Podcast #37

We were very lucky to have Dr. Jessica join us to share her story about her veterinary journey. She has left clinical practice due to her experiences, so this interview is to discuss the industry and her story to maybe help others that are having similar experiences.
Dr. Jessica’s Story:
Plane in the sunset
Dr. Jessica wasn’t afraid of hopping on a plane and going across the world to accomplish what she wanted. She is no stranger to adventure, and is more than willing to put in the miles to get what she wants and needs… so far it has been a bit of a winding path…
Dr. Jessica is originally from New Jersey and worked as a vet nurse prior to becoming a vet. She worked in the USA in a busy emergency and referral practice. In the USA you need an undergrad first to get into vet school, so she started one and hated it, so she stopped. Through searching she found out that she could do a vet degree in Australia without an undergrad and the costs were less than doing a vet degree in the USA. So, she got on a plane and flew around the world, where she attended the University of Sydney to get her veterinary degree. She LOVED vet school, “They were some of the best times of my life, I really enjoyed that school.” When she graduated and started working as a clinical practitioner however, the job “just did not meet my expectations at all.”

As an international graduate, Dr. Jessica needed a clinic to sponsor her, and at that time she found it difficult to find a clinic willing to sponsor her. This unfortunately left her with only one job option. Her Australian classmates didn’t seem to have this problem at all, and now that she has her PR Visa, she has abundant options. At that point however, the only job she could get was one in Perth, so on another plane she went. She only stayed in that job for 2 months and feels that job was “one of the best horror stories that people have heard.”

Dr. Jessica practiced for 3 years, trying different aspects of the field, before finally deciding “it must be me,” and she left the profession. She then worked in retail for a while and also worked in agriculture, and also was a housewife for a while which she enjoyed more than she thought she would! She enjoyed her time in these other industries, and “after leaving I reached out on Facebook that I decided to leave the industry… and what really surprised me was that people I graduated with came out of the woodworks and said “Oh my god you are so brave, I want to leave too but I don’t know where to go”… that blew my mind because I thought I was so alone and I thought it was my fault.” Dr. Jessica found it very interesting that many others were also not feeling that the job wasn’t meeting their expectations. She thought she was alone in how she was feeling, and never had any idea that so many other people were dissatisfied as well.

Dr. Jessica stayed in her first job for 2 months, the 2nd job was 2 years, and the third job for 10 months. From job-to-job she felt like she was trying to actively analyze what was wrong, what she didn't' like, and to find a different job that would fit her needs. By the third job however she felt that “It must be me.”
What did you focus on between jobs to try to get a different experience?:
Two signs pointing in opposite directions
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results,” so Dr. Jessica made sure between each job she focused on what she could do differently next job to find a good fit, and has gone in a few different directions with her career so far.
Dr. Jessica’s first job had a lot of work with exotics which she loved. She was excited for the job and was promised a lot of things. The problem with that job was that those promises didn’t come to fruition. She shares that her very first day of practice she was left sole charge, and had to call the boss back to give her access to the safe for S8s for a painful patient. The job ad seemed great, but the reality- not so much. She also shares that she “put up with a lot more than I should of because I didn’t have the experience.”

Due to her experience working in a referral/specialty centre in the USA, the epicentre of progress, she had very high expectations. Going from that level of care to the small clinic role, she wasn't sure if the standards of care and how the clinic functioned was ‘normal.’ Shortly after starting she realized that the clinic was under investigation by the board and the RSPCA and from day one things just got worse and worse.

So, to try to avoid that scenario in the future, she wanted a job that was going to have good support and mentorship, as well as, you know, not be a clinic that routinely performed malpractice. Shouldn't be too hard of a quest right?

She jumped into a different line of work for her second job, and took a research position that bred genetically modified mice. She loved the job, loved the research side and found it fascinating, and Dr. Jessica shares that research is greatly misunderstood, and she liked the job way more than she expected. At the beginning the job was great, support, learning opportunities, etc. She shared that she felt she grew a lot in the job, however as it went on, the company started to push their staff to the limits and it “just got to be too much.” At one point her employer said “your whole degree is on YouTube, a backpacker could do your job”… and at that point she put in her resignation. She felt that a corporation in industry would be more supportive, and this experience shows that not all industry jobs are created equally.
“A backpacker could do your job” is such an ignorant and dangerous comment. So much of medicine is knowing what you don't know, and knowing how to critically think, and this massive amount of information is not something someone can google in a weekend.

