Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Charles opened the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference with an invitation to counter the current negative narrative about the veterinary profession with a different story, “a story that highlights the strength of our profession, a story that emphasizes empathy and generous listening.”
Dr. Charles is the Executive Director of Veterinary Leadership Experience. She and her team of veterinary storytellers recounted personal challenges and triumphs at the Jan. 6-9 meeting in Chicago to encourage members of a profession plagued by frustration and burnout. Here are excerpts from their interviews, edited for length and clarity.
Dr. Stephanie Jones, co-owner, Animal Hospital of Fort Lauderdale
“Martin Luther King Day. I have a dream. But it’s cold outside. Martin Luther King Day. A day of recognition. But it’s cold outside. Martin Luther King Day. Dad says it’s not a day off but a day to do. But it’s cold outside. Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I told Alexa to take a nap one more time. Eyes closed, a voice echoed in my ear: ‘You have work to do.’ »
Dr. Jones is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, a historically black collegiate organization whose purpose is brotherhood and giving back to the community, and each year AKA participates in an activity for MLK Day.
That year, Dr. Jones changed his plans from participating in an MLK Day Parade to helping out at a community center with elementary and middle-aged children. Seeing everyone and the bustle of activity, she wondered why she was even there. “What do I have to offer?” »
Dr. Jones ended up at the art therapy table. Children were to write in the corner of their papers the challenges they face and draw a picture of how to overcome these challenges. “I saw depressed, rejected, bullied, abandoned, judgmental, grief. These are the words of our foster children. She was wondering, how can I reach these children?
Then it came to her. She said, “I’m a veterinarian. Faces lifted. “Does anyone know what a vet does?” The floodgates opened when kids started sharing stories about pets. “I found my door open. To the quiet girl sitting to my left, I said, “If I brought my dog, would you play with it?” And this sentence got a small smile. That’s when I knew, that’s when the spark reignited for me. And I knew I had to come back. I had to continue this conversation.
“A destiny awaits you, an inspired mission, all because it’s cold outside.”
Dr. Vernard Hodges, Co-Owner, Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital
“As I looked down, staring at my report card, my heart pounding, one word kept running through my head: fail, fail, fail. … I had failed ninth grade. In tears, I looked at this newsletter and I thought all the dreams and hopes of my life were over. The dream of leaving that single width trailer park with the hole in the kitchen floor was over. The dream of leaving that Georgia red clay road. My dream of moving from Fort Valley, Georgia, the poorest town in the state of Georgia, has faded. … My dreams of becoming the first Black Jacques Cousteau, gone.
Dr. Hodges remembers growing up in a city where certain areas were off-limits to blacks and where the high school held separate proms for white and black students. “It was the daily reality of growing up in my hometown. It wasn’t the reality I wanted for my life. I had to figure it out, but I knew I couldn’t figure it out alone.
Dr. Hodges contacted his high school guidance counselor and she agreed to help him. Together they devised a plan for Dr. Hodges to attend summer school and work together after school so he could graduate with his class. “That’s when I realized how important mentoring is.
“My next mentor was Dr. Melinda Davis. She was my undergraduate mentor, an incredible woman who believed in me long before I believed in myself. A nice old white lady who reminded you of your grandmother. Now she had pop. Once she came to my dorm and dragged me to class. You see, I had missed class for a few days and here is this 5-foot-2 little lady in this testosterone-filled teenage dorm, walks into my room, kicks the bed and says, “Hey, turkey, stand up. You are going to reach your potential.
“I’m so grateful to him for doing that, because mentors are the reason I’m here today.” (See Q&A on Hodges)
Garnetta Santiago, Certified Veterinary Technician, Zoetis Academic and Professional Affairs Manager
“I left a comfortable, predictable job in financial publishing in New York, and was finally going to pursue my dream of working with animals. It was going to be awesome. mattered, so you can imagine my shock when the realities of life on the ground did not match what I had imagined in my mind.
Santiago recalls a difficult day trying to place a catheter in a cat. “And at the same time, I’m trying to really ignore that the head vet tech was standing nearby. I could see her roll her eyes. I could hear him sucking his teeth and huffing and puffing about how long it took me to insert that catheter. My heart was pounding because of her, because of that poor cat, because I was losing confidence in myself.
