Surviving Veterinary Medicine
How we Make it Through – with Dr. Danielle Anderson
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Dr. Narda Robinson (NR): Welcome to my second podcast with Dr. Danielle Anderson. Danielle is one of our most popular and enthusiastic instructors in the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians course, as well as our Integrative Rehabilitation Program.
Here we’re going to be talking about life and such; just how do you navigate all the different intersecting vectors of business and your personal life? And if you have a family, and even starts in vet school, where you’re at a period of time in your life, where there’s still potentially a lot of unsettled issues and maybe relationships. So, that’s where we begin today.
NR: It’s a turbulent time, I think, in people’s lives.
Danielle Anderson (DA): It’s like redoing your teens, but you’re older, right?
NR: Yeah, like a double teens or something.
DA: Like there’s a lot. Yeah.
NR: Right. And yet, you have all this pressure of vet school. Yeah, I just know, especially having treated vet students as a physician. So, they would come to me and so many were already depressed. And then you get into internship and residency. How did you right the ship in various places?
DA: I think that so many things that happen within your life, I would like to share. And it’s part of why I’m so open about things is that I’ve had so many things happen in my life – good and bad – that have led me to where I am. And I know there’s people out there that have been in one of those situations that I’ve been in throughout my life.
And I want it ultimately to be known that (a) there’s people out there that have done this; don’t feel like you’re alone. And reach out, because there’s people out there that will talk to you and listen to you. And even if you reach out to 50, there’s going to be one that says, “You know what? We’ve got this. Like, let’s do this together.”
So, I think that’s kind of, for me, what this is about. Because I’ve encountered multiple people in my career, especially in the last year, that have reached out and said, “Can I reach out to you?” And I’m like, “Absolutely.”
And I think you get shut down and I think there’s a self-confidence issue there, there’s a mental health issue there, there’s a stress issue, there’s so many potential causes. I feel like we either are being shut down or we don’t feel like we can reach out.
And again, a lot of Type A personalities that are, “I’ve got this and I’ve got to be able to do this on my own because I’m stubborn.” And I’ve been there; like I’ve had periods of my life where I’ve done the same thing. I’m like, “I don’t need help. I don’t need to talk to anyone. I’ve got this. I’ll figure it out.” And you need help. You need to have your person that you can kind of talk to or somebody that you can talk to.
And I think with all the virtual stuff that we’re doing right now, even whether it’s just a phone call, maybe it’s even easier because you can say, “Hey, I’m going to send you a message on Facebook.” There’s no face to face. So, you feel maybe a little disconnected, but you can still get that feedback from somebody.
I don’t know about you. For me, I grew up in a very Brady Bunch, we’ve talked about this, happy family; very, very overly supportive parents who would do anything for me. And I really thought that that’s just how people lived. I didn’t know any different.
But I was a very quiet kid. I remember my mom, especially when we moved to Saskatchewan, we came back from Saskatchewan, and I had a really hard time fitting in (a) because I was quiet. And so, that just kind of knocked me back a peg or two; there was bullying stuff that happened, but all that aside. I remember my mom – I was probably grade seven, eight or something maybe. She’s like, “Maybe we should put you in theater.”
So, think about that. So, the quietest kid in the room, having trouble making friends, having trouble kind of fitting in. “Let’s put her on a stage.” I was like, “Dear God.”
But what it did was made me part of something. So, I was never, ever – I watch my son and he wants to be front and center; he wants to do those things. I didn’t have the confidence for that. But, man, did it feel good to be a part of something.
And vet school did that for me. CuraCore did that for me. It was being a part of something that made me feel really good about myself. And so, theater did that for me.
You know, high school, teenage years aside; I still seemed to come out in a positive way. I will say, I think, I always knew from, like three years old, I wanted to be a veterinarian; there was no other option in my head.
I think now, “What would I have done if I didn’t get in?” Because I’m watching these girls – who are very much like myself and can’t get in – and I really don’t know. Because physiotherapy, rehab; all these other options weren’t really an option at the time. I really didn’t want to do anything with the bio-sci degree. Like I had no other options in the back of my head.
So, I feel very thankful that I found vet school, for multiple reasons. And you and I have talked about this; I’ve talked to many people about this. Because of my lack of self-confidence, I was in a relationship for a very long time, probably longer than I needed to be. And I’m not going to bash him because he was never abusive, but he was controlling. And that was his own insecurities.
So, laying it all out there; I was talking to my staff member about this. I said, I clearly remember, because every weekend I would be picked up from school and brought back home where I would study, and then he would take me back to school on Sunday.
