Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock.

Question: What are some tips/ideas you give to new veterinary graduates about balancing family and veterinary practice?

Dr. Debbie Spike-Pierce, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: 1) Find out what you really enjoy and become very good at it. This is a piece of advice I learned from Dr. Larry Bramlage, senior surgeon at Rood and Riddle. Early in our careers, we are always trying to find out what we really like; often, it ends up being something you have a knack for or simply a special interest. Spend time learning and perfecting this skill. Read everything you can find regarding your topic of interest:  textbooks, journals, reports from specialists, and even lay journals. Find a mentor. Listen to their client communications, ride along with them, and spend time observing. Competence, along with confidence, will speed up your day.

2) Become an excellent horseperson. Learn the breed and discipline you are working with. This improves confidence in yourself and also the clients’ confidence in you. Efficiencies are realized when you know how to handle a horse and speak a common language with a horse owner. This skill is often developed before you carry the weight of veterinary knowledge. Take opportunities before and during veterinary school to put yourself in horse learning scenarios. We all continue to learn after vet school, but start learning now.

3) Interview the practice that is interviewing you. Look around when visiting a practice and see if they hold the same values as you. Do the veterinarians have children? Do they work all day and night? Do they have what you believe to be balance? When students visit our practice, if we don’t have much on for the day, we probably won’t take a student with us because we don’t feel they will “learn” enough. In reality, they aren’t seeing the downtime the veterinarians may have. You need to evaluate the “life” side of practice, not just veterinary medicine. If you want children and you interview with a practice where none of the doctors have kids, you may want to ask yourself if this is truly the right fit. If you see clinicians making time for their kid’s sporting events, you know family is most likely a priority.

4) Set boundaries. This can be tough because you always want to be available to your clients and your clients want to be able to reach you. If a client has an emergency, they have to be able to reach veterinary care, in some instances, immediately. How is this possible without being on call 24/7? In order to have complete time away from practice, there must be another competent veterinarian covering for you. There should be some familiarity between your client and the other veterinarian. Your client has to be informed when you are not available and how to reach that other veterinarian. This takes scheduling and good communication, but it certainly can be done.

5) Make your family a priority; non-emergent work can wait. I have witnessed this in many of my mentors, especially Dr. Embertson, also a senior surgeon at Rood and Riddle. If your call can be done after a child’s ballgame, do it after. Prioritize your family above non-urgent work.

6) Include your family in your equine practice. During my childhood, I loved going on farm calls with my dad. Most of my clients know my daughters because they have met them. We have veterinarians who don’t have kids that take their spouse or significant other on calls with them. Don’t be afraid to include your family in your practice. It is a way to keep the balance in both worlds.

7) Ride your horse. I have heard from my children that people tell them not to go into equine medicine because they won’t have time to ride their horse. Make time. Place it on your schedule if you need to. Spending time with horses is why many of us entered this profession, and it will keep you happy. Happy people are more productive.

8) Organize your schedule geographically. Being an equine practitioner typically requires a significant amount of windshield time. Communicate with your clients what days of the week you will be in their vicinity. The less time you spend on the road is more time for your discretion.

9) Take advantage of the flexibility equine ambulatory practice allows. While driving around the countryside on farm calls, take some “you” time and place it in your schedule just like a call. Have lunch at home, run an errand between stops, go to the grocery, or pick up your kids.

Sustainability is different for everyone. Equine practice requires some flexibility from both the veterinarian and the client, but when we reach that place where both parties are happy, there is nothing better. 

Dr. Debbie Spike-Pierce

Dr. Debbie Spike-Pierce’s passion for horses began at a very young age. Her father and grandfather were veterinarians, and she grew up working with Standardbred race horses. She also showed Saddle Seat with her Morgan horse. In 1993, Dr. Spike-Pierce graduated from veterinary school from Michigan State University. She has held previous positions as KAEP and KVMA Presidents and is also very active in the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). 

Areas of interest for Dr. Spike-Pierce are field diagnostic imaging, conformation, lameness, and public sales. Dr. Spike-Pierce is married to veterinarian and shareholder Dr. Scott Pierce. They have two girls, Vivian and Audra. In Drs. Pierce and Spike-Pierce’s spare time, they own and operate a Thoroughbred breeding farm and race Standardbreds. 

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