A veterinary media maven
Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, relishes being able to educate pet owners on veterinary medical and animal welfare issues. She does so via a wide variety of media, including on her website (DrPattyKhuly.com), her blog (Dolittler), forewords for books, occasional reporting on National Public Radio (NPR) and in the columns and articles she writes, or has written, for publications from the Miami Herald to Veterinary Economics to Chickens magazine.
A small-animal practitioner and majority owner of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Khuly earned her bachelor of arts from Wellesley College, veterinariae medicinae doctoris (VMD) from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine and her master’s degree from Penn’s Wharton School. She lives in South Miami with her teenage son, Armando, five cats, five dogs, two goats and nine hens.
dvm360: How did you start reaching out to the media to be a resource on veterinary topics?
Patty Khuly: I don’t know how impressive it is given that I kind of fell into it after one of my epic fails. I wanted to write novels and after working hard on one, I came to the conclusion that novel writing is either a lot harder than I’d thought, or I wasn’t any good at it.
Along the way I wrote stuff just to write and realized that writing about my work was a breeze compared to the novel thing. So why not start a blog or write for the newspaper? I figured it would get me in the habit of writing, which it did.
After I appealed to my local newspaper, the Miami Herald, about a billion times it finally printed a column of mine. I’d started my Dolittler blog before then—in 2005—but it was only after the column that the blogging picked up steam.
dvm360: What is it about writing and blogging that attracts you?
Khuly: In veterinary school my classmates seemed to be driven by the desire to improve animal health either locally or more globally. I couldn’t decide which I liked more. So I guess what attracts me to media outreach is that it trades on the local thing––my daily life in practice––and takes it to a more global level. I like knowing that writing about the most mundane things we do in practice every day can have an effect not just on my own personal patients and clients but on a group of people and animals I’d never get the chance to influence otherwise.
dvm360: What need did you see in the media that you wanted to fill?
Khuly: Back in 2005, very few veterinarians were blogging. I figured it would be a fun thing to read for the clients I called “vet voyeurs.” I’d cultivated a lot of these clients, so I knew it was a largely untapped audience and that they’d love my little stories.
At some point my opinions about everything from humane slaughter to how much a spay costs started to get traction, too. That was when I realized there really was a dearth of honest discussion on a variety of veterinary topics and that these weren’t always limited to small animal practice.
dvm360: Should more veterinarians do media outreach, and if so, why?
Khuly: Yes, yes, yes! For starters, because it’s fun. I imagine that many of us who love what we do have a natural desire to want to share it. Some of us write; some of us take photographs; others are more “techie” about it. Regardless of medium, sharing is pretty easy, social media being what it is.
Not only does media outreach help us promote our practices and ourselves as free-agent associates, it has a way of offering our careers a different dimension. It’s more rewarding than most veterinarians probably realize. Best of all, the increased exposure makes you want to be better at what you do. That can only be a good thing––for the whole profession.
dvm360: What are the benefits and challenges of being a media go-to person in the veterinary field?
Khuly: I guess the biggest challenge for me right now is balance. The way I’ve set things up I still need to practice to make a living and maintain my credibility as a veterinarian who works in the trenches, but I have to stay in touch enough with the media to remain publicly relevant. During the past year I’ve spent so much time working on the practice side that I’ve ceded a bit of that balance. It’s extra hard to keep the media career happy, especially now that I’m a practice owner. On the plus side, business is good.
dvm360: How did you decide that media outreach was a direction you wanted to take your career, and what steps did you take to make it happen?
Khuly: Strangely enough, being burned out and unhappy in practice made me want to write. And writing steered me out of the doldrums. It’s pretty neat how that happened. It’s not just that writing is cathartic. In fact, for me it was more about being useful. I can be of service in practice, of course, but it wasn’t until I started writing that I could see it that way. Perception’s a funny thing.
As far as the steps, I took Stephen King’s advice: Just write. It doesn’t matter what. Don’t stress about making it perfect, just keep writing. I think that’s pretty good advice for just about everything. In 2005, that meant choosing a blogging platform, buying a domain name, trying out some graphics and cranking out a few blog posts. In 2015, it probably means signing up for a Twitter or Instagram account and dedicating yourself to contributing something every day.
dvm360: Did you have formal writing training, or was it something for which you had a natural talent?
Khuly: I paid good money for it. So did many of my colleagues. Four years at a liberal arts college will make you a decent enough writer if you’re not careful. I credit my writing skills to the art history department at Wellesley College, not to any innate talent. If I had any true talent I probably would have been a novelist, right?
dvm360: How do you balance all of your interests and pursuits? Your schedule must be jam-packed every day.
Khuly: Yeah, but I don’t really have a firm schedule. Except for my appointment schedule at work, doctor’s appointments, my son’s bus schedule and such, I pretty much just do what I want to do next. I do have to force myself to sit down to write, though. The payoff’s great, but very little beats Netflix and a knitting project or curling up with a dog and a good book.
Donna Loyle, MS, is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area and the former primary editor of the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.