And I remember a bunch of the people he worked with called and said, “Hey, do you want to go dancing?” They were home for the summer or something. And I was like, “Oh, my God, are we doing this?” Like, we didn’t go out ever. I remember my dad saying, “Here is $20. Just take her to a restaurant; like go out.” He was like, “Yeah, okay. Well, we can go”, and I was like, “Oh my God. We’re going to a dance club.” Like, we really didn’t go out. Ever.
I was in my cotton ginny sweatpants and like a big comfy T-shirt, because I’d been studying, and like, “Okay, swing by my house. I’m just going to change.” And he was like, “Aha”, and I was like, “What?” He’s like, “No, no. You have no one to impress. So, we can go, but we’re going as we are.”
And, damn it, I did. I went to that dance club and I danced my butt off in my cotton ginny sweatpants and my T-shirt and I had a great time. And I tell this story and people are like, “You did what?” I was such a different person. I was still trying to find my way.
I went into vet school, and all of a sudden, again, you’re part of this group of really smart individuals who I looked at and went, “Am I really supposed to be here?”
I remember the first day, sitting in that room, and we had to go through – Everyone introduced themselves and said, Where do you come from? What is your background like? and it was like, “Well, I have a neuroscience degree” and “You know, I did this.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God, what am I doing? Like, these people are smart.” And I was 100% intimidated by everyone in that class. And I was fairly quiet.
What did happen was there were these amazing people in my class that reached out to me; that said, “Hey, she’s quiet, but she seems nice enough. Maybe she wants to hang out. Maybe she wants to come have a beer with us.” And I started realizing my own worth in that first year and going, “I actually deserve more.”
I remember talking to some of the guys that were like, “Oh, yeah, we took my girlfriend out” and I’m like, “Oh, my God, you take her out?” Like, that’s a thing?
So, I was like, “You know what? I deserve better.” And it was a hard decision for me; seven and a half years – from 17 to 24.
DA: Yeah. So, that’s your dating life. That’s you’re like going-out-and-being-careless life. And so, it turned around a lot in vet school. I became a bit of a different person. I was still fairly self-conscious.
Fast forward a year from that; and I meet my husband. And I remember my dad going, “Wow, he likes to talk.” So, he is the most extroverted person and it was such a great balance for me. It took a while to figure out again that he would be someone that I would deserve. I know that sounds so stupid.
NR: No, I know what you mean.
DA: Because I remember, you know, I didn’t have lists of what I wanted, but in the back of your head, you’re like, “I want someone who wants a family. I want someone who appreciates me. I want someone to look at me the way my dad looks at my mom; 100%.” Right?
And I just sat there. I remember, you know, he had just moved to town and we sat there. We watched a movie one night, because we were on the same baseball team.
DA: Yeah. That’s how I met him. I joined the baseball team. And I don’t play baseball, but I was like, “That’s it. I need to get out of the university. I’ve been here for eight years.”
And I was like, “He’s so cute.” He was a little younger. But I was like, “What an amazing guy.” And yeah, that didn’t take long for that to kind of develop and made me go, “Wow, this is my person.”
DA: And he’s my rock, right?
DA: He’s the one; he’s our laundry fairy for work. He’s the guy who fixes everything in the house. He will work nonstop for anybody and everybody.
So, I would say – I guess that’s my first tip: Don’t ever sell yourself short. Right? Clearly, we’re reaching out to vets at this point. You’ve gotten to this path because you deserve to be on this path. You’ve gotten into vet school because you deserve to be in vet school. And so, don’t sell yourself short in your relationships and don’t sell yourself short in your career either.
NR: That’s great.
DA: And that’s been a long time coming.
When I graduated from vet school, I was so excited; like, think about that. So, three years old, I’m now, I think I was 27. So, a quarter of a century that you’re now, “Finally, I’m going to make money and do what I’ve always dreamed about doing.” And I remember going, “I don’t know what I’m doing” and feeling –
And, you know, my first job, I was fairly well supported; there were a lot of vets there. And it wasn’t uncommon for me to pick up the phone and go, “Look, I’ve got a pyometra in Room 1. I’ve got a cat with its head stuck in a bowl in Room 2. There’s a goat crashing on the X-ray table. Like, can somebody walk me through this?” And they would pick up the phone. They’re like, “You’ve got this. Don’t worry about it. You’ve done the right things.”
And sometimes, that’s all you need. And I always remember that, that regardless of the fact that I had to move on from that practice and all the other practices that I kind of encountered along the way, I always remember that they always picked up that phone.
And I hear stories, these new grads that come out, and they’re calling the owner because they’re on a call, maybe a large animal call that they’re unsure of or an emergency happened in the hospital and they don’t pick up the phone. And I’m like, “Just pick up the phone.”
