John Ensign returns to veterinary practice

John Ensign returns to veterinary practice

Former senator, now working as an associate veterinarian in the practice he founded, reflects on changes in veterinary medicine – and mulls another foray into practice ownership.
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Aug 01, 2012

Only a veterinarian who has also been a U.S. senator could know the difference between handling soft tissue in cats and handling gnarly legislation in Congress. But the similarity is obvious in the way his voice rises. John Ensign, DVM, is passionate about surgery, and former Sen. John Ensign is equally passionate when he says of Washington, "I don't miss it at all."

It's natural that the former Nevada senator should feel strongly about life inside the Beltway. His 17 years there—with one brief interruption between elections—did not end happily. An extramarital affair and reports of a cover-up put him in the vortex of the 24-hour news cycle and led to his ignominious resignation in May 2011.

He didn't, however, spend a long time licking his wounds. After Sen. Ensign resigned, Dr. Ensign hit the books and regained his veterinary license in his home state of Nevada six months later. By January 2012, he was scrubbing for surgery at a nonprofit spay-neuter clinic, preparing to sharpen his skills and reacquaint his hands, as he says, with the feel of exposed tissue.

Then he went back to work seeing patients and performing surgery—this time as an associate veterinarian. He rejoined West Flamingo Animal Hospital, the Las Vegas practice he founded in 1987 after graduating from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He sold the practice in 1994 when he went to D.C. for the first time as a freshman in the House of Representatives, part of the "Republican Revolution."

Much has been made in the press of Ensign's very public plummet: from senator to employee, presidential hopeful to animal doctor. Embedded in the DNA of the media is the love of such narrative. Here are some examples:

  • "Senate missteps no longer dog veterinarian John Ensign"—Las Vegas Review Journal
  • "From senators to animals: Lawmaker who fell from grace now working as a vet"—CNN
  • "John Ensign, Bob Bennett, dogs, cats and K-Street"—The Washington Post

And the former senator's problems may not be over. A key figure in the protracted scandal pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in early June, giving rise to speculation that he would testify in a potential case the government is building against Ensign. So we can expect more headlines should that indeed happen.

It was Ensign who invited the senator-veterinarian comparison when he told CNN's Dana Bash in February, "This has been really, really good—first of all, to come back into a profession where you're humbled. I used to own this practice, now I'm working for somebody. That's sometimes a healthy thing to have happen in this life."

If Ensign was humbled then, he doesn't describe veterinary medicine as his fallback position today. He says he fully intends to build another practice in the near future. It would be his third startup. "I didn't leave veterinary medicine because I didn't love it," Ensign recently told DVM Newsmagazine. "I just thought I was supposed to do something else at the time."