“The degree really helps in how to critically think” agrees Jessica. Learning how to develop a branching chain of thought is so important, and in her industry job that train of thought and her education just wasn’t valued.
After the research role Dr. Jessica tried to get back into clinical practice because she missed the clinical parts, the diagnostic process, and the relationships with the clients. She picked a clinic this time based on location and where she wanted to live, instead of necessarily the job itself. It was however in a more affluent area, and the job ad stated “we treat all our staff like family.” She had high hopes for this role and felt that it would value her, perform better standards of medicine, and hopefully fulfill her desires to be a really good vet.

In order to try to ensure this clinic was ‘the one’ she did multiple interviews, toured the clinic, talked to the nurses, met with the owners, and she thought she did a good job vetting the place. She really wanted a good work environment, and put this as a priority over schedule, pay, etc. She shares however that when clinics know they have a problem, they work very hard to hide it, and she felt that's what happened in this role. Jessica feels at that point in time she was naive, and since that experience she is better at picking out the red flags. “If there isn’t an employee that has been there fore more than a year- red flag.” After a few months at this job however Jessica started to question the “we are a family” job ad, asking “are you a toxic dysfunctional family?” The work environment was not what Jessica was expecting.

Dr. Jessica also shares that part of her frustration with this clinical role may have been her own fault for not properly laying out her expectations, and not properly discussing the boss’s expectations. She talks about how, in hindsight, her problem was with her ‘role’ in the clinic, and the blog “Which KICK ASS Fish Are You?” summed it up well. She felt that this played a role throughout her career. Her first job she felt like a Tuna, and her job wanted her to be a Shark in a pond. Her confidence was ruined from lack of support in this job, so going into her second job she felt like a Guppy. That job supported her initially to get back to Tuna, and then moved up to Shark with aspirations of a Whale… and when she went back to clinical practice after being in the ‘Shark’ position, her third job wanted her to be a Guppy and to just “shut up and do what you’re told.” She feels that the clinic wasn’t suited for the role that she wanted. Dr. Jessica discussed the importance of this expectation to be voiced and outlined by both employer and employee, and it is this disconnect that made that role not a great fit.

Dr. Jessica shares that after being in multiple interviews, so many clinics talk about the job as just another vet job, but it’s not just a ‘vet job’, there is so much more than that. It is important to discuss your role, how much sway/say you will have in the medicine performed, what the clients are like, what the work environment is like. Not all jobs are created equally!
Did you talk to your boss to try to make it work?
KICK ASS VETS asked Dr. Jessica if she went to her boss to discuss her issues. Did she try to make it work?? She shares she didn’t have the confidence to stand up for herself at that point in time. She did gently try, and would say “Well why is it done this way?” and approach situations delicately, to try to evoke thought and change in her boss. However, Dr. Jessica says “maybe it was too delicately” with a laugh. The problem with her boss was that they “did not want to hear it, because they had been doing it for 10 years and I was just a new grad.” So even with a more aggressive/confident approach, it seems like this clinic just wanted a ‘trained monkey’ instead of thinking and dedicated professional. She wasn’t valued in that clinic for her brain, just the letters behind her name. This is an unfortunately reality in too many clinics!