Picking up the phone – And I get it. I get that you need to turn work off, but you also have to be there for one another. And I think I think that’s what’s missing. I think owners are overwhelmed – and I get it – but I still think you need to be there for one another. And I guess that’s my tip Number 2.
NR: Pick up the phone.
DA: Right? So, I think I continue to battle a lot of kind of demons and depression and things throughout the years. I was very fortunate to have – especially after having my daughter – my boss’s wife. We went to a barbecue there and she had just gone through some pretty severe postpartum depression, I think, with her child.
And I remember walking to the backyard and I had the kids, and Nikolai was with me, and they’re like, “Oh, how’s it going?” And I was like, “It’s going.”
NR: Wow, I can feel that in my heart.
DA: Right? Which probably isn’t the reaction most people give. They’re like, “It’s great. I love my baby.”
And I was just not enjoying life; I was exhausted, I was stressful, I was stressed all the time. It’s not like I wanted to go back to work, but it was tough.
And I see these people. And then you compare yourself, right? They have like three kids under the age of four and they’re like Mary Poppins with like a mop. They’ve got a jogging stroller and they’re jogging at six o’clock in the morning. And I’m like, “I hated all of them.” I hated them. I’m like, “I just wanted to, like, shut myself in a dark room and cry all the time.”
And unbeknownst to me, my husband was often on the phone, because we had midwives. And the midwives would be like, “Can you get her to stop nursing? The hormones might settle if you can get…”
And I was like, “I am not going to stop nursing. There is no way. I nursed him. I will nurse her.” And the stubbornness Type A plus hormones. It was just such a bad combination.
And I have to forgive myself a little bit, because you’re looking back in that year when I was pregnant with her, my son was in the hospital for 10 days with pneumonia and a collapsed lung. And then two months later, we had her and then six weeks in she had an intussusception. We had to rush her to the hospital. And then I ended up in the hospital with an arrhythmia. And then the depression just like tanked me.
So, I remember walking into that backyard and she was like, “Come with me now. Like, you’re coming with me, leave the baby.” And she took me up to the bedroom and talked to me.
She’s a very calming personality. Like very, matter of fact, calm. Like, “So, you understand this is not normal. And you understand that it’s okay to take medication to try and get yourself back on track. It’s okay to accept help. It’s okay.” I just sat there and cried and went, “I don’t want to.”
And the fear – and I know that there’s women that go through this – the fear of, “If I get on a medication for my head and it doesn’t work, what does that mean? If I take the medication, am I ever going to come off of it?”
It is like sitting in the middle of a giant tornado of emotions and you just can’t see head nor tails of life, really.
So, again, thank God for my husband because he was calling the midwife, like, “There’s something very, very wrong with my wife. There’s something wrong with her. She’s just not happy. She’s not herself. Like there’s something dreadfully wrong.”
I remember my boss’s wife saying, “Here’s the medication that they put me on. It has helped me tremendously. Know that it might take time.”
And I remember going to my physician – crying the whole way – and I said, “I don’t know what this is…” and she’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s safe for nursing.” I’m like, “Well, she’s nursing. She’s on it.”
And like within, I would say even a week, like the fog from my head lifted. I could enjoy my kids; I could enjoy my family. But it also meant that any time there’s a major crisis life event, I know I have that predisposition to sinking back down to that depression again. I’m very good at managing myself. I’m not on medications anymore.
So, my husband’s very good at recognizing the fact that as an introvert, I need my space. I need to regenerate myself by having a little bit of alone time, which is very hard when you have two kids and a husband and a job and a business. But he’ll be like, “You know what, guys? Let’s go to the movies.” This is before Covid, honestly.
DA: But, you know, “Let’s go to the movies. Mom’s going to stay at home tonight.” And they’re okay with that. And they know, “Tomorrow we’re going to do something together. But tonight, mom just needs a little bit of quiet.” So, yeah, it’s having your people.
And so, I can see it in others. I can be with someone and go, “They are struggling and I can see it.” And I usually try and reach out and go, “Hey, just so you know, this is my story. So, when I say I know what it’s like, I know what it’s like.”
And I can’t say that for every situation, because I am so fortunate to have my parents. I had a physician that supported me, parents, a husband. I had so much support and not everyone has that. So, you don’t want to emotionally exhaust yourself. But I do think it’s super, super, super important to be there for one another.
And all things aside in personal life; in the clinic, you have clinic dynamics that affect you. It’s not necessarily you have bad bosses, although I guess that’s a possibility. You have bosses or owners that may not think the same way you do; whether that’s on how to manage clients and patients or how to run a practice. And that can affect you. How the staff treats you can affect you, how clients treat you, affects you.
