware as you think you are. A good counselor (not because there's something "wrong" with you, but because they can act as a positive sounding board) might help you figure out what you actually love about vet med vs what you think you SHOULD love about it.

    I'm not in a position as financially secure as you are, but I'm getting there, and financial security does not prevent burn out. In fact, during the time that I was making the most money, I got really depressed. For me, it was having a heart to heart with the other docs in my practice about my case load, using (gasp!) my vacation time, and finding something outside my work (Argentine tango - really!) that I look forward to that gave me the perspective I needed. I hope you find the right combo to enjoy life and keep your patients, clients, and staff happy and well-maintained.

    And Runner DVM, shame on you for bashing someone looking for help. You are the ass.

  5. I have to say my first thought when reading this post was not a very nice one. At first, you come across as being a bit of a boastful whiner, since you mentioned several times that you have achieved financial freedom and yet you are 'just not happy.' Well, I thought, hasn't he heard that money doesn't buy happiness? Having a secure financial future is something that everyone aspires to and is something that, unfortunately, not everyone will get to experience. I had to leave this post alone for a few days before I posted something rude in response.

    Now, after I thought about it some more, what I really want to express is A) Congratulations (sincerely) that you have made a good living in this profession. It is certainly a known fact that no one goes into vet med to make money, but of course it is a big bonus if we make a decent living at it while doing something we were called to do. And no one should be made to feel bad about making money AT THEIR JOB. That is, after all, the point of working.

    B) Since you don't appear to have to work (at least for the time being), my suggestion is to take at least 6 months to a year off. It is necessary sometimes to get completely out of your situation to gain a real perspective, and a couple of weeks just aren't going to cut it. Travel, and do things just because you want to, or because they just popped into your head. Be spontaneous. Be lazy. Write, cook, paint, hike, talk to people you know, talk to people you don't know. Volunteer doing something completely out of your comfort zone/knowledge. I am young (30) but learned a long time ago that true happiness comes from within, and I try to keep a balance of work and life outside of work so that I can continue to be a pleasant person to live with, work with, and of course, be happy with who I am. Good luck.

  6. How can a guy with an Audi R8 feel lost?

    And that's where I stopped reading.

  7. I'm a little late to the party but I just had to comment. First a couple of points from reading the comments. First of all I don't think this is uncommon. At least I am in a similar situation. The people that have bad feelings about this are wrong...this is what everyone is working for. Everyone wants to win the lottery....and that is what the OP has done.
    I really like the advise of Dr.M who says take 6 months off and then reevaluate. I think that is the winner.
    JP the first commenter has a lovely idea...but seriously not practical. There are soo many (oh so so many) people that would take advantage of free service. And the problem is you can't tell the honest people from the losers. The non-profit idea would never work....and it takes money, a lot of money, to just open the doors on a place....and you would have to find people to work there for free.
    But whatever....I'm going through this myself...and it is difficult.

  8. Dr. PN - not sure if you're even going to see this reply, but my suggestion would be to donate your services to a shelter or a rescue group. Lord knows there is a huge hole in low-cost veterinary care that could benefit from your help. Sadly, though, you sound so Type-A and high-strung that you may never be able to be satisfied, no matter how many Audis you own. There's a reason for that, and maybe enlisting the help of a therapist might put you on a path towards personal satisfaction and peace. I say this with no malice. I myself have been in therapy for 10+ years, and it's helped me maintain my sanity and find my ground. I wish you all the best in your pursuits.