Dr. Jessica really doesn’t understand this approach of bosses to new grads, where they ignore and dismiss any suggestions. She loves working with new grads to get the latest and newest information. Even though she was only 3 years out, “medicine changes so quickly.” It is evident it is such a frustrating point for Jessica, and her completely valid opinion (one that KICK ASS VETS agrees with whole-heartedly) of “just because you have done it this way doesn’t mean it is right” makes it difficult to work in a clinic where progress and keeping up to date isn’t valued or supported.
KICK ASS VETS shares that the advice to do a working interview and push a case to the point where you get into a disagreement with your potential boss to see how they react and how they work with you when you have a different approach to a case, is very important. Jessica feels that it is a very very good idea!
Why leave clinical practice instead of finding a different job?:
“I’m not really sure, I just needed a break… I got burned out but I didn’t even realize I was burned out.” Jessica shares that she was likely burned out for a while, and talks about the moment she finally realized. It was a euthanasia that went poorly, and it wasn’t because of the pet's reaction or anything that she did, it was due to how the owner was behaving. “I realized that I wasn’t empathizing with her situation, and I was getting really frustrated.” That realization that she had lost empathy for her client was what made her realize that she needed to leave that job. “Recognizing that I was burned out made the decision easier.”
Chess board with King falling over.
When a boss has an ego that they put above all else, and refuse to listen, collaborate, grow and learn, especially from their own staff, their business will topple.
Dr. Jessica feels that when you want to do a very good job, it’s very difficult to talk to someone and tell them that they aren’t necessarily doing a good job. KICK ASS VETS and Jessica both agree that there is a lot of emotion and ego when it comes to managers and business owners, and this plays a huge part in the inability of clinic owners to change, or listen to associates that are younger. “Egos and your emotions don’t like to be proven wrong, so when you are really emotionally attached to something you take it as a personal insult.” Dr. Jessica shares that she loves being proven wrong because that “literally how you learn.” She shares that those that won’t let go of that ego, and won’t look at other peoples ideas, end up being very alone and in a situation where they feel that it is “them against the world.”
How did you feel going from a nurse to a vet?:
Dr. Jessica, having worked as a nurse in a high level centre for years prior to being a vet, shares the differences. “As a nurse everything is a routine.” Dr. Jessica shares that you know how to support the vet, set things up, and do things. As a nurse it is so easy to fall into a routine and to follow pattern recognition, because you don't know what you don't know. As a vet you still use pattern recognition but you don’t rule anything out, you need that critical thinking as well. The transition to a vet role was relying on your nurses to do things, and to focus on thinking and critically thinking so that you don't miss things. Dr. Jessica discusses that the biggest thing she noticed was that “I felt I was treated better as a nurse than a vet.” She was better treated, better paid, and respected more by the vets then when in the nurse vs. vet role. In fact, after Dr. Jessica left working as a vet she worked as a nurse and thought “this is so much better.”
What’s your plan now?
Jessica isn’t sure what the future holds for her. She feels that part of her problem is that she “set herself up for failure.” Coming from the USA, which is just so far ahead of Australia in terms of medicine and how a clinic is run, set herself up for failure. She shares that she feels her education was amazing and did a great job preparing her, but not going back to the USA with her degree was where she went wrong.

KICK ASS VETS shares that maybe Dr. Jessica would be more at home in a specialty centre. However, Dr. Jessica shares that her frustration is that she doesn’t necessarily want to be a specialist or work emergency, she just wants to be a very very good GP, and feels that is difficult to find that mix. She feels that the main issue is how clinics are run, and that when you walk into a clinic there are shelves and shelves of stuff to buy, this is a retail shop not a hospital. Hospitals should be providing a medical service, but the business model is looking like a retail shop, and that perpetuates a lack of trust in the clinic by the clients.
Recommendations from Dr. Jessica:
1. Get a good supportive boss. Find someone who wants to learn from you just as much as you want to learn from them. You need that relationship to learn and grow, and not just be treated as an employee.

2. Get a work environment that values staff and doesn’t treat them as “cheap and replaceable.”

Jessica shares that she is aware that unless she has a clinic, and gets the data to show success, her views on how a clinic should be run is just her opinion, however the industry just did not meet the expectations.

She also shares that “given that 1/2 of vets, if they aren’t vets after 5 years, that’s a pretty obvious display that the industry is not meeting the expectation of vets, and that should be very scary because the new generation of vets is the new generation of pet owners, and your best pet owners, and you’re not meeting their expectations.”

KICK ASS VETS feels that you can achieve high levels of medicine in GP clinics, but it involves having a receptive boss and an associate with a confident and dominant personality. KICK ASS VETS also shares that there are those clinics that do exist, and hopefully if we have new grads coming out standing up, and saying ‘No, I won’t tolerate that, I won’t just give antibiotics, I won’t just throw steroids,’ then clinics may change.

Jessica shares that she noticed that she didn’t have the confidence to say “no, I don’t feel that is good medicine”, and shares that if the industry was more receptive to vets saying “no, I want to do better”, it will help the industry from collapsing. She shares that with the rates of vets leaving the industry it is obvious there is a problem, and one that desperately needs a solution.
If you could talk to yourself from 3 years ago would you be in the same situation as you are now?
“I don’t know… I think I needed to have these experiences and have my confidence broken to build it up again.” “I think that I am now a better and more confident vet because I had people treat me like I wasn’t good enough…having those perceived failures has made me have completely different perspective and I don’t think I would be as passionate about the industry if I hadn’t had that.” She shares that she has many friends that have gone into law, human medicine, etc, and those individuals have given up on the vet industry. If we are passionate about the industry, even if we are unhappy about it, we need to advocate to fix the profession.
Would you do it again?:
Piece of paper that says 'time' on fire
A vet degree is an investment, of time, money, energy, and emotion… and when you don’t use that degree for it’s clinical value it can feel like it was a waste. Dr. Jessica felt this way initially, but now she realizes that it was valuable for so many other reasons…
Dr. Jessica laughs when she shares “There was definitely a point where I was so resentful of getting the vet degree. I couldn’t believe I spent so much money and time, and it was this worthless piece of paper and I wanted to burn it because I felt jipped…but really, it’s so valuable because it has taught other skills aside from being a vet.” She goes on to say “there was a time that I was mad about it,…. but overall I really enjoyed vet school, I learned a lot about critical thinking, how to research medicine, and analyzing data, and what works and does work, and how to learn, and how to fail, and how to learn from failing… and that’s the best life skills you can ask for.” She shares that she truly believes that “Success is just failure + time” and that “you need to fail in order to be good at something… so I do value the degree”.