I’ve worked in places where I didn’t feel anyone else felt the same thing I did, and they didn’t. They were ultimate Type A personalities that just put their head down and they did their job. And if it was 15 minutes in and out, it was 15 minutes in and out. And that was not me.
And you start feeling like you are the crazy one. You are the one and you don’t belong. And what are you doing in this environment when maybe you just need a different environment?
Maybe it’s not you and it’s not them; because whatever they’re doing is working for them, but it’s not working for you. Then you need to either figure out, can they adapt something for you, or do you have to move on and find someone who has the same sort of mentality that you do, I guess. Does that makes sense?
NR: Well, yeah. And corporate environments certainly come to mind where there’s not even necessarily the owner there. It just seems to shift things like the practices around here in Fort Collins that have kind of been gobbled up by maybe a corporation that says, “Well, we’re a different corporation. We’re not going to change things.” And then in a matter of weeks or whatever, things are very different.
I mean, and then we see that in the acupuncture course, too.
NR: So many people are on that cusp.
DA: I have a good friend who – So, when I left my one clinic – partially because I wanted to do rehab, partially because I wanted to own my own place, and that wasn’t an option there. Some clinic dynamic stuff that was really affecting my mental health – she took my position.
And I remember thinking, “She’s going to be a great vet.” She was so caring and they paired me with her, which was weird because I was training my replacement. But she was a new grad and support was being offered. And she called me almost every day crying. Because once I was gone, the support was gone. It was very much like, “Put your big girl pants on. You need to step it up.” So, she struggled.
So, she eventually left. I was just talking to her the other day, because she just had a baby. And I was like a baby in Covid with someone who I know battles depression like I do. I was like, “How’s that going?” She’s like, “Not so good.” I said, “If you need to Zoom call me and see another face, if you need to call me and… Like, don’t just text me. Don’t send me a Facebook… Like you need to call me; do it.” Because sometimes that’s all you need. If you need to talk through something.
The comment was something like, “That’s very kind of you. I can’t believe you would do that for someone.” And I was like, “Well, first of all, you’re my friend. And second of all, why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t someone do that for someone else?”
I think she works in a great practice. But I think, you know, you talk about corporate, you know, and there’s a lot of pushback, “I don’t want to work corporate. I don’t want to go through that.” But then they open their own practices.
So, people, either newer grads or older grads open their own practice and they don’t know how to manage people.
NR: They’re not taught that. Yeah.
DA: No. And they know what they know. And they’re going to be damned if they’re going to listen to anyone else, because this is, “I’ve spent a million dollars to open this practice. It’s my money. This is how I want to operate it.”
I do get that, that you put that money in. But, holy, I think that is why we’re seeing so many mental health issues, because vet med is a stressful environment as it is.
DA: It’s stressful because you’re trying to please clients, you’re trying not to kill anything, you’re trying to make everybody happy; staff happy, yourself happy, your home life happy. And then sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy and you’re hard on yourself.
And so, you add into that, someone who is like, “You need to work harder. And you need to work longer. And you need…” and I just don’t know how we don’t see mental health issues in vet med. Of course we do.
NR: Right. Then that sort of reminds me of… So, the one thing like in school as faculty, we as business owners aren’t taught unless we do an SBA or have something going on, but we’re not taught how to run a business or how to do HR; all these things. So, you could hire somebody to do that, but you don’t necessarily have the money. So, there’s all that that we don’t know.
And then I see that in school, too, is like, so you do a residency and then, “Oh, there’s an open faculty position.” You’ve never been taught how to teach or to create certain exam questions.
And so, getting to maybe one of the roots of the problem with veterinary medicine is not only that we – You know, we give all these accolades to the specialists and everything. And to some degree, that’s deserved. But it’s also just they’re climbing on the shoulders of others. And so, the level of dysfunction that gets repeated is certainly there. And it’s kind of petrified like a tree might be.
And because something you’ve mentioned before about crying, like with clients or whatever.
NR: And so, then there’s that sort of gender dynamic where this was this mostly male profession. Now, it’s mostly female. And so, just like kind of like systemic racism or something.
How much have we developed within this former kind of very patriarchal structure? And with the belief systems like the, “We’re going to be hard on every…” I mean, you know, to maybe overgeneralize, but say that it was a male thing and you shouldn’t cry and you shouldn’t worry about the little kitten with the this or the that.
And if we can recognize what we’ve inherited and absorbed, that’s not necessarily what we want to have as embodied in veterinary medicine, then it’s like, I guess, identifying it first and then evaluating it and then maybe discarding it.
