Musings of a Veterinarian

The Worst Job Interview Ever Part 1: The Introduction

June 19, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: Just For Fun

You are about to embark on the single most horribly epic job interview story you will ever read. Ever.

Enough time has passed that I feel safe sharing the worst interview experience of my life, your life, your mom’s life, and even that exaggerating friend’s life.  Names have been changed to protect the guilty.  If you think you can top my story, which you can’t unless it involves dead *human* bodies, post below and I will feature your short story on my blog!

Warning: This post contains explicit profanity. VMDiva.com is opposed to the use of gratuitous language but feels the story will lose its character if edited for explicit content.

The Introduction

The late winter of my fourth year of veterinary school came with the revelation I had passed my boards and was about to *gulp* get a job. Like many of my peers, I took to the usual search routes of bulletin boards, online web services, and UPenn’s employer match. I found a couple of practices that looked promising and submitted my applications.

One of these practices was the Animal Veterinary Hospital, a two doctor practice in bucolic…errrr…ummm…Miami. Yes, Miami, that was it. Much to my surprise a jubilant and tightly wound owner called me within two hours of emailing my credentials.

“Jennifer! This is Max Shaffer! I got your application two hours ago and I just had to call you! I saw you were at the top of your class and had to talk to such a wonderful person!” Shaffer shouted through the phone with more enthusiasm than a five yr old with a new Hot Wheels.

“My practice is small animal and I’m looking for another vet. My wife is a physician’s assistant. When can you come for an interview? I tell you what, come on a Sunday and I’ll put you up in a hotel overnight for a working day Monday. I’ll take you to dinner!”

Didn’t sound too bad, especially for my first interview. An overnight with a working interview attached? Wined and dined? I was feeling pretty confident given the peon veterinary student I actually was. My husband and I decided that even if I wasn’t interested in this practice after my interview on Sunday I would certainly stay for the working interview on Monday for the experience. Unless, we laughed, it was a total disaster. But really, what could happen?

The day started as any other day would when one is prepping for an interview. I felt like a bundle of nerves while primping, prepping, and answering potential questions in my head as I drove to…uhh…Miami. I arrived at the practice 20 minutes or so early so I drove past, checked out the surrounding area, and looped back. Back in the parking lot I saw a very large farm-style truck and one other car.  I called Dr. Shaffer from my cell phone.

“Jennifer! I am inside! Come in!”

I walked with trepidation to the entryway and was greeted by a balding man wearing glasses, worn out jeans, a black faded sweatshirt, and white sneakers. This nerd was nobody to fear, I thought, as I slipped in the door. It struck me odd that my future boss was dressed for a day of yard work instead of at least trying to impress for an interview.

“Let me take you for a tour. This is the cat side and the dog side,” he said as motioned to the opposite sides of the waiting room. Walking through the treatment room door he waved at some kennels saying, “This is where we keep our pain in the ass boarders. Ah, look at that! There’s shit in there.” I grimaced while hiding a smirk acknowledging Dr. Shaffer was…what’s the word? Colorful?

“Let me tell you about my staff. Tammy is a receptionist. She and Trina don’t get along because Trina is dating Tammy’s ex boyfriend. They don’t talk to each other but since Trina works in the back and Tammy works in the front it’s ok. It’s a bunch of bullshit but it’s no big deal.” Ruh roh. I nodded knowingly while the screeching alarm bells started to make my stomach ache.

“Now Sandy, you’ve got to watch out for her. She has personal space issues. You can’t get within two or three feet of her or she freaks out. Just don’t touch her and you’ll be fine.” Danger, Will Robinson! I was already getting the feeling I needed to bail on the rest of the interview extravaganza but I wasn’t ready to pull out yet.

“You’ll be the other vet here…blah blah blah…but you will never be alone when you first start.” Wait, what? I was supposed to be the third vet here? “Now I go away for three weeks in the summer to show my Arab Horses and you’ll be left alone but you can call me.”

“I really like your cover letter. You didn’t mention all that mentorship bullshit. I hate that stuff. That tells me you need my help and can’t work alone,” Shaffer raved.

I countered, “Well, my letter actually did say I was seeking mentorship for procedures I haven’t gotten to perform during veterinary school.”