That’s when she noticed the song playing on the radio, “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. “At the time, the lyrics were crystal clear: ‘Hey, don’t put yourself down again. It’s only in your head that you feel left out, despised. Just try your best. Try everything you can, and don’t worry about what they say to each other when you’re away It just takes time, little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride Everything, everything will be fine Everything, everything will be fine.
“At the time, I didn’t appreciate how good it was not to get good at ‘this’ because the ‘this’ I fought for was someone’s approval and acceptance. ‘one whose opinion was utterly insignificant in my life.
“She will never know the impact she had on my career and on my journey. See, at the time, her words, they hurt. They were like compost: they stank at the time, but they became food for my upcoming trip.
Hidayah Martinez-Jaka, AVMA Student President
“My first pets were a flock of chickens my family adopted when I was 14. I thought they were pretty darn cute, but I had no idea what my little birds would go through and how they would change. my whole life. My first exposure to the veterinary profession was trying to find a veterinarian for my chickens. For years, I got the same answers: “We don’t see those kinds of animals. We only see dogs and cats. Just shoot it.’ – clinics anywhere within two hours of my hometown in rural Virginia.
Martinez-Jaka recalled the time she took her pet chicken, Cuddles, to a clinic to be euthanized. Staff members took the chicken to a back room, not allowing Martinez-Jaka to be with his pet in his final moments. “They didn’t hear me. They didn’t listen. They took her away from me and back, and I collapsed.
“Finding no one to help my chickens, I taught myself how to diagnose and treat soft tissue injuries, respiratory illnesses, reproductive illnesses and more at the age of 16.”
Fast forward several years to when Martinez-Jaka is a student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. His pet Sammy, a white Ameraucana rooster, is lethargic and one of his eyes is red. Martinez-Jaka sent a picture of the eye to a veterinary college ophthalmologist, who confirmed the eye was infected and the rooster also had cataracts. She suggested cataract surgery in the future, but in the meantime see a local vet to treat the inflammation.
“So I called, expecting another futile search, but a vet was ready to see him – the owner of a clinic I had attended before vet school. It meant the world to me that a small animal practitioner who rarely saw chickens was willing to see my rooster and help me figure out what to do.
“I brought Sammy. The staff ushered me in through the quiet cat entrance and kept the stress low for Sammy. The vet was so kind and empathetic. Turns out Sammy’s eye just needed some supportive care. I was and am so grateful for this experience. Such a contrast to the cold and dismissive veterinary experiences of the past.
Dr. Morgan McArthur, President, M2 VetSpeak Consulting
“I was a large animal vet in eastern Idaho for the first 15 years of my veterinary career. The phone rang at 11 p.m. It never rings like that during the day, is Right? On the other side was Chuck Palmer. “Yeah, I got a cow that lost her tourniquet, and I need you out.” Throwing away her tourniquet is cowboy code for a prolapsed uterus…. It won’t wait until tomorrow. I hung up with Mr. Palmer. I changed from my jammies to my coveralls.
“I had F-words dancing in my head. Far: This property was harder to find than a North Korean missile site. Frigid: It’s Idaho, it’s March, and I have rain pellets beating on my bedroom window. Finances: Mr. Palmer was a slow-paying, unpaid type of customer. And the facilities: Really this place was off the grid, and I knew it was going to be a rustic setup.
Dr. McArthur drove off in the dark, eventually leaving the sidewalk for a gravel road that became a narrow path leading to a screen door where Palmer was waiting. Dr. McArthur opened the door and drove into the muddy pasture, where the truck got stuck in the mud. Riding a tractor, Palmer freed the truck and towed it to the cow with a prolapsed uterus “hanging under its tail like a 40-pound sack of red potatoes”.
“My friends, that was the way of resentment,” said Dr. McArthur. Working in the pouring rain and lit by the headlights of trucks, he slaughtered the cow and administered an epidural. “At this point, my resentment was beginning to soften. A prolapsed uterus is not a self-correcting condition. It was hard work. It was important work. And as a veterinarian, that was my job.
More than 20 minutes later, Dr. McArthur had pushed the uterus back inside the cow and held it in place. “That’s when my resentment turned to fulfillment, because I watched that newly mended mother cow snuggle her suckling calf. That, my friends, is the privilege of this profession.