So, I also see that we’re on this leading edge of reformatting veterinary medicine where it should be okay to cry and to bond with clients. It feels abnormal maybe at first, but when we realize, like, “What is the best way to engage with clients and to care for animals?” It’s so different. And there needs, to me, such radical transformation that begins in veterinary school.
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DA: And the other thing is, I think it’s also different in the States versus Canada because we’re women, so we’re the ones that have the babies. So, if we want a family, currently, that’s the only way it’s going to happen.
And so, for us in Canada, we get a year. Well, we can take 18 months now, with a guarantee that your job will still be there for you. There’s a mild payment there, too. So, now instead of 12 months of pay, you get 18 months. But it’s the same pay spread out over a longer period of time.
DA: Yeah. So, you can split that. So, when I had my son, I had the opportunity to work at my sister-in-law’s clinic, because she was going on mat leave. And I needed to reinforce my faith in vet med. Because at the time, I had worked at two practices and was ready, two years into my career to leave vet med altogether.
She’s like, “Come work at my hospital.” She’s like, “I think it will re-instill your faith.” And she was 100% right.
I remember going there going, “Okay. So, you can work for a place where it’s forward thinking, where they practice good medicine, where, yes, there’s always going to be little dramatic things that are happening, from a clinical standpoint, but it can be managed well.” And I went, “Okay, this is a good thing.” And I totally forget where I was going with that. What were we talking about?
NR: Well, maternity leave and how Canada is different from the U.S. in so many ways.
DA: Yeah. So, I mean, I passed that off to my husband. But I guess my thought process is, “How do you manage that in the States?” Like you go back after three months, is it? Or six weeks? Something like that.
NR: You know, it’s probably negotiable. I mean, I’ve avoided having children because even a dream that I have a kid and it’s like, “Okay, after the first eight hours, I am so done.”
I knew this was not what I wanted. Same with marriage. It’s like, “Okay, what do I do now?”
Anyway. So, I haven’t really explored.
DA: It’s not for everybody. But let’s say what you want is a family. So, you have that baby and now six weeks in… Let me tell you: my kids weren’t sleeping at three years and I was exhausted. When you were still postpartum and nursing and up all night long. So, now you’re adding severe exhaustion into the mix of an already kind of taxing situation. I really don’t know how you guys do it.
DA: And I know that there’s owners that go back in Canada, too. They’re like, “Look, I own a clinic. I’ve got to go back.” But it’s hard to manage.
I think we’re, like you said, beyond the patriarchal society of things. But even old school veterinarians are like, “Well, I owned the clinic. So, yeah, I was in labor still answering my phone and questions from work.” And I’m like, “Just because you did that doesn’t mean that you should expect me to do that.”
Because let’s look at the big picture. Again, when I graduated, it was, “Well, I graduated. I started at $50,000 salary and I was expected to work on call, every single night. And I was expected to do this and there was no extra pay.”
Well, that’s great. That’s what happened to you. And I’m very, very sorry. But why does that mean that should be trickled down to us?
And I think it’s the same thing, watching these new grads coming out and watching like even within the college itself; you have interns treated like that. Those interns become residents. So, they treat the new interns like that. And then you have your chief of staff and everything else. It filters down.
Where can we change that? Because it’s not necessary to treat people like that. It just isn’t.
NR: Right. Well, I mean, one idea would be, you know, as women get higher into the deanships and all that stuff.
But I remember, in my human medicine days and when I’d be on an ob-gyn rotation, there was one woman that was at the hospital that I was training at, she had identified with the aggressor. So, she was just as bad. They’d still make these bad comments about women. And maybe that was her survival technique.
But there is the possibility that you can get women at the higher echelons and they still manifest those old ideals.
Da: Yeah. I think like I said before, the Online Pet Health people have a mentorship program now. And I was talking to my technician yesterday, because I said, “You really should be a mentor. Like you should.” She’s so good and she mentors them anyways. So, any of the CCRP students that come in, they’re already texting her regularly going, “Jenna, can I get your opinion on this case?”
So, I’m like, “You might as well make it official.” And I said, “It doesn’t have to even be about cases. Sometimes, it’s about life.” It’s about going, “You know what? These are the things I’ve gone through in my life. If you think I can help talk you through this, call me; just shoot me a message. I’m okay with that.”
I just think we need more of that in vet med. That’s the impression I get from all the students coming to CuraCore, too.
NR: Right, right. I mean, that gives me the idea maybe somehow to formalize that. I mean, we have the private Facebook pages for acupuncture and now, rehab, which that offers some of it, but it’s still sort of a remote Facebook thing. It’s not like we have an ongoing, like a Zoom meeting and having coffee or something.