“You bitch! Well, that’s ok you can ask some questions.” Did Shaffer just call me a bitch?!? My head started swimming as I was searching for the words to use to walk out of this interview. I didn’t find them.

“What type of suture would you use to close the abdomen of a fat lab?” Shaffer was actually grilling me on my clinical proficiency. I didn’t expect this, being the bitch that I apparently was.

“O PDS.”

“Ok, I’d use Vicryl but good enough.” He was still going. “What would you do with a diabetic cat?”

“I would start him on insulin.”

“What kind?”


“And what about diet?”

“I would put him on a low carb, high protein diet.”

“Yes!!! You are the first person in 45 interviews to get that question right!” Forty-five interviews? I needed to leave. Now.

“How would you compare yourself with your classmates?”

Oh I had this one! “Well, I am at the top of my class, I am married, and I am a home owner. I bring a level of maturity that many of my peers cannot.”

Shaffer examined me and slowly nodded. “I like you. You’ve got balls. I was really afraid you would be 300 lbs, stupid, and a bitch and you would have been out the door.”

Part 2

Part 3

The Pregnant Veterinarian

June 06, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, Opinion

Babies! It seems like many veterinary practices are bursting at the seams with women traversing the 10 (Yes, 10!) difficult months of pregnancy. It’s no surprise given most of the veterinary technician workforce and 80% of all new veterinary graduates are women. During my recent pregnancy, I gained valuable insight into what it takes to practice veterinary medicine while gestating.

Anesthetic Exposure

One of the first questions I posed to my obstetrician was, “Can I still perform surgery?” Have no fear ladies, you’ll still get your chance to cut and cure! So long as your practice abides by the standards of care and has an anesthetic scavenging system (Read: The system is maintained and it doesn’t dump exhaled anesthetic on the floor), you are in the clear. Use common sense, however, and keep your face away from animals in anesthetic recovery to avoid breathing exhaled gases.

Radiation Exposure

All radiation exposure should be avoided especially in the developmentally important first trimester.


Toxoplasma gondii is a feline protozoal parasite transmitted by fecal-oral contamination. Avoid handling of cat feces as much as possible and practice good hygiene.  Some obstetricians will recommend having your titer checked while others don’t see the value. This one is up to you. I opted out of this test due to the low likelihood of infection and to prevent myself from unnecessary worry.

Heavy Lifting

Disclaimer: I cemented and mortared a slate patio when I was 6 months pregnant and therefore may not be the best authority in this department. If your OB says no lifting, that means NO LIFTING! Nothing is worth jeopardizing your baby.

This one is tricky. If you work at a practice with a terrific technician to vet ratio, you likely won’t have to worry about lifting that portly Puggle. For most veterinarians, some lifting is required. Sometimes heavy lifting or exertion can result in mild spotting due to the rupture of friable blood vessels on the cervix.  This will cause you to panic but is rarely a serious issue. Sometimes serious exertion can cause placental abruption, serious bleeding, or fainting.

Additionally, as your pregnancy advances your body produces the hormone relaxin that allows your tendons and ligaments to stretch to accommodate for your upcoming delivery. Add a shifting center of gravity to your gumby-legs and your balance falters.

Be deliberate, be cautious, and be reasonable. Light lifting and restraint shouldn’t pose a problem.

Performance of Duties

I worked until my 36th week of pregnancy and I know of vets who have worked right up until their due dates. Here are some things to consider when it comes to performing your regular duties:

  • Swollen ankles, shins, knees, and hands can prevent you from standing for long periods of time and affect your dexterity.
  • Your belly will get in the way of the surgical field. You’ll need to be creative to do your abdominal explore.
  • You will be exhausted in your first trimester and likely exhausted toward the end of your 3rd trimester. Avoid taking extra shifts if you can.
  • You can’t breathe. Bending over to tie your shoe becomes an olympic event so don’t think you’re going to be able to crawl on the floor upside-down to get that hard-to-reach FNA.
  • You’ll have to pee. A lot. Be prepared to zip in to the bathroom after every appointment.
  • Your sense of smell may take on superhero proportions. I never felt ill from the odors of the clinic but the smell of blood at the deli counter was enough to send me running.
  • Pregnancy brain is real. You may have a harder time remembering the details of your cases at the end of the night so try to keep up with your SOAPs as you go.
  • Pregnancy rage is real, too. Don’t tear the heads off of clients. It’s not a good practice builder.