Jessica shares that she is at a point in her life where she is trying to think laterally, and find different ways to use the degree. She is passionate about the career, and is hoping to use her degree to help the profession, and help all other vets have a good experience, instead of feeling the way she, and many others, have done before.
Have you thought of other aspects of the career?
When Jessica was burned out she needed to see what else was out there, something completely unrelated to the animal industry. She worked in retail and drove tractors in the wheat-belt (and she shares she made more money than as a vet doing these jobs). Her retail job was working in jewellery and her bosses were so supportive when she sold an item. She didn’t understand why she was being praised for doing her job… the work environment was just such an eye-opening change for her. The customer interactions were also so different, and that got her very interested in human behaviour and the phycology of spending money. “Once you realize that humans are just naked monkeys, they behave in very predictable ways,” you can determine which actions or terminology will get a desired result. She found this very interesting and she latched on to marketing behaviour. She is now trying to bring that interest back into the vet industry. She shares that vet clinics running as a retail shop doesn’t work because “people don’t buy into what you do, they buy into WHY you do it.” She doesn’t know yet what she will do, however KICK ASS VETS is sure that she will do great things!
Do you think we are doing a terrible job of ‘selling’ in the vet world?
KICK ASS VETS shares that they feel that Dr. Jessica would be great at advising clinics on HOW to ‘sell’ to increase the patient care. So much negative pressure exists from the public that vets are ‘pushing’ treatments to make money, and this hinders our ability to provide needed care to animals. We undermine ourselves with our behaviour and terminology. Dr. Jessica shares that “you need to give the owners an experience, that is what they are paying for, and if you can keep your owners happy with the good experience than you can treat the animals and practice good medicine.”

KICK ASS VETS shares tips on ‘giving that experience’ by showing the x-rays, showing larval ticks under the microscope, showing all of the bloodwork with highlights of the abnormal values and giving owners a copy. If we did a better job of showing value of the tests, we would have less of problem with the financial aspect of the career.
Advice for other vets thinking of leaving, or new grads?
1. If you are feeling burned out and need a break, just take a break. It is better to learn how to take a break than quit. Don’t work to the point of exhaustion so that you hate what you are doing, it’s not worth it.

2. If you need to try something different, do it. It’s scary leaving what you know to something what you don’t know, but it can be a great experience and will teach you more than you know. It gives you a change of perspective and sometimes you need a different perspective.

KICK ASS VETS is so thankful to Dr. Jessica for sharing her experiences with us, and her ideas and thoughts. We hope that her path and her story will be helpful for other vets going through the same thing of feeling unhappy in their position or with the clinical profession. We are so excited to see what Dr. Jessica comes up with to help our profession, because her passion and drive are present in spades!

Also, Dr. Jessica is a social media master, and helped KICK ASS VETS not only have the confidence to overhaul our Instagram, but also gave us tons of tips on how to improve. Jessica taught us that “social media changes culture, so if you are serious about changing culture you need to get going on social media” and that, along with her advice, has helped us inspire and help so many other vets! So, if you are a clinic that needs help with your social media presence, or an individual that is getting a fledgling business off the ground, Contact Us and we can put you in contact with Dr. Jessica to get you the help that you didn’t even know you needed!

Thank you again Dr. Jessica for your time and advice! We look forward to the great things we know you will do!

If you have a story, or an experience you would like to share, whether you LOVE your job, or if you HATE your job, or if you have pursued a different career path such as specializing, industry, government, technology, etc. please Contact Us to arrange an interview! The more we share our experiences good and bad, the more we can help each-other that are going through the same experiences and feelings!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published June 5th, 2020

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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