NR: That’s a good thing about Zoom; is like, I can see you and Steve and everybody. And it’s a lot more personal. It’s a nice avenue to get together with.
DA: I have gotten so much out of these relationships that I’ve formed. I shot Alissa a message the other day and then I shot Steve a message. You just want to know how one another is doing. And I feel like we have that.
What makes me sad are the people who don’t have that and don’t think that they have that. And I think that’s what we need to develop more of.
NR: Right. And I guess to develop it more and then to let people know that it exists. And nice for Online Pet Health for doing that and kind of recognizing that as a thing.
DA: Yeah. So, I mean, I always said if I was going to own a practice – Like you said, I had no business degree, I have no idea what I’m doing. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way. And there’s frustrations that come with being an owner still. But it is such a family.
And again, we were talking about this yesterday that, where you go where you can work with 11 women and there’s really no drama; like every day. And we are really working close.
And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments. I’ll call myself out on one a couple of weeks ago. You know, between teaching and running SOAR and we had weird cases coming in and little things were piling up and stuff at home was piling up. And I lost it, I think, on multiple people that week.
And so, I kind of acknowledged that, yesterday. I was like, “Listen, I’m really, really sorry. It’s going to happen. I’m very, very sorry for it. I’m going to try and not let things build up. I’ll try and address them individually as they come up. But we all make mistakes. And it’s about holding each other a little bit accountable.”
There was fear; I saw a lot of fear in the clinic and I felt bad about it. But I was like, “I just need to go be by myself really quietly for a bit.” And then I just don’t want to be that person who is yelling and screaming and angry all the time. Because what’s the point of having this place – this wonderful place that I built – if that’s how it’s going to make me feel. So, I just need to make sure that I’m keeping myself in check, too, and taking care of myself.
I took four or five days, kind of regrouped myself, came back and said, “Okay, I’ve got this. Let’s develop a plan on how to fix some of these problems that we’re seeing.”
NR: Well, I mean, I know, like even I, I place a lot of requests on you and you’ve been so nice and you’ve done a lot, but that’s where it’s like, wow, you have so many things happening at one time. And I can see where it’d be like, “Okay, here’s this cat.” Okay, so where would have been the opportunities other than saying, “I can’t do this right now. So, we’ll have to not do that.” But where could you discharge those emotions?
DA: I don’t know where I discharge them. But I think I just – and I did apologize. I’ve had to step back sometimes and go, “Listen, I’m really sorry. I may have overreacted that week. Lots is going on.” And I think we all hit a breaking point at some point in time. It’s recognizing that and not blaming other people; not being narcissistic about it and owning it, “I made mistakes that week and I apologize for them.” I don’t know.
I also don’t say no well. And I like the things that I’m doing. I love this point in my career; I love it. That week, I considered just buying a cottage in the mountains and moving there. And I’m like, “Narda, I’ll teach when you want me to teach. And I’m going to drink wine.”
NR: Yeah, that’s fine with me. I mean, that works for me. But yeah, still I don’t think you’re wrong for any of that. I think that sometimes, those episodes are informative. You’ve dealt with them and you’re like, “This, that and the other.”
I think there’s also sometimes a righting of the ship. And we talked about before, being a leader, being the boss, being the one in charge. Yeah, you’re among these women, but you still have responsibilities and things that are yours that you don’t share with those other people. I don’t know. It’s a tough thing to navigate.
And I know when I first graduated from med school and I had my own practice and I would have a receptionist or something, who I became friends with, but there’s a situation there and I can almost see where some people are not going to be friends with their staff.
But on the other hand, new types of leadership, like you hear Brene Brown or these other leaders, it’s like you lead out of love and that you can care for your staff.
And so, even among more male dominated things, it’s like they’re coming out and saying – Like even in the military, like Brene Brown, I guess, was talking about interviewing some high-level military person. He goes, “No, we have to have affection for the people we lead and care about them because your lives depend on each other.”
NR: So, it’s hard and that’s isolating, I think, a lot of times. And where kind of a community of similar peers is important because you don’t get that; you can’t really expect that from your staff. And sometimes, you just have to, I don’t know, have something that says, “I am this and this is…” I don’t know. It’s just different.
DA: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. And I mean, I’ve worked in places where I would hear, “Everyone’s replaceable.” That is the most soul crushing thing to hear because how do you make someone want to be there and want to work and do the best job that they can? It’s almost expected that, “Well, you’re going to do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
But not everybody works that way. And I think having a good leader means that they understand that. And you have to kind of tease out each individual’s strong point and keep that in check as well.
