Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year's Eve!

December 27, 2011. 

The day VBB was born!  Since then we've gone through many authors, many discussions, many fights and many tears.  Friendships formed and friendships failed.  Those of us in the VBB Core Group had no idea this would strike so many nerves and be so popular.  We feel we serve a very important function which is to give a voice to the profession unlike anyone else.  True, others try to copy (poorly) what we are doing, but at the end of the day what makes this blog a success are the READERS who keep the momentum moving forward.  There should be no sugar coating of what's really going on in the profession and we still feel at VBB that telling the truth from many different viewpoints is what sets this blog apart.

We are getting close to TWO MILLION VIEWS!  Please share our blog, send in your stories, and SHARE WITH US what your day is like, what your life is like, what makes you happy, what makes you sad...  we LOVE sharing the stories sent in to us and want this to be a blog with many participants.   Bring it on, readers! 

So here's a big fat HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone who reads VBB, follows VBB, follows our tweets, argues with us, insults us, agrees with us.  Speaking your mind is what makes it all so great!

We hope everyone has hope on the horizon and happiness in their hearts and all of that bullsh*t we say to ourselves on New Year's Eve.  Except we mean it.  Sort of.   :)


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Disconnect Has Been Duly Noted

    Greetings from the Midwest branch of the VBB Animal Hospital.  As the New Year approaches, we often take stock of our lives, our livelihoods, and we look for areas to change and improve. That is actually what I have been doing for the past year. Professionally, I have grown cagey and anxious. I am worried about the attacks on my profession, and I have had a growing dissatisfaction with the public. When you get right down to it, there are just more bad days than good ones.

    Because of this, I have started to explore what I can do with my hard earned veterinary degree, OTHER than seeing patients and clients all day. In order to begin to make a career change I have explored positions in both academia and the animal health industry. Surprisingly, what I have learned is that the institutions that produce veterinarians, and the industry that makes medications and products for our use actually have no idea what it is that we actually DO all day.

    After a couple of days of interviewing for a position at one of our nation’s veterinary colleges, I learned that they are extremely hopeful about the future of veterinary medicine and they see a positive, if not completely idyllic future for their graduates. I expressed concern that class sizes are increasing, student debt is rising, graduates cannot find jobs to pay off their loans, and the public is becoming more and more hesitant to spend their money on their pets’ health care needs. Not so according to the universities!!!! Class sizes are increasing because that is in their budget! The increase in tuition adds to hiring additional faculty. More papers are written, more specialists are produced and everyone is happy.  If they are not producing specialists, they can certainly produce general practitioners who will find wonderful, well paid, fulfilling jobs where the public will flock to them with all of their concerns for their well loved and well cared for pets. I was assured that “Things will turn around - You just wait!”  Now, these people with careers in academia are surely much smarter than me, yet I remain skeptical.

    I have also interviewed for a position with a large animal health company.  During a long day of interviews and meeting a variety of people, I was asked questions similar to the following:

Them: “Do you get stressed out having to meet deadlines?”
Me: “uh, no, not really. I have to meet 20-40 urgent deadlines every day”
Them: “Do you have a hard time making decisions?”
Me: “No. I can make decisions quickly. I rarely have owners who allow me to have enough information to make an informed decision, however. It would be like heaven to actually have a fairly full picture prior to having to made decisions regarding treatment plans, recommendations, and euthanasia.”
Them: “You have a very active job currently. How would you transition to sitting at a desk most of the day?
Me: “Are you kidding me?! That would be fabulous!!!! I’m so exhausted by the end of my day that I can barely lift the wine glass to my lips!!!” Well, ok, that wasn’t really my answer, but I think you get the point.

    These experiences have made me realize that there is HUGE disconnect in this profession. The institutions that produce us, and the companies that sell products to us actually have little idea what our day-to-day existence is like. I think they would like to believe that we play with healthy puppy and kittens all day, with appreciative owners who trust us and follow our advice. If this were true, I don’t think we would have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Currently, I feel like I exist in a very shaky house of cards, built on a pyramid scheme.