Once you get that positive test result you quickly swing from excited to worried. What if I get a cat bite? What do I do with a Rabies suspect? I found myself suddenly concerned with having my hands in a dirty mouth, getting splashed with urine, and getting jumped on by patients.  This is normal and just starts the life time of worry that comes once your baby is born.


Violet Mae was born 12/26/12 weighing 6lb 5oz and measuring 19 inches. We love our little addition to the VMDiva family!


Handling the Winter Lull

February 17, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, Practice Management

Winter. Short days, long underwear. The thought of winter in the Northeast conjures up the dismal gray and frigid temperatures that lull veterinary clients into a stupor. Allergic skin disease and rotten ears are distant malodorous memories. Orthopedic injuries are rare as dogs spend more time indoors. And veterinarians and staff are left twiddling their thumbs in anticipation of the next appointment. What do you do when appointments take a down turn? Follow these tips and your practice can turn the winter lull into the winter boom!

1. Update Those Reminders
Many practices have a reminder system that functions sub-optimally. Changes in protocols often require updating the client reminders, sometimes manually. Additionally, clients who have declined a vaccination or failed to bring a fecal sample to their previous appointments leave the reminders incomplete unless your staff has been meticulous in updating information. Synching annual exam dates with when vaccines are actually due, adding reminders for ancillary services like laboratory work, and reminding clients to bring in stool samples can boost the bottom line all year long. The added benefit is keeping your reception staff busy and ensuring they understand the most recent protocols and recommendations.

2. Offer Incentives

Many of the most successful practices incentivise appointments and procedures during the winter months to keep income incoming. February is National Pet Dental Health month; Offer a discount for all dental procedures scheduled in that month. January your slow month? How about $10 off an annual examination? Getting clients through the door is the name of the game.

3. Practice Your Personal Touch

During the slowest times, encourage your staff and veterinarians to take their time in their appointments to connect with clients. (I know, I know. We should always take our time and not feel rushed, but when Mrs. Pushy brings three pets to her 15 minute appointment instead of one and you have two emergencies in the wings it’s near impossible not to rush.) Connections and small talk foster trust and bolster compliance. Detailed explanations of the importance of dental hygiene, routine laboratory work, and why that Leptospirosis vaccine is really important will benefit the patient and the bottom line.

And yes, use your callback reminder system to have your staff reach out to your patients who may have fallen through the cracks. A simple phone conversation may reveal the patient you thought was thriving after discharge is not.

4. Clean

This is the easiest time of year to make your practice sparkle top to bottom. Nothing makes me cringe more than walking into a practice that smells. I’m not talking the standard smell of a hospital or a stinky Labrador who was emanating his freshly-rolled-in-poop glory. No, I’m talking the musty smell of dampness, urine, and uncleanliness that makes clients question the value and competency of the practice. There is NO excuse any time of the year.  A thorough winter cleaning keeps odors at bay and your biosecurity at its peak.

5. Educate Staff

Blocking time for a lunch and learn is a lot easier when your staff is not slammed with the spring and summer smorgasbord of cat bite wounds, limping dogs, and hot spots that all need diagnostics and treatments over the lunch period.

Educated staff equates to improved patient care leading to happier clients. It’s that simple.

Additionally, update educational material in puppy and kitten packs, handouts, and mailings.

6. Educate Clients

The stillness of winter is the perfect time to offer puppy classes, animal first-aid classes, and general pet ownership tutorials. Not only is this the perfect way to network with responsible clientele, it seats your practice as the local authority among practices in your area.

Remember: An educated client is a compliant one.


September 27, 2012 By: Dr. K Category: General, Just For Fun

Tumultuous. That’s how I describe the last 6 months in the VMDiva family. We’ve experienced so much change since the turn of the year and nearly all of it is exciting and wonderful!

As a general rule, I loathe change. Even good change scares me and exacerbates my ongoing neurosis and worry. But alas, the only sure thing in life is change and it really is better just to embrace it because just when you get comfortable…Bam! Huge changes. Huge changes usually reduce me to a wilted, blithering pile of nerves. But not this time. This Diva has stayed strong!

Bring on the Emergencies

I made the decision this summer to leave my veterinary practice in search for more mental stimulation and job fulfillment. Burnout is very common in my profession and I am not exempt. General practices daily doldrums lulled me into boredom and restlessness. I needed a jolt!