It’s one thing to go, “Well, she’s really good at this. I’m going to put her in charge of this,” which gives them accountability. But you also have to make sure that everyone’s playing as a team.
I think at risk of, like, really talking about how wonderful my staff are. I just watch these women support one another and they are truthfully friends and they’re each other’s people outside of work, which is really nice to see. And I’ve had to go, “I’m involved with them. I love them all, but I need to let them do their thing.”
As much as I would love to be super close friends, it does make things harder. We are friendly and we are family first and foremost. But yeah, it’s not easy leading a team and trying to figure out the best way to do that. But I mean, they want to be there.
And we’re talking about your volunteer rides their bicycle a half an hour just to volunteer for you, you go, “Okay. Well, these are some amazing, amazing people who care about doing these things.”
And that’s what we’re trying to instill in veterinary medicine as it is; make them happy. So, when they do go off into the vet med world, either as vets or techs or whatever role they choose, that they remember what this did. How did we support one another? Because if they’re not seeing that where they are, maybe they can try and change things.
NR: Right, right, right. Yeah. So, I mean, I think a big part of it to me – 98% – would be you and who you are. But still other people could say, “Okay, there’s a Danielle in Ontario and she exists. Either do I find somebody or can I co-create that? Can I model after that?” Because that’s so important.
And I know I go back to medical school a lot, but I mean, I was as you know, I had wanted to be a neurosurgeon and that’s what I was planning to do. And then I spent time with acupuncture and a mentor who was like, wow; who he was and what he brought to patients and how he connected with them was so wonderfully different. I then had a model for who I could be, how I could interact with patients and the type of medicine I could perform.
NR: And so, it’s like, “Okay, the prestige of being a neurosurgeon, how important is that versus every day, every minute that I spend with patients being something that is resonant and is uplifting and reinforcing and I feel nourished at the end of the day and not completely drained?”
NR: So, I think that there’s intrinsically something with the type of medicine we do. And so, I think, for the final 10 minutes, I think the third thing that rescued you, kind of, was acupuncture and rehab. And so, how do you think that plays into your life with your staff and your enjoyment of your patients and clinic and all that?
DA: Well, I mean, it has changed the relationship we have with those clients. These clients, they want everything possible for their family members. It’s interesting now that we’re in our sixth year that we’re starting to see, maybe these animals graduated three years ago, and they’re coming back with a new problem, but they’re coming back.
It’s weird to be excited to go back to rehab, but it’s like old family members coming back. Or maybe that animal has since passed and they’ve got a new rescue and they’re starting to bring that one.
And it’s just the connection is so amazing. And I think it makes my staff feel like they’re doing something worthwhile as well.
For Jenna, it’s hard because I think she – So, she wanted to go to vet school and I think she found Tara in rehab and then went, “Yeah, this is what I want to do; not medicine, not surgery. I don’t want to be in clinics. I want to do this. I want to make animals walk again. I want to help their pain.”
So, she’s going through her certified veterinary pain practitioner stuff right now because she wants to do everything possible.
And I don’t know if it’s rehab changing us or we are the ones seeking out because this is what we want out of our patients and our overall outcomes. Does that make sense?
Like, I think the people who probably wouldn’t get anything out of it are people who they’re like, “Whatever, I’m going to give them my drugs. And if it doesn’t work, I’m going to euthanize.” Can you change those personalities? I don’t know. I would like to think that we one day can.
It surprises me how many people realize what a wonderful option this is (a) for animals and (b) for ourselves. Like really, the ability to fine tune what you’re doing and not only to find a different diagnosis and a better diagnosis and a more definitive diagnosis.
And by diagnosis, it’s funny because our college just came up with a new policy statement that they’re working on. And it was all about, “Well, you still have to have a diagnosis.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but diagnosis isn’t always the typical, ‘You have a cruciate tear.’ What is your myofascial diagnosis? What is your rehab diagnosis?”
And so, I think having that ability to do those things and give people an answer, because I feel like we get so many that are like, “Nobody knows. Like, can you just please try and help us?” I’m like, “That is the most worthwhile thing about my job and for what we do in our clinic, anyways.”
NR: And I think that what I find is that when we can identify problems in the animal, it’s either overtly or just subconsciously a reaffirmation for people of their own. It’s like so many people struggle with chronic pain that hasn’t been diagnosed, put in a little box or whatever, and they see, “Oh, my animal looks like this.”
It’s allowing them to be sensitive and observant and concerned and correct. Because so many times they’re like, “I knew there was something there, but I didn’t…” to these various doctors; whether it’s a human person or animal.
And we affirm what they have already seen. And so, then that next layer is empowerment. And it’s empowerment of the clients to act as advocates on behalf of their animals rather than disempowering them and saying, “You don’t know anything and we’re going to take the animal away from you and do whatever.”