    So, I go back to doing what I do and try to find joy in it. I look for the things that make me happy, and help me to make a difference to someone. Because occasionally there is that ONE pet, with that ONE owner, who wants to work with me as a partner to ensure that their pet gets the best healthcare possible. And THAT? Well. THAT is nirvana.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another Guest Post about a Unique Client

Wow there are so many great stories to tell!  You guys keep sending them in for sharing!

Another heartfelt guest post sent in to VBB about an unusual client:

He smells.   I don't think he ever takes a shower.  He's over six feet tall.  He comes in with his shirt halfway buttoned in clothes that never see a washer.  He's missing half of his teeth so when he talks, it's nearly impossible to understand what he's saying.  He spits on me when he talks.  

He's rude, loud, obnoxious and to be quite honest, pretty darned nasty and gross.  Definitely one of those "why I'm a veterinarian and not an MD" types of people.

He lives somewhere deep in the woods and has no running water and no electricity. He always just walks in without an appointment when I'm on my lunch break, making me miss lunch.   He has no way of calling ahead because he has no phone.  In order to get to our hospital, he borrows a ride from a neighbor because he has no car.

But boy does he love his dogs.

When I first met him, I immediately wanted to fire him as a client.  I didn't want to deal with this human.  He was rude to me, disrespectful, said fuck about a hundred times and he made the entire exam room stink. I had to change my labcoat when I left the room because just being in the same vicinity as him made ME stink as well.

But then one day something happened that stole my heart. He brought in one of his many little dogs (he probably has more than 25 dogs) and sat out on the grass, rolling around with that little dog, talking baby talk to it.   It was precious and heartbreaking and funny and sad all at the same time.  

It gave me a different perspective of him.  When that little dog needed surgery for its injured leg, he pulled out the biggest wad of cash I'd ever seen.  He didn't spend his money on frivolous things like electricity and running water.  He spent it on his dogs.

That day, after an especially frustrating conversation with him,  I was ready to walk out of the room. Right about that time he saw the picture I have of my own dog on the wall.   He immediately softened his voice and started talking baby talk again, saying, "Oh, is that your little doggy???" 

I have to say it did more to soften my mood that day than any other thing that happened. 

I reconsidered firing him as a client for no reason other than I was touched by how much he loves his animals. It's just a special thing to see another human express their love and emotion that way, when you know they have no ability to express it otherwise.

Then one day another thought occurred to me: if I didn't see him as a client, where else would he get any care for his pets? How does a person like that just walk into your average place of business and get service? People shun him; people avoid him; people are disgusted by him.  

He even told me that the people at the bank were mean to him and made fun of him.  He shared that with me.

But he loves his dogs.  And that's what mattered to me.

So we'll keep him as our client and try to understand and try not to judge and remember that we work hard so we don't walk in his shoes.  I'll keep doing whatever I can to help him.  I let him run a balance cause I know he'll pay me eventually, I send meds for dogs I haven't seen and I accommodate him whenever he shows up unexpectedly.  I take risks for him because he needs it.

Because the most important thing for me is that he loves his dogs.

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. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Open Letter to the Next Generation of Vets

 I woke up this morning trying to come up with all of the things I am thankful for this year.   The usual things came to mind - the things I am thankful for every day, like my caring husband, my cute dog, my cool family, the fact that I'm in my 40s and still active and healthy, etc etc.  Like I said,  The Usual.

Then I thought about my profession, and how much I appreciate that I will be working with a new grad soon, mentoring her and helping her find her path in this field.  I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity over the years to represent the profession in a positive light, and I feel honored to be one of those who will mentor and help a new doctor find her way.

In some ways it's a lot of pressure.  I want to convey positivity and appreciation for the profession without tainting her with my own negativities that I've acquired over the years.  She will figure all of that out on her own, in time.

