DVM, ACVIM (O)
Medicine & Surgery
First Celebrity Crush
Western University of Health Sciences
Garden State Veterinary Specialists
Tinton Falls, NJ
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA and now reside in Olympia, WA where I own and operate Hope Veterinary Oncology Services – a mobile practice that brings veterinary oncology care closer to the patient’s home.
I traveled a somewhat unique path to practice ownership. In fact, one might say I was dragged kicking and screaming. However, I am now immensely grateful for the push. During the vet school days of my career, I knew I didn’t want to own my practice. Seriously. I didn’t want to be responsible for ordering a pencil, let alone medical equipment. And managing people…no thank you!
So after residency, I accepted a position at a privately owned multi-specialty practice in the Pacific Northwest. Less than 1 year later it was bought by one of the big corps. Roughly a year after that I could feel the difference. The nursing staff was complaining about being overworked, understaffed, underpaid and in some cases downright disrespected. I tried to advocate for them. I bought them lunch often and I offered to share my production profits with them. My advocacy fell on deaf ears, and I was not allowed to share my salary with my team. I was powerless to improve their professional situation.
So, when I was offered an opportunity to start a new specialty practice for another but different corporation, I believed the sales pitched and I signed up.
I recruited 5 specialists in additional to support staff. My goal, in this one hospital, in one tiny corner of the earth, was to improve the mental well-being of veterinary health care workers. I wanted to do away with all the changeable things that contribute to poor mental health in our field. Our doctors received a yearly salary with bonuses and our nurses were paid well above the local industry standard. We talked about suicide prevention openly. Finally, I often had a social worker come in to help the staff and I utilized that same social worker to help some of clients who needed more support that we could offer.
If you are reading this, I have no doubt you see where this story is going. Looking back, I should have too, but I was a naïve, hopeful medical director with big aspirations to help my colleagues.
I’m a veterinarian, not a writer. So, it’s difficult for me to put into words the torture I felt during our monthly budget meetings where I was repeatedly told which doctors weren’t producing enough revenue. Of course, the people giving me this information were not veterinarians. It was very quickly obvious that these people had no idea what we did all day. I was told when I signed on the dotted line, I would be given support, guidance and freedom to run the hospital as I saw fit. But that was a outright lie.
The doctors that supposedly didn’t produce enough” were my colleagues. I worked with them daily, right alongside them. I wasn’t sitting in a corporate office 100 miles away. I saw daily how hard they were working. I listened as they immediately picked up the phone when an RDVM would call. I watched them console and educate pet parents. I was there with them when they stayed late for an emergency enucleation.
I pushed back. I pushed back a lot and eventually I was let go. Devastation is not a strong enough word for what I felt. I played a direct role in creating yet another corporate medicine machine and recruited others to be cogs in that machine. Again, I’m not a writer so I have no words for how I felt or what this did to me.
And then, and most importantly, there were the patients. Who was going to take care of them? Many of my patients were receiving weekly treatments. There are other oncologists in the area, but many were a long drive away, some weren’t taking new clients and others were booked out several weeks.
So, my husband and I got right to work creating a mobile oncology practice out of thin air. We bought a used RV and converted that into an oncology clinic complete with isolated fume hood, lab analyzers and plenty of room for treatments. I leaned on friends and colleagues to help with marketing, accounting, ordering equipment, finding physical locations to park the Hope Mobile, etc. I also gave my personal cell phone number to the referring veterinary community and…my clients. Yes, I know, but this was a unique situation. The primary care veterinarians in the area were so supportive – I cannot thank them enough.
From day 1 of vet school, I have accomplished NOTHING without help and this new endeavor was certainly no different. Hope Veterinary Oncology Services is my brainchild, but it would not have come to fruition without my husband Jim, the support of my original team, Sarah and Caitlin, Sarah’s husband, Bob, Dr. Okrasinksi, Dr. Heiser, Dr. Stadler, Beth Brown of NW Accounting, Paula of Commencement Bay Animal Hospital and all the pet parents who were open minded to a unique way of providing care.
The beginning was hard. There were tears shed over trying to understand technology and for about 6 months I constantly felt like I was going to faint or pee my pants. But, with the help of my team, we stuck with it. Technology, marketing, ordering pencils all got easier. And the joy I continue to feel by being able to take care of team, my patients, and their families in the way that I think is best, is, well, just priceless.
HVOS started offering Vet-to-Vet consults in the early days to the wonderful, talented and hardworking primary care veterinarians in Alaska. Being able to help even more pets in an efficient way has been unexpectedly so fulfilling, that we’ve decided to offer additional specialty services everywhere and anywhere. Thus, Hope Veterinary Specialty Services was born.
I look forward to learning about your patients and trying to help them live better lives. Please send pictures along with their records! We all enjoy oohing and ahhing at all the glorious cuteness!