A Paw Partnership came to fruition with simple words of encouragement.
My husband came home one day and told me about a class offered through Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. taught by his professor Eric Koester. In 2017, I was working 10-hour days, which at times amounted to 60-hour work weeks that writing a book wasn’t even on my radar. At the time, I thought why not have the discussion, and maybe one day it could transpire into a resource for those out there who may not be privy to the intricacies of the veterinary industry. I knew there would come a time in my life to revisit writing a book.
A couple of years passed. I continued to grow my knowledge base in the veterinary industry. I continued to work long days and weeks. And twelve years into my dream career, I found myself walking away from my full-time position in a veterinary practice — and for a reason that had become all too common in our industry. I was approaching burnout.
Come 2019, the discussion Professor Koester and I had kept stirring in my mind. I kept replaying what he said to me that day we spoke. He said, “What if you took all of your experiences in the veterinary industry and formulated a solution or a vision of what is yet to come. What if you painted the picture of the past, present, and future for your readers and cultivated it as such that you could address the hurdles industry professionals face, while presenting them with solutions to transform the future of the industry?”
My life had changed so much in just two years, and I thought, Maybe now is the right time.
I gave Professor Koester a ring and was surprised to discover that he remembered our previous discussion.
“Wow! If you’re still thinking about it,” he said, “there’s definitely something there. There aren’t many books out there like the one you could write.”
Near the end of my tenure as a veterinary practice manager, I struggled. I struggled to implement new corporate initiatives, while keeping up with the day-to-day challenges my practice faced. I struggled to keep a smile on my face for the team looking up to me for direction. I felt like I was running an endless marathon, and I struggled to keep the momentum going.
The overwhelming demands of maintaining a workforce, maintaining hospital revenue numbers, and maintaining employee morale started wearing on me. Covering shifts when staff called in sick consumed so much of my time and energy that I no longer had space to grow. I had established boundaries to maintain a work-life balance — or at least I’d said the words — but something always seemed to come along to challenge them. An email, a phone call, an equipment issue that tethered me to the clinic just a few hours longer. There was always something.
There was someone always complaining too. Therefore, I implemented the “No Complaining Rule” as discussed in John Gordon’s book. For a while, the rule did cut down on the negativity in the clinic. But every time the team dynamic shifted due to the addition or loss of an employee — something that happened frequently — the cycle of complaints repeated.
The gossip started. The drama started. The level of appreciation for having a job and the ability to use one’s skills and knowledge to grow newer employees was forgotten. There started the vicious cycle of so-and-so doesn’t know how to do this, so-and-so shouldn’t be doing this. A culture shift was in order and emphasizing the importance of teamwork. Instead of breaking each other down, we should be lifting one another up. I always looked at a new employee as an opportunity integrate and train someone to become a valuable member of the clinic. We could mold the individual into a great professional — teach them to follow our effective systems and processes and to follow them consistently. Inconsistency inevitably led to trouble, and when trouble started, everyone looked to me to fix it.
Early in my management career, being the one everyone looked to for guidance and leadership had made me feel respected, valued, and appreciated — both as a professional and as a person. But over the years, things had changed. Or maybe I had changed. I no longer felt like I was making a difference in the lives of pets and pet parents. I just felt stress. Overwhelming, dizzying, paralyzing stress.
And then came the big day. The day I stood facing a team member, unable to formulate complete sentences. I reached a point of immense stress, and experienced a couple of incidents frozen and dizzy. I thought I was having a mini-stroke or extreme mental and physical exhaustion. That’s when I knew it was time. It was time to change my trajectory and take a step back from the place I called home. I had to step back from the industry I loved so I could save myself.
My Responsibility to Bring Awareness to the Veterinary Industry
Having worked in the veterinary field since 2008, I have a diverse and well-rounded perspective of the challenges and obstacles veterinary employees and employers face. I feel called to bring awareness and support to the profession. Each member of the veterinary team has chosen their job because they care for animals and people. We love our pet patients and want to provide the best care for them.
In 2008, as a high school graduate, I joined a veterinary practice and worked my way up through many positions in the clinic and the company. I started in an entry-level position as a kennel attendant. My curiosity as to how the veterinary team treated their patients led me on a path driven by passion but fueled by determination to reach my professional goals and help animals and people.
Several years later, my role evolved into that of hospital manager. From that vantage point, I could see endless possibilities to improve our standards for managing and leading a practice. I learned to coach my team, collaborate and build on individual strengths and weaknesses, and leverage skills in a way that moved our team forward. I learned how to interact and build relationships with customers and clients.
Through each step of my personal development journey, I came to realize that few people outside our industry have an awareness of the blood, sweat, and — indeed — tears that go into working in this profession. But what I failed to realize was the amount of stress I, too, experienced in the workplace and that I, too, was at the point of burnout. One of the most difficult career decisions I‘ve ever had to make was to step down as the leader and mentor for my staff and step back from my role as a veterinary practice manager and strategic planning coach. But that’s exactly what I did in 2019. I prioritized caring for myself for a while, and I began to explore opportunities to continue my professional growth, which was at a standstill. This time “off” gave me a chance to absorb and process the experiences I had encountered in my veterinary career.
What commonalities existed across the board, and how could we improve them? How could I influence the future of the veterinary industry to focus on the well-being of not just the patients but of the health professionals? I encountered the same concerns in multiple practices across the country, even around the world, in my quest to research and develop this book. Veterinarians, support staff, and key industry leaders are aware of the challenges the industry faces, and together they are innovating solutions.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, A Paw Partnership. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me via my website https://www.apawpartnership.com/, or connect with me on social media:
My book will be releasing this week! Stay on the lookout via my website!