I’ve gotten my jolt with the pursuit of emergency medicine! Emergency practice always brings excitement even if it’s an emergency case of fleas at 2am. (Yes, seriously.)  I am thrilled to have finally pulled the trigger and pursued a dream. I suspect some very interesting case studies are on the horizon for you readers.

More Career Changes

Not only have I changed jobs, but my husband has begun a fabulous new position with room for personal growth and expansion. Two new jobs in 3 months? And I still didn’t melt into a puddle of uncertainty! We couldn’t be more thrilled with where our careers are taking us.

Saying Goodbye

One of the sad notes of the VMDiva family has been saying goodbye to some beloved pets. My dear Winston succumb to his many ailments and is sorely missed. I held him in my lap as he took his last breath. His neurotic, sneezing, snuffling persona endeared him to the soft spot in my heart for unthrifty animals.

In addition, my parents have lost two pets who held large pieces of my heart. The most loving, entertaining, and dopey black labradors you could ask for crossed their rainbow bridges this summer. These siblings, Jake and Rachel, passed within three months of each other leaving a void that may never fill.

Saying Hello

The biggest change of all: The VMDiva family is expanding! My wonderful husband and I are expecting our first child in January! We are excited, nervous, and going through all the emotions expectant parents experience. We can’t wait to introduce you to the newest addition of our family.


In Memory

Empathy: I Has It. (Or at least I’m working on it.)

December 07, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Just For Fun, Opinion

Every now and then I need to remind myself what it’s like to owner a pet without all the knowledge I’ve accrued as a veterinarian. I often find myself diagnosing a limp, finding lumps, and grasping at lymph nodes when I am in the company of my friends and family. That auto pilot is awfully hard to turn off!

Several weeks ago I allowed myself to immerse in the unbridled joy of being a crazy cat lady as I shopped for a kitty staircase for Winston, my debilitated old man. I purposely failed to divulge my career status to the very enthusiastic and obviously crazy cat man who assisted me in my purchase. It was so awesome to just enjoy being a pet owner without the expectation of expertise. Dipping my toes into the non-veterinary pool was so refreshing I’ve decided to plunge wholeheartedly into my reflection and reconnect with my clientele.

If you’ve followed my posts in the past, you’ve realized I’m an all-or-nothing gal; I hate it or I love it. This personality trait proves challenging for a little emotion called empathy. I’ve outlined some of the pet owner quirks that, frankly, drive me nuts and paired each with an empathetic thought process that keeps my sanity and helps me practice better medicine.

I am trying to better connect with clients while alleviating self-induced irritation. Win-Win!

1. Any Nervous Dog or Cat Has Been Abused

I encounter at least one pet owner a day who believes his pet was abused prior to adoption. The default thought process of an owner is this: “He cowers so he must have been beaten. He barks at men so he must have been abused by one.” If every nervous pet I see was truly abused, every neighbor is a suspect animal abuser.

There’s certainly no harm is believing Fido was beaten under previous ownership but it really chaps my hide when an owner allows this perception to foster bad pet behavior. The perceived abuse provides a scapegoat for their animal’s aggressive behavior and lack of training. Instead of reinforcing good behaviors, owners unwittingly allow the biting, writhing, pain-inducing creature to wreak havoc on me and my staff.  All the while they reinforce the behavior with coddling and praise under the notion that discipline equals abuse!

Empathetic Moment: Human nature, lack of understanding of animal behavior, and compassion drive owners to these conclusions. Submissive behaviors and failure in appropriate socialization most likely account for a majority of these fearful “abuse” cases. However, the truth is abuse does exist and dismissing the idea altogether is a disservice to the pet and owner. Educating owners to the variety of behavior types and teaching them to acclimate their pet to new situations is key.

2. What Breed Do You Think He Is, Doc?

Who cares?!? Okay okay, owners care about their mutt’s constitution. I hate this guessing game because it sets me up for a discussion about a subject I find irrelevant and, it seems, I never tell the owner what they want to hear. Not many owners are keen on me telling them their “Labrador-mix” is actually a Pit Bull. After I’ve offer my best guess, I’m told the groomer/friend/neighbor  has told them it’s an insert-name-here-a-poo and they agree with them over me. *face palms*

From a veterinary standpoint, does it really matter? Nope. The genetic diversity of a standard mutt generally equates to less inherited diseases and medical problems overall. Do owners still want to know? Yep. Some owners seem so fixated on figuring out the amalgam of breeds they even throw money away on those dreadfully unreliable doggie DNA tests.

