Me and my cat, Shiloh

Most of you have read the welcome page of my blog already and know that my career has been in the veterinary profession. Well, I’m here to say that I have recently decided to quit working in the profession.  I had mixed feelings about the situation, and in a way, I felt it is a failure in my life. I get a lot of questions about why I quit after being in the profession for so long.  It even embarrasses me to write about it, but I feel I need to get this off my chest. I’m hoping by you allowing me to vent, you can also learn some takeaways from what I felt was my biggest failure, quitting my job in the veterinary field, and how I have overcome my feelings of failure.

A Little Background…

11 of my 13 years in the profession have been at a 24-hour emergency practice.

I have spent all my “adult” life working in a veterinary practice. The first practice I worked at was in 2006 and I helped grow the practice from being open 7 days a week to a full 24-hour, 7 day a week practice. This was a big project! I was a practice manager at this practice.  All my experience in the veterinary profession has come from either the customer service aspect, veterinary assisting, or being a practice manager. Mostly, I have been a practice manager.  I stayed at my 24-hour practice for 11 years before my family and I decided to move to another state 2 years ago. From then on, I have worked in two veterinary practices before I finally realized I was burned out and needed to move on. To me, this feels like a failure. I loved being a part of a healthcare team that saved pets’ lives every day.

A Practice Manager? What?

The veterinary industry isn’t happy puppies and kittens all day. But you know what? It’s rewarding.

Whenever I would tell someone that I was a practice manager in a veterinary practice, they would be confused and not know what the position really entailed. I would get a lot of questions about “Hey my pet is doing this” with them assuming I was a veterinarian.  A practice manager, aside from the practice owner, is usually the one “running the show” for the business. This usually entails human resources, hiring, firing, overseeing (or doing) staff training, doing an inventory of medical supplies, completing the financials, managing all marketing and advertising ventures, as well as handling all client service and the complaints to go with it!

Like any leadership role, Training and mentoring the team is a big part of being a practice manager.

In most veterinary practices, the practice manager is also experienced enough to jump in and help to some degree when a veterinary technician, receptionist, or kennel staff member is out for the day or on vacation. Overall, I think most of the practice manager’s time is spent dealing with the client service aspect, handling all the compliments and complaints, and teaching the team about quality customer experiences.

You see, there are a lot of complaints in veterinary medicine. Not just from an emergency practice standpoint, but also a wellness/day practice too. Clients come in with their pets and they are so worried. A lot is going through their minds. What is going on with Fluffy? Why did he get sick? How much is this going to cost? I can’t afford any of this, what are you going to do about that?  What do you mean Fluffy needs surgery, NOW? This is where the veterinary profession gets a lot of complaints. These were all scenarios that I dealt with at least 2-3 times a week in all the practices I worked for.

That didn’t count the clients that would lash out on social media via Facebook, Google, or Yelp. Most of those clients would leave a review but not respond to the veterinarian or I (as the manager) reaching out to them to discuss their concerns or to make right what they felt the practice did wrong. In all my practices I can confidently say that with every negative experience brought forth by a client, there were far more positive, happy experiences happening with the clients, however, It can be hard to remember these experiences sometimes!  People tend to remember negative experiences more than compliments.

Leading Up to the Burnout

Overall, what I believe led me to burn-out was the long hours. Like most management positions, you spend a lot of your day putting out fires, such as someone calling out sick and all the sudden you need to help the team get through their busy schedule, or a client complaint happens and you need to address it, and half of your day is now done. And still you have supplies for the practice needing to be ordered, financials to be done, payroll, staff scheduling, marketing plans needing to be finalized, and team meetings/training still need to be planned. This is why most managers work on a salaried basis rather than hourly pay. Yes, there is a lot of delegation in the practice, however, the work priority for the team members is client service and getting patient care taken care of, THEN they can help you with other assignments when there is time.

Over 80% of my time, my plan of working just a 10-hour shift that day turned into a 12 to 14-hour shift and I was rushing home to hungry pets or a grumpy family because I missed dinner. I cannot count the times that I worked my normal work week (5-6 days), and on my day off a staff member called out sick so I then spent time finding someone to come in and/or went in myself to help the team. In a veterinary practice, you can never have enough help some days. It’s not uncommon for one minute to be staring at each other and the next you are now jumping between two critical pets. Over the past 13 years, my family knew that if we made plans that were time-sensitive, nine times out of ten I would not be home on time.

What I learned About Myself

There are many classes out there teaching time management, healthy boundaries at work, delegation, saying no to certain assignments and prioritizing, and that is all great! I learned a lot from the classes I took.  However, the work still needs to be done and you must eventually tackle it before it becomes a mountain. With leaving my emergency practice I was hoping that by not working in a 24-hour practice it would help me out mentally, maybe going to a slower practice that doesn’t deal with as many emergencies would be better for me and give me a chance to really feel more accomplished as a practice manager.

Guess what, It didn’t help! Each practice I worked at had the same types of challenges and similar scenarios to the 24-hour practice. Again, I found myself struggling to keep work at work, and struggling to get home at a decent hour. Disconnecting from work was very hard.  Most of the other team members in the practice worked a ton as well.

After 2 more years of working a schedule consisting of over half of my time spent doing another job on top of being a practice manager, I decided that I don’t function well that way and it was best for the practice if I moved on. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m incompetent or unskilled, it just means it’s not my preferred work style. It can be done this way; I know of many very successful practice managers as well as veterinarians and technicians.

Quitting my profession was very disappointing to me because I enjoyed working with amazing, passionate people every day and seeing pets every day.  However, after a while, you must really ask yourself how you want to live your life and what is healthy for you and your family. Overall, I realized that I could still continue to improve with multi-tasking and asking for more help in that line of work, however, I take pride in getting the job done. Some might call me a perfectionist in that aspect.  

Me and my three dogs!

Would I take it back and not have spent 13 years in the veterinary profession? Absolutely not! The profession teaches love, patience, compassion, and client service skills like no other!  So I made the decision and here I stand today, taking my love of pets and turning it into my hobby of continuing to educate and help loving pet owners out in a different way by creating this blog, as well as having my business, Aw Dogg.

Learning from Success, and Setting Goals

What have I learned? Set GOALS, things don’t happen overnight. I didn’t just wake up one day and quit. The family and I made goals and set baby steps to get there. And you know what, once I had clear goals, doing that job for just a few more months didn’t seem so awful. Every person has priorities in life. What are yours? Some have goals of having an excellent and successful career, which takes hard work and sometimes countless hours. Others have goals of making your “job” be something that you don’t even feel is a job! It is all in the mindset of a person, as your mind is a very powerful tool.

Life is too short to not LOVE what you do!

And that is where I am at. I gained so much experience doing what I have done thus far that I could not take it back, and I feel that even though it seems like a failure leaving the profession, it really isn’t because it gives me a chance to do something else I love and try new things! So those of you out there scared, anxious, or burned-out in your current position, make it a goal and game plan to change it. It doesn’t have to be today, a lot of us have bills piling up that require us to be working where we are at today, however, make small changes for your future. If the only reason you are still at the job you hate is that you are making great money, set goals and make better spending choices so you DON’T have to be in a job that is no longer fun and rewarding for you. Life is too short! Don’t work to pay for your hobbies, make a hobby out of your job!

Thanks for letting me vent/rant/rave!  This was a therapeutic exercise for me to tell you a little more about what I have been doing and where I come from. I hope my story and perspective can get you thinking about where you are in life right now, and where you want to be. Hopefully, you are thinking about your “failures” in life a little differently too. Go out there and make your life happen because nobody can change it but you, and if I made it happen, I know you can do it too!!

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