Old School, New School: Beach island or treatment area island?

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Old School, New School: Beach island or treatment area island?

For young associate Dr. Greenskin, the biggest choice of her life in buying the practice from old Dr. Codger feels like a question of time: Time for family and personal life … or time traded for money and career fulfillment. Which will she choose?
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Jun 29, 2017

Time at work ... or time off? With so many things pulling us in one direction or another, living the dream can sometimes feel more like a nightmare ... (Illustration Ryan Ostrander)Perhaps it’s the sunny weather, thinks young associate Dr. Greenskin. Or maybe it’s the semblance of a social life since she slashed her on-call and weekend work (see “On call and ticked off”). Not only did Dr. Greenskin get to visit some out-of-town buddies last week, but she also plowed through her backlog of must-reads from dvm360.com.

Whatever the causes, Dr. Greenskin has been feeling absolutely energized about her life and career. Doing her best to put aside any guilty feelings for not living and breathing veterinary medicine every moment of every day, the maturing young DVM has found herself doing a better job with more energy while at work.

The biggest decision of her life (so far)

Herein lies her conundrum: With the looming pressure of a possible deal to buy into the gruff old boss man’s hospital, thoughts of increased responsibility are proving to be a real buzzkill for her recent lifestyle improvements. She is at a crossroads, and the decision is boiling down to one question: Practice ownership—or not? The two roads couldn’t appear any more different.

Dr. Greenskin knows this is the most permanent decision she’s ever faced. Leading up to veterinary school, she had plans A, B and C all lined up in case she got the dreaded “thin letter” from the schools she’d applied to. Once admitted, of course, she knew it was a commitment, but four years was a pretty short horizon at that stage in her life. Now her gut is telling her that she must be fully devoted to her decision for at least the next six to eight years if she wants a practice purchase to be worth the effort and risk.

While Dr. Greenskin is stewing, practice owner Dr. Codger is spending his day off doing some landscaping in front of the clinic. And wouldn’t you know it? Greenskin’s next appointment is Dr. Codger’s high school classmate’s former neighbor’s ex-girlfriend. Codger can’t resist the temptation to catch up with a member of his close-knit community. Before Greenskin can utter a word, Codger’s fertilizer-soiled glove yanks the manila patient file out of the rack. He rushes into the exam room with a smile, ready for some good old storytellin’ and vettin’.

This leaves Dr. Greenskin with nothing to do for the next 20 minutes. There’s no in-your-face client or crazy-cat-induced adrenaline rush, which leaves her with an overwhelming sense of calm—a feeling that usually makes Dr. Greenskin uncomfortable. If her heart rate isn’t at 80 percent of maximum, she feels like she isn’t earning her keep.

This afternoon, though, she’s a bit more pensive. She rocks back and forth in the creaky faux-leather office chair with the stuffing poking through the seams. The dancing, tutu-wearing calendar kittens stare delightedly back at her, almost hypnotizing her into a trance.

Dream No. 1: High-flying, late-night-practicing owner

Dr. Greenskin walks through a fog and emerges into the front lobby of … Greenskin Animal Hospital! Everything is sparkling and new. Everywhere she looks, she sees her own personal touches—from the artwork on the walls to the otoscope heads that stay in place, with the little magnifying glasses still in them and uncracked. Things just seem taken care of.

Then the action starts: receptionists, technicians and clients with questions or demands meet her at every turn. She blasts through appointments and surgeries. One second she’s on the phone and signing paychecks, the next she’s elbow-deep in a hemoabdomen. She’s even finding time to coach her own young associate through her first big case.

It’s nonstop and Dr. Greenskin is handling it like a boss. Everyone respects her and shows it. Who’s afraid of student loans? Not her. Cash flow is there, and she’s pumping it back into the practice like there’s no tomorrow, slowly building her dream hospital.

But there are some strains that linger in the back of her mind, like not spending as much time with the people who matter the most to her and not being as available for her family when they need her because she’s up late again for a 5 a.m. sick pet appointment.

Dream No. 2: Home before 5 p.m.

A tornado-like rush swoops Dr. Greenskin high up through the clouds. She spins dizzyingly higher and higher until a violent downdraft pushes her back to the ground. When the wind and fog dissipate, she looks around. Back at Ole Doc Codger’s place. The mismatched linoleum tiles and train-station-style seats bolted to the ground in the reception area are cozily familiar. She goes through the routine of another appointment, grabs her paycheck envelope and waves goodbye at Dr. Codger as she heads out the door at 4 p.m.

She’s meeting her family at 5 p.m. at a local diner. There’s enough left over after the student loan payment and living expenses to treat the family to dinner once every couple of months, and she looks forward to the get-together every time. She basks in the warmth of being close to the ones she loves and not being worried about her phone ringing at all hours. She knows that the path ahead is not one of financial richness, but the fulfillment of a wonderful quality of life is more than making up for it.

The lights shine brighter and brighter, so blinding that she has to close her eyes.

All goes dark.

Will it all work out?

As Dr. Greenskin slowly opens her eyes, those adorable kitten ballerinas are still in full dance, wide-eyed as if waiting for their favorite veterinarian to emerge from her daydream.

Dr. Codger is out of the exam room like a flash. He picks up his trowel and drops the file in Dr. Greenskin’s lap.

“It sure was great catching up with an old friend!,” Dr. Codger says. “Oh my, the stories!”

He grabs Dr. Greenskin’s shoulder with a comforting, fatherly squeeze.

“I offered to talk to them about Fatkitty’s diabetes, but you know what, Doc? They saw you last time, and they want to see you again.”

Dr. Codger smiles at seeing Dr. Greenskin’s puzzled expression.

“They love you,” he says. “You’re going to do great things here.”

With a wink, Dr. Codger heads back out to tend to the sago palms.

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in general practice in California’s Sacramento Valley. He is an avid kiteboarder.