Empathetic Moment: Why is it so important for owners to know what breeds their dogs are? Knowledge of your pet deepens your emotions and creates a greater bond! I will continue to play the guessing game and call your new rescue a labrashepacockadoodle, but I still refuse to recommend those DNA tests!

3. My Groomer Said/My Breeder Said….

It’s like nails on a chalkboard. The Dr. House part of me begs to ask, “Oh? And where did your groomer attend vet school?” Of course, I’d never. Okay, maybe once but only in the right circumstance.

Now, don’t hang me by my toes yet, all ye breeders and groomers. You folks are often advocates for the pets you care for and for that, I’m grateful. Some of your advice is excellent! But some, particularly pertaining to vaccinations, is woefully inaccurate and not rooted in science. I dread refuting bad advice and fear that if not worded just-so, I’ll come off pretentious and judgmental.

Empathetic Moment:  How are pet owners to tell the difference between good and bad advice? Veterinarians should welcome questions regarding alternatively sourced information handed to the client; sometimes the only way we find out what type of misinformation is out there!

The best pet owners hunger for knowledge and desire the best for their pets. Veterinarians must educate pet owners with reliable and scientifically-based information or they might just get their information from unreliable sources. I don’t want my clients to rely on Drs. Google and Wikipedia exclusively for their veterinary information.

4. We Left Our Last Vet Because Fluffy Didn’t Like Him

New clients who reveal they’ve left a practice because the pet was unhappy with the veterinarian immediately ring alarm bells in my head. This equals one of two things in my book: (a) the client is either using the dog/cat as a mouth-piece to voice disapproval of the care and service provided at another veterinary hospital, or (b) she simply does not understand animal behavior.

All puppies and kittens enjoy visiting the hospital during those first innocent check-ups. Gradually the smartest of the patients, Labradors and Goldens excluded, catch on that maybe this veterinary hospital thing is not so much fun. Do clients really expect their pets to like vaccinations, blood draws, rectal exams, and nail trims?

Empathetic Moment: It is crucial to avoid labeling new clients as “high maintenance” or “difficult” because they were unhappy with service elsewhere.  The new client may have a legitimate reason for leaving disgruntled. A preconceived notion may change the tenor of the appointment.

This initial conversation opens the door to conversation about expectations for Fluffy’s care at my hospital. Meeting a client’s expectations will not only leave the client satisfied but will also, hopefully, establish a long-term relationship of care.

Empathy is perhaps innate, perhaps learned, or even both. No matter, I’m striving to practice mine everyday!

Ten Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Veterinary Practice: Part II

July 17, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, General, Practice Management

Ten Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Veterinary Practice: Part I

I’ve listed  the first 5 signs it’s time to leave your veterinary practice in Part 1. The remaining 5 signs below are equally important. Feel free to list more signs or relate personal experiences!

6. Compromised Patient Care

Do patients sit in their filthy cages all day? Tipped over water dish never filled? If your practice fails at basic care for patients, it will never excel at advanced medical care. Practices that competently complete the basics are easy to find; Finding practices that excel at advanced care proves more challenging.

A dear friend told me about a nightmare hospital where they put on the facade of a referral hospital, even providing blood products. Of course, not one of the support staff members knew how to perform a blood transfusion. Couple that with their lack of transfusion supplies and you’ve dialed up a situation for poor patient care.

Compromised patient care, at any level, is a deal breaker. Clients entrust their beloved pets to veterinary hospitals and believe we will rightly care for them. We are obligated to peak performance. If a practice does not have its focus on patient care, refuse to compromise.

7. The Practice Is Chronically Understaffed

The formula for stress at work:

Stress = Too many tasks + Too few employees – Patient care (see #6).

If your practice is always hiring, firing, or losing employees, you can bet that turn-over rate is an indicator of severe dysfunction traceable to the leadership. Practices with high churn rates find themselves in a perpetual cycle of being understaffed. High churn also means new employees in need of training. But without staff who trains them? Too few and untrained employees results in one big problem: Poor patient care!