So I wanted to *sort of* write an open letter to this associate, in hopes that she will read it and share it and take it to heart.  Maybe print it out and stick it on the wall as a reference - a reference as equally important in her career as an Ettinger or a Plumb.

Here goes:

Focus on the animals. They are why you do this. Don't give in to the negativity. Humans are emotionally stunted and project everything onto everyone around them in an attempt to not feel so alone. There are entire professions dedicated to this very topic.  Always remember that, because it puts their craziness into perspective for you.

Find the most emotion-inspiring picture you can find and keep it handy. Sad, gut wrenching, happy or joyful - just find one that you can look at and remember why you do what you do. Stay connected to your humanity and fight the Compassion Fatigue Monster every day. Nothing is more sad than not feeling sadness sometimes. There is something wrong with a doctor who never cries.

 You will defend yourself daily. You will never make it about money, but the clients ALWAYS will make it about money. Stick to your guns. Euth is a viable option and a good one. We can end suffering for those we represent and it is a fair choice even when the owner accuses you of being cruel.  Always remember you are not cruel.  Do not absorb the attacks thrown your way.  They do not define you.  Your actions and your responses define you.

Remember that you will have limitations. You can be as big of a rockstar as you choose to be. Don't feel bad if you settle on being a "country vet" and don't look down on those "country vets" if you decide to specialize. We all have our "specialties" in many ways and no amount of schooling will teach you everything. Having a way with people and being able to communicate effectively is the biggest specialty of all. I don't care how many letters are behind your name, if you suck at simple communications, you are not a good doctor.

 Find humor in your day. Laugh at anal sacs. Keep finding poop and farting funny. Don't mind dog hair in your coffee or cat hair stuck to your face. Invest in lint rollers. They also make good door stops.

 Try to remember that they do feel pain, even those osteosarc dogs who lick your face and wag their tail, all while holding up their diseased leg, while their clueless owner stands by saying, "they aren't in pain". You are trained to know the difference; they are an emotionally stunted human who only sees black and white. You see gray. Every day, you see gray. And always remember that our ability to see gray is what makes us so great at what we do.

Our profession rocks, even when the scum suckers in the profession try to make it not so. (screw you, Andrew Jones and Marty Becker - we are all better than you will ever hope to be)

Stay human. Don't let the grind get you down until you can't get back up. Focus on the puppies and the kittens (and foals and calves for some of you!) that you save, the geriatrics to whom you bring quality of life, and all of those in between who just need preventive care.

Stay as current as you can and keep learning.  An idle brain is a depressed brain.  Go to CE every year without fail.  You will always pick up a pearl.

You are a healer. You may wake up one day not feeling like one, and wonder why you got into this profession in the first place.  But you will find that every day, you do everything in your power to try to heal the sick and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. When the 1 in 10 walks in and gives you grief, try to reach back in your soul and tell yourself they are suffering in their own way as well, and tell yourself that you are thankful to not be walking in their shoes. You will appreciate the same sentiment some day.

Most importantly, do not let this job take over your life. Enjoy your family and put them first as often as you can. Find hobbies that have nothing to do with veterinary medicine.   Get out in nature. Drink wine. Eat good food. Take care of yourself. Take a walk every day if you can, just to breathe fresh air and get your lymph moving so you can stay healthy. Keep moving forward and supporting this profession and making it better, because at the end of the day, what else can we do?

Always, always, always focus on the positive, even if that means death is the positive.  Sometimes you really do have to change your perspective in order to appreciate the true meaning behind a decision.

And always, always be thankful that it was YOU who got into veterinary school because no matter what, we all should still be very proud of being a member in this tiny profession that still represents so much integrity and honor that we risk financial ruin to pursue it.

Because that is the stuff of which we truly are made.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone,  from the West Coast Office of VBB!  :)