Dr. Dan’s Story
I began my first job in veterinary medicine in 1979. I was a sophomore in high school who was always writing about my desire to become a veterinarian. One day, my English teacher came to me and asked if I would be interested working in an animal hospital. I couldn’t believe what she said. An animal hospital? That’s a dream come true! I told her yes in a heartbeat.
Soon after this conversation, I began my first job as a kennel attendant. I was walking dogs, bathing and grooming pets, cleaning the surgical suite (which in those days doubled as the “dental suite” when the bathtub was in use). Halothane was the anesthetic of choice – there was no IV catheters and no pain management back in 1979 – it was simple veterinary medicine in those days. But I fell in love with the practice – boy, I wanted to be a veterinarian. This one doctor practice showed me everything I eventually wanted to become: a doctor who cared for the pets but also for the pet owners, a surgeon, a practice owner, an advocate for the pet… wow, I could become my own boss!
I was a good student, but never a great student. I worked hard for every grade and my persistence would pay off. I was able to muster the required GPA and get all of the required animal related work hours to make my dream came true – I became a veterinary student in 1987. After 4 years, I would graduate a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. I had always known I would eventually be a practice owner, but what about until then? I followed my soon to be wife to Indianapolis, only to find myself in a practice that did not practice standard of care – boy, did I make the wrong decision. After 1 ½ years into practice and 6 months into my marriage, I informed my wife – “I‘m resigning tomorrow.” But, “we have a life here” I was told. “What will we do?” My honest response: “I simply do not know.” I just knew my desire was to have my own practice, and one that practiced high standards of care.
So, I resigned. We put our house on the market and sold it in 7 days. My wife and I then backpacked through Europe for 6 weeks. On our return, I worked for 8 months as an ER doctor and relief doctor, while my wife toiled as a labor-delivery nurse. But I still had that desire to have my own practice, which led us to open what would become the first of 14 general practices, two emergency hospitals, and one doggie daycare facility. I now employ over 45 doctors and a staff over 300 people.
What did I learn along the way? First: the journey is the most important part of this wonderful profession we call veterinary medicine. The twist and turns of my career can fill an entire book. The highs and lows of veterinary practice – I’ve witnessed them all (and will be sharing some of these stories in blogs to come). Second: the people who work for you is what matters the most. If you want a client-centric practice – put your own people first. By developing a culture that draws people to you, you ultimately allow yourself to practice the medicine you desire. Third: be a learner. Always, always be open to learning new things – be it medical or leadership skills. Lastly: the most precious asset we have is our time. Be willing to commit your time to the next generation of veterinarians. I’m a firm believer that veterinary medicine is an apprenticeship based profession. Be willing to do the same for another up and coming doctor.