8. Lies, Lies, Lies

Whether it’s lying to employees or lying to clients, businesses built on lies are dangerous. Evacuate now.

9. Inability to Effect Change

The ability to effect change is integral to feeling like a contributing member of a practice. Having ideas for improvement embraced and implemented rewards free-thinking employees. Movers and shakers become frustrated when their repeated attempts at correcting problems are thwarted by ineffectual leadership.

If you’re ideas and offerings are met with cold stares, or worse, promises of compromise that never come to fruition, perhaps it’s time leave for fertile ground.

10. Life Has Changed

The fluidity of life can alter your needs so that jobs that formerly fit well then may not fit now. Marriage, children, illness, and family struggles all may change your employment needs. It’s never wrong to seek a job that fulfills your financial needs, provides better benefits, or offers the hours compatible with your life.


If you are in the market for a new job in the poor economy, perseverance and ingenuity are key. Make yourself more marketable by filling niches. Create job opportunities instead of just pouring over the classifieds. Thinking outside the box just may open doors for job fulfillment!

Ten Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Veterinary Practice: Part I

July 16, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, General, Practice Management

Deciding to quit requires great consideration and, in many cases, should only occur following exhaustive attempts at improving your workplace. For tips on how to cope and avoid quitting, check out the first half of this article from US News and World Report!  If you think you are at the end of your rope, quitting your job may be the only option you have left.

Leaving your job during a down economy carries enormous weight.  Frequently the idea is abandoned because of fear of the unknown. Too often we accept mediocrity in exchange for comfort. Our griping, stress, and stagnancy linger because we don’t want to sacrifice a sure thing.

Some of the best advice I ever heard came from Mr. Vernon Hill, past-CEO of Commerce Bank. When asked what to do when management refused to budge he said pointedly, “Something’s gotta change. Either they change or you change.”

I offer you 10 signs it’s time to leave your practice. Many of the signs are interrelated, a consequence of compounded dysfunction.

Ten Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Veterinary Practice

1. Lack of Leadership

Having a definitive leader in a practice is key to maintaining balance and unity between personnel. A practice is only as strong as its leaders. The discord from lack of leadership trickles down the ranks from associates all the way to kennel staff. Leadership failures include ignoring conflict, refusing to address employee concerns, and an inability to accept feedback and criticism. If business owners and managers refuse to establish and adhere to set practices and guidelines, the practice quickly morphs into an every-man-for-himself mentality.

The strongest practice leaders seek input from their employees and strive to improve work relationships. Without that direction inconsistent policies, unresolved conflict, and disgruntled employees contribute to an even bigger problem: Poor patient and client care.

2. You No Longer Enjoy Your Job

This one seems like a no-brainer but it deserves a closer look.  Only about half of Americans report they actual enjoy their jobs. Yikes! Money, interpersonal relationships, long hours, and the job itself comprise many of the reasons for job dissatisfaction.

Burnout is one of the biggest factors affecting a veterinarian’s job satisfaction. There is a big difference between physical burnout secondary to long hours and emotional burnout secondary to chronic stress. Physical burnout can sometimes be remedied with vacations or sabbaticals. Emotionally burnt out employees may have no other choice but to leave their current position in order to reestablish balance.

We will all experience bad days, weeks, or months at work. Overall job dissatisfaction comes from chronic, systemic dysfunction resulting in more bad days than good over an extended time.

As an aside, I don’t know many veterinarians who, at one point or another, haven’t doubted their calling into the profession. The long hours, chronic stress, and interference with personal life take a toll. It leaves us second guessing. Determining whether you are unsatisfied with your job or your career is critical.

3. Work Interferes With Family Life

Veterinary professionals expect long hours and late nights. Those unfortunate enough to have the plague of  “on-call” carry a tether to the veterinary practice making maintaining your family and social life difficult.  Long hours make veterinary medicine challenging enough, throw in a chronically stressful work environment and you’ve got big trouble.

Overworked on a soft tissue rotation during my fourth year of veterinary school, the only thing I could think of on my 20-minute drive home was a hot sausage sandwich. It waited for me, an ample leftover certain to squelch my starvation. I arrived home to find my husband had eaten all of the sandwich rolls and all but three inches of coveted porky goodness. The consequences of fatigue, stress, and an 80-hr work week played into the epic at-home work-induced meltdown that ensued.

