Some of the most challenging, yet gratifying moments are unexpected.
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This year started like any other year, full of promise and opportunity. No one expected it to become one of the most challenging years we’ve faced in ages. The veterinary profession, like many others, had to suddenly and quickly adjust to sweeping changes, but we adapted, evolved, and conquered.
Aside from the continued fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a laundry list of other topics, that unfortunately, kept many of us up at night:
But instead of dwelling on what we’ve lost, missed, or sacrificed, I prefer to focus on what I, and perhaps you, have learned during these unprecedented times. Here’s a look at my top 6 reflections during 2020.
1. We stepped up to the plate. Instead of caving in, we kept our doors open and continued to serve. Our leadership prevailed in advocating for veterinary medicine as an essential business, sparking new guidelines for safe and efficient operation. We also continued to promote the human-animal bond and our clients praised our efforts. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and all of our state associations offered untold assistance, support, knowledge, and expertise. Each veterinary facility, likewise, resembled a family: Voices were heard and safe, judicious protocols were enacted.
2. The financial glass became half full. Instead of regressing into a dark hole, economically, we are surviving. In fact, more than 50% of practices received funding from the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program(PPP). Who could have predicted that COVID-19 would bring an onslaught of new pets and totally booked appointments?
3. More people became aware of our role in public health. COVID-19 has reminded many that we are scientists and that veterinary medicine is not just the practice of animal health, but also of public health. This virus is the poster child for zoonotic disease. Who better to discuss its evolution with than a veterinarian? Think back to all the years of study we endured to receive our doctorates. Don’t minimize your knowledge or your foundation in medicine, immunology, virology, physiology, and pathology, and refuse to allow others to violate the principles of science and glibly add their unfounded opinions to what we know and accept as truth.
4. We became more resilient. Instead of drowning in despair, I was inspired by how my staff, clients, and strangers offered me daily encouragement, fueling me with strength, optimism, and comfort. More and more, I meet those who see a light at the end of the tunnel, who find solace amid chaos.
5. We embraced our differences. This year like no other has reminded us that as a country, we are one people. Our staff, our clients, our neighbors—we all have different challenges, religions, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities—but deep down, we are one: e pluribus unum. Let us continue working toward making this a reality, not just a phrase. I am reminded of Atticus Finch in the play, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He softly lectures his very young daughter: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
6. We embarked on personal journeys. 2020 has encouraged many of us to find ourselves. What does this mean exactly? For me, I want to understand what I want to express to others and how. Or perhaps figure out how I want others to see me. I ask myself: Am I fair? Do I listen? Do I act? Do I neglect? Do I care? In Genesis, in the Old Testament of the Bible, Adam hides from God and God asks, “Where are you?” Now God knows where he is. He is God! What He really wants to know is: Where are you? Not an easy question to answer.
May the upcoming year be a bit more… boring!
Mark P. Helfat, DVM, is founder and owner of Larchmont Animal Hospital.