And it’s empowerment of your staff; like you’re doing. It’s empowerment of ourselves and relying on our intuition to an extent, our care. It’s so reaffirming. We can bring all our parts of ourselves and then see that resonate in others where it’s all been important. And we didn’t have to stop ourselves from emoting and from caring and from wanting something more.
DA: I will never apologize for that ever again.
So, I think the final piece is some people think that rehab or acupuncture or integrative medicine isn’t financially viable.
DA: And I started five – So, it was June, 2015 we opened. I think from mobile, and we’d have to have one of our mobile guys comment on what that looks like.
I can see the benefit in that you don’t have your overhead, but I think it’s harder, especially if you talk to some of the MAV grads in Toronto trying the mobile acupuncture and stuff. Toronto, it could take you two hours to go a kilometer, if you’re in rush hour. Toronto is kind of stupid downtown. So, depending on where your clientele is, it’s hard. It’s hard to get from one place to the other.
But then if you try and open up shop, which we have a colleague trying to do, consider now, it could cost her $10,000 a month in rent. So, how do you make that up from a business standpoint and make it work?
You know, we were very fortunate. So, when we opened, we bought a lot of equipment used from people that I think went, “Rehab is great. I want a water treadmill. I want the $15,000 Chattanooga machine. I want this and that.” And then they could not fit enough of those appointments in their daily schedule to warrant that money being spent.
DA: So, we bought these things from them.
NR: Great idea.
DA: But thank you to my husband again for finding them. So, I think we went, “Listen, I’m going to go bare bones. I knew what I wanted and I know what’s still in my ideal head, what I would love to see in my building. But I’m okay with making things look as pretty as possible, if I can do the job that I want to do.”
And yes, pretty is nice, right? Coats of paint and extra walls and all these other things, but I like our open concept building. I like the fact that I would rather see more patients and give more care than have to worry about how much money we’ll have to pay in rent and all these other things.
And so, I think we make a decent living. My techs make more than what an average tech would make in regular practice. I always feel bad because you always, especially when I have my assistants who are university grads who want to do these wonderful things and they’re super smart, they’re making minimum wage. And you’re just like, “I wish I could pay them what I feel they deserve to be paid.” But it does become a financial thing.
But I work three days a week in clinic and I pay myself well. And I have stable mental health, because I can allow myself those two days off to maybe do some work at home, from a business standpoint, or do teaching for you or whatever that might be. And it’s a good balance for me. I need that balance.
But are we financially feasible? Well, we now have I think there may be even 12 of us now. I’d have to count.
NR: Yeah. Right.
DA: So, we’ve gone from one and a half staff to there’s 11 or 12 of us. So, as we add people, because I remember when Jenna came, I was like, “I don’t think I need someone full-time.” When I hired Sophie for acupuncture I was like, “I don’t need someone doing acupuncture. I’ve got this covered.” And every time it blew up.
So, the need is out there, the want is out there. So, that alone is what makes it financially feasible. You have to watch what your expenses are and make sure that you’re charging enough to cover that. But a hundred percent, that’s doable.
NR: Yeah. And I think the other thing is, like, you’re not doing surgery, you’re not doing radiography. And so, those are like the big expense and intensive things, too. Like you have a relatively simple place in terms of you have the underwater treadmill, which is perfect, but you can fill it with things and you don’t have all these strict, probably, regulatory things that you’d have to satisfy; radiation and all that stuff, surgery, things and all that. So, I think that makes it more doable as well. And more affordable.
DA: For sure. Yeah.
NR: Yeah. Well, good. I think that’s great that we covered all the bases. Is there any last words of encouragement or anything you’d want to wrap up with?
DA: I think anyone who feels like they are struggling; whether it’s in their job or whether it’s in their home or whether I just reach out, whether it’s me or to you or to us or maybe we can arrange something. So, we have emails and say, “Hey, this is my expertise, this is my history. If you think that I can help you, here’s my email. Here’s my Facebook account. And please reach out” Because, again, Not One More Vet is a thing. So, we definitely don’t want that happening anymore.
NR: Right. I mean, just like doing the acupuncture, rehab. I mean, it does feel good to help others; like your mom showed you.
Thank you. Thank you for being there in all the different ways you are for us.
DA: Thank you.
NR: Okay. All right. Well, we’ll talk soon.
DA: Okay, Narda.
DA: Yeah, okay. Bye.
NR: Thank you. Bye.
If you’d like to learn integrative medicine from a scientific perspective, visit us at curacore.org. Thanks for listening to another installment of Surviving Veterinary Medicine.