Rational thought escaped as I went on a tirade about how it was clear my husband didn’t love or respect me since he ate my long fantasized about dinner. I heated the measly morsel and continued to accost my poor husband. I stormed to the office, my husband in slow chase behind, and to my dismay my sausage rolled off of my plate and across the floor. I bawled. A lot. Work stress weaved its way into my home life and my attitude suffered for it. In retrospect, this proves another hysterical moment among many in our relationship, but a lesser man may not have been so tolerant of work-related meltdowns.

Ideals, however noble, are rarely upheld when serious long-term stress hits. Our families are the first affected by sour moods. Sometimes our work situation is so miserable no amount of positive thinking and affirmations contain the emotion of job dissatisfaction. Don’t let your family suffer.

4. Ouch! You’ve Run Into The Ceiling

Positions with little or no room for growth are frustrating. Stagnant minds rot. Stagnant paychecks are rotten.

5.  Any Other Job Is More Appealing

Find yourself thinking waiting tables looks better than your current job? Willing to take a significant pay cut just to escape? See those road workers dripping in sweat on a summer day and jealously think ‘Hey, they look so tan!’? You are not alone but it’s time to seriously rethink your current situation.

Remember the expression “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?” It’s true. It’s greener because it’s fertilized with bulls**t. We’ve neatly concocted scenarios in our minds as to how much better it is over there. If the only reason for leaving is  you think it’s better on the other side, think again. Perhaps you just need a vacation. But if you find yourself nodding in agreement with some other signs, this may contribute to your decision to leave.


Ten Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Veterinary Practice: Part II

Reader Question Answered

May 25, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Questions, Veterinary School

From time to time I will receive a private message from a reader with a specific question regarding veterinary medicine. Chances are that reader isn’t the only one wondering. Check out this response to a concerned high school student:

Q: I have a slight (or major, depending on your perspective) dilemma. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m taking an honors Chemistry class. I really want to get into veterinary school because I know veterinary medicine is the field I want to spend my life in. Unfortunately, I’m horrible at Chemistry. Anyway, I’m wondering if you could help me with this little problem. I actually have been wondering if I should start really pushing to learn this on my own, or if I should just take a remedial course before college.

A: Congratulations on making a decision to enter the veterinary profession! I’m impressed with your forethought and concern over understanding chemistry and your courage to face the challenge. As a sophomore in high school, I know there is a lot of pressure to earn good grades. Those grades meter acceptance into colleges and determine scholarship awards.

Your success in a high school level chemistry course is not necessarily an indicator of how you might perform in college and then veterinary school.  There are many extraneous factors at work: The quality of your chemistry teacher, the way the course is taught, and the way your brain processes this new subject. All three of these factors change as you enter college. My best advice for you is to try your best. This sounds cliché but it is the most important factor. That might mean extra study and self teaching or even hiring a tutor. I would not go so far as to take a remedial course before college for the same reasons I mentioned above.

Let me tell you a little story: I was one of those kids in high school who never needed to study and still graduated toward the top of my class. My freshman year of college was no different – or so I thought. I barely studied for my first freshman biology exam which I realized was a huge mistake as soon I started trying to answer the questions. I was rewarded with a 64%  –  I was a Biology Major! Student career services told me to rethink my career path and consider dropping biology and changing majors. No way! I learned how to study and how to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I never could have done that in high school. The way you learn, study, and adjust to new material changes as you age. A couple of years make all the difference. I finished that semester with a “B” in my major and I’m still a veterinarian today!

If my math is right you are close to 16 years old. You have 10 years until you become a veterinarian! It’s important to keep perspective that you are still young and have the world in your grasp! You need to embrace your youth and limit your worry. You will have ample time to grasp chemistry: general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry (in both undergraduate and vet school). It will come to you, I promise.



May 25, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

Burnout is one of my favorite topics due to its pervasiveness within the veterinary profession. Even though I know the signs of impending tribulation I still find myself, from time to time, creeping toward that all too familiar overworked and stressed out volatile breakdown. That’s why, last week, I unplugged from VMDiva and took a week off of work for my first ever Staycation.

