In veterinary practice, lifestyle matters, but work ethic does too

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In veterinary practice, lifestyle matters, but work ethic does too

Dr. Greenskin's morning quickly switches from Pokemon GO to an impromptu discussion on her investment in the practice with Dr. Codger.
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Sep 15, 2016

It’s a crisp fall morning when Dr. Greenskin heads out the door for her early pre-clinic jog. As she runs, she reflects on her recent get-together with Dr. Headlights. It was refreshing to catch up with an old friend and know that she’s not alone in her struggle to begin a career in veterinary medicine. As her stride gets more comfortable and she settles in to the run ahead, she begins to ponder on the multitude of paths she and her classmates have embarked on since that fateful day of graduation.

Suddenly, the phone vibrates in her armband, interrupting her Harry Potter podcast. Expecting an early-morning veterinary crisis, she reluctantly slows to check the screen. Ha! There’s a Charmander just two blocks away! A tiny detour is a small price to pay for some serious Pokémon Go street cred. She runs to grab the Charmander, becoming more energized and ready to handle anything the clinic throws her way today.

An abrupt confrontation with reality

Dr. Greenskin walks into the clinic at the same time as her 8:30 appointment (always just a bit awkward). As she rushes to the office to de-fur her labcoat, she finds good old Doc Codger busy at his desk, as usual. She extends the cursory, “Good mornin’ Doc,” but the quick out doesn’t work this time. “Hey Greenskin,” the old vet barks without looking up from his black-and-white composition book. “Take a seat for a second.”

Dr. Greenskin concedes, feeling apprehensive. And rightly so. After a full year of practice together, she has received none of the formal performance evaluations she had expected.

“How dedicated are you to this job?” Dr. Codger inquires. A long, nervous pause ensues. Dr. Greenskin thinks this might be some kind of trap. She starts to blurt out, “This is the job I’ve been wanting my entire … ”

Dr. Codger interrupts. “You don’t act like this is what you want to be doing with your life.”

Dr. Greenskin isn’t used to Dr. Codger being so direct, and she starts to blink back tears. Dr. Codger continues, “Look around you. Do you ever notice that all of the morning employees are here before you, and that they’re still here when you leave? Have you ever wondered why I’m sitting at this desk for hours after you’ve gone home and even on your off days? Most of us are here toiling away.”

Feeling attacked, Dr. Greenskin takes a defensive posture. “If you want or expect more from me, just tell me that!” she exclaims. She feels herself losing her calm and takes a few deep breaths. “I am fulfilling the agreement we made. My clients are happy. You never review the numbers with me, but I have been checking them myself, and actually my pay has been below the percentages we agreed on—I just didn’t want to bother you with it!”

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander

Doc Codger is barely able to make the slightest gasping sound before Dr. Greenskin goes on, “If you have any feedback, or advice, or directives you want me to follow, just tell me! We haven’t had so much as a staff meeting since I’ve been here, so I have no idea why or where this is coming from!”

Deescalation with thoughts for the future

Dr. Codger begins to feel that he may not have approached his concerns about Dr. Greenskin in the most sensitive manner. At the same time, he admires the spunk he’s found in his young associate. He knows he’s picked a good one, and the numbers are certainly supporting that view. He feels a little guilty that he hasn’t been communicating with her on a regular basis. Since the practice has been doing well, he’s been spending his time on more pressing issues, and his productive associate has held her own. But now things are boiling over.

“Take it easy there, Greenskin,” Dr. Codger finally replies. “I didn’t mean to jump down your throat. And I agree that I haven’t been communicating like I should, so please accept my apology. But we do need to start talking about where you want to go with this thing. I’m getting older. My health is not the greatest, and I can’t even see the catgut anymore to sew in a straight line. I want to slow down, so I’d like to explore how you feel about taking on more responsibility.”

The young Dr. Greenskin is shocked and silent. She enjoys her current lifestyle. Sure, a few extra bucks would help tremendously, but she’s not so sure it’s worth impinging on the relatively acceptable work-life balance she’s enjoyed while working in this small rural practice.

“Can we take a break and schedule some time to discuss this further?” she asks. “My first and second appointments are already waiting.” Dr. Codger nods, and the two part for the day. Dr. Greenskin can’t wait to log on to the dvm360.com Business Channel tonight to start planning for what might be a very important conversation with her boss.

To be continued!

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.