Show me people who says they've never questioned their choice of career and I'll show you folks who don't admit the truth. And that truth is this: We all have bad days, and sometimes we have bad stretches that seem unending, sometimes to the point that we think, maybe I need to change my career.
Yes, even veterinarians get this way, even though few professions come out of school with as strong a degree of purpose and idealism as we do. When we're newly minted veterinarians -- like those I sent on their way last week as I gave the commencement address at the University of Missouri -- we know for sure we can make a difference.
After a while, maybe we're not so sure.
Most of us find our way again, but others never do. For years now, my mantra has been "people, pets and the profession," and let me tell you that's in no particular order. I believe in veterinary medicine, and I believe in veterinarians.
Which is why nothing makes me happier than finding out that I have helped a colleague believe again. My national tour is half-way done, and I'm taking a day off in Kansas City before my next Veterinary Important Person meeting on Monday. At every stop I've met colleagues who make a difference for pets and people, and they make a difference for me by sharing their experiences at my seminars.
More than once, I've been happy to hear that I have made a difference for one of my colleagues.
Like Dr. Charles Curie of Jefferson, Ohio, pictured below.
Dr. Curie is a practitioner in Northeast Ohio, in a poor area that's considered part of the Appalachians. He started as a large-animal practitioner -- dairy, mostly, and some equine -- but was injured so badly when treating a horse that he switched to small animals. He already owned a small-animal practice that was run by associates, and as he worked on rehabilitating his body he relalized he had to rehabilitate his mind as well.
"I wasn't sure I could made the transition," he told me. "I knew I had the technique and medical skill, but I also knew the relationship with clients would be different. For clients with large animals, the interest was economic. Not so, of course, for small animals. For those people, it's about what you call The Bond."
Dr. Curie struggled with the switch, and was ready to give up. And then, he said, he came to a seminar of mine at a veterinary conference.
"I heard [you] speak and you helped me," he said. "You were clarifying and crystalizing, and you reminded me why I wanted to be a veterinarian. That was '98 or so, and from that point, my life changed. I knew I could do this. I could reinvigorate myself and my practice. I had a crystal clear vision for where I wanted my practice to go. I wanted an exemplary small-animal practice."
That didn't mean there weren't challenges, he told me. As mentioned, Jefferson is in a very poor part of the country. But he and his colleague, Dr. Diane Beale, pressed on.
"A lot of people I know were frustrated," he said. Sometimes we don't get to do what we know we can. We don't get to practice advanced surgery, or use advanced diagnostics. But we decided to embrace being general practitioners in a small rural town, to not be frustrated, and to do the things we realistically can do."
Dr. Curie said that what I'd told him helped make the change possible. "Because of your inspiration, I realized what clients want and need," he said. "First people need to know how much you care before they care how much you know."
"Without you," he told me, "I would have left practice in 1998."
Instead, he and his colleague both work part-time for one full-time-equivalent doctor. Their quality of life is excellent, he told me, and their practice revenues are robust.
So what about this time, I asked him. Was this talk worth attending?
"Yes, it's a real nice reminder," he said. "And I did take away some new information I'll be using. But most of all you helped me again. You can't lose sight of the reason why we go to work every day. You help me put fire in the belly for the work I do."
For someone like me, it just doesn't get any better than meeting colleagues like Dr. Curie and finding out that I've helped as much as I'd wanted to. In the picture we are together, at the Cleveland talk last week. He's holding his copy of Veterinary Economics, with him on the cover. I've been on the cover a handful of times myself, so that and a love for our profession is something we share.
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