I know veterinarians who pride themselves in their anti-vacation stance. They’ve worked 60 hours a week for years and forgot how to unwind. They wear a badge of honor for taking just one or two days off a year, thinking somehow working themselves into the ground is admirable. That’s just stupid. A veterinarian’s practice and home life will suffer when she reaches burnout. Fatigue and stress manifest as strained relations with family and lack of motivation at work. A veterinarian will practice better medicine with a well rested body and mind. Stressed professionals lose patience and passion, rush appointments, and *gasp* may even have poorer performance.

I used my staycation to accomplish my to-do list of tasks I never have time for. We all have those lists which always get put off until tomorrow. My husband and I upgraded our kitchen and planted our annuals. I even had some dental work done. And some argue, is this really relaxation? For me it is.  Simply unplugging from the daily stresses of sick animals, sad clients, and work-related financial stress uplifts the weary soul. Studies show, too, that getting chores and house projects finished actually lowers cortisol levels. No work AND crossing off tasks on the to-do list: Relaxation!

I started work this week feeling rejuvenated and hopeful. A week at the homestead was exactly what this doctor ordered. Stave off burnout; Use your PTO!

Burnt Burgers, Urgent Care, and Guilt

May 07, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Just For Fun, Opinion

Last weekend was filled with calamity for the Koehl family. I contained my excitement for the first grilled burgers of the season, a big deal here in the north east, until the afternoon of house projects came to an end. I got the burgers on the grill and the macaroni and cheese on the stove all the while dreaming of that first bite into the mouth watering juicy beef patty. On my way to flip the burgers, I repeated the habit I’ve had for years by walking out the back door and pushing the storm door closed so my feline frenzy didn’t push it open. Hey, they get excited about burgers, too. Only this time, as I pushed the door closed the glass shattered in my hand.

Ruh roh.

Initial synaptic reports indicated I was going to die. As the blood dripped on the floor, visions of crippled exams and banishment from surgery filled my mind. Rational thought took over…err…eventually…and I notified my husband of the 1 cm laceration on my palm. That evening taste of summer ended with burnt burgers, soggy mac and cheese, and a lot of kitchen clean-up. I’ll spare those details. I decided to craft steri-strips from waterproof tape and declared myself on the mend.

The next morning, aside from pain, I felt tip top. That is until my husband woke up declaring he had a plank in his right eye. We, like so many of my clients, decided to see how he did through the day and applied lubricant eye drops and homemade remedies. Hours later he decided the pain in his eye was too severe to endure until Monday and we found ourselves at an Urgent Care Facility.

I paid the fee before he was taken back. As my husband was examined I chatted with the receptionist. Our conversation went as follows:
” You guys busy today?” “No, we’ve only seen about 12 people.”
“What kind of stuff do you see here?” “Rashes, UTIs, colds.”
“That’s interesting. Hey, let me ask you a question. What happens when people come in here for urgent care and they can’t pay the exam fee?” She grimaced and shook her head. “We won’t see them.”

That didn’t surprise me as much as what came next.”Do these people ever get angry and tell you you don’t care about them and expect service anyway?” She raised her eyebrows in surprise and said, “Never.” Probing questions revealed another difference between my job and my medical counterparts. The dichotomy between the expectations in human and veterinary medicine always amazes me.

Most veterinarians occasionally face accusations of not caring about animals when they refuse service to someone who has no money. Why don’t we hear doctors accosted when they refuse service to patients without money or patients with unaccepted insurance plans? Perhaps I haven’t been listening but maybe, just maybe, the guilt pet owners feel when they are unable to care for their pets emotionally trumps their personal health concerns.

Dealing with the financial component of practice is harder than any medical decision I’ve made. Accusations of  selfishness, greed, and lack of compassion don’t easily roll off my back. I believe many of these accusations are rooted in guilt and frustration.

The truth is pet ownership a luxury. Shame and guilt felt when they can’t properly care for their animals can tip even the nicest client over the edge.  That helpless feeling coupled with compassion towards man and beast puts emphasis on caring for others over oneself and probably fuels the angry diatribes from troubled clients.

My husband was diagnosed with corneal abrasions. One trip to urgent care, two trips to the ophthalmologist, and four trips to the pharmacy later we’re on the mend. I’m grateful for the finances to ensure medical care for the entire Koehl family – Fox, Winston, and Miss Pigglesworth included!