How I stay happy in the veterinary profession


When I turned 70 in 2011, people started asking me if I was going to retire. Now that I am 73, friends ask when Im going to retire.

Sharon DeNayerEarlier this month my mother turned 95. She still lives on her own and is active and happy. The law of averages says I'm likely to live longer than my parents. If that's the case, I think about what I might do for another 20-plus years if I retire soon. I can think of a lot of things I would like to do, but not for 20 years!

I've been working in the field of veterinary medicine with my partner, Dr. Robin Downing, for 29 years. I've been practice manager of Windsor Veterinary Clinic since we purchased it in 1991. So what keeps me from burning out or having a bad case of compassion fatigue? There are many reasons, but these are the major ones:

We practice medicine as a form of friendship. We purposely chose a small town setting for our practice so we could get to know our clients and patients as individuals. Over the past 29 years, our clients have become our extended family, and we see three generations of some of the families. Our clinic is an integral part of the community and we are actively involved in a variety of community services.

Each day brings something new. There is no “routine” day. Although I have my fair share of “ruts” that I enjoy, I truly thrive on change. I do enjoy trying new things and there is always something new in veterinary medicine. In addition to changes in medical procedures, we started a referral practice in animal pain management. I have led the team through becoming accredited by AAHA and through all of its renewals. I have led the team through becoming approved as gold level Feline Friendly Practices and recently through our first renewal. Now we're changing other procedures to make our practices as Fear-Free as we can.

I can apply the skills and knowledge I gained in school. I hold a bachelor of science in education degree and a master of education degree. Beyond my master's degree, I completed extensive classwork in administration and completed supervisor's certification by the Ohio Department of Education. I also completed the maintenance and management school certification through the National Park and Recreation Department. I use these skills daily in managing our practices through supervision, staff training, client education, property management and so on.

My work and life experience adds value to my position here. I am a natural and trained educator and taught school for 10 years. I much prefer teaching in a casual setting and prefer teaching on a one-to-one basis or with small groups. As program director of National Center West, I was responsible for hiring, training and supervising a seasonal staff of about 125. I also wrote the curricula for high school and college credit for all of our events at NCW. I oversee the internships of veterinary assistant students and veterinary technician students here.     

I can capitalize on my strengths. I use my teaching and management skills every day. My communication skills are very strong. My active listening skills are particularly helpful when I am working with bereaved clients. One of my strongest skills is problem-solving, and I love a challenge.

I'm constantly learning something new. I truly am a lifelong learner. I hold a Death and Grief Studies certificate from Colorado State University. I am also certified in pet loss support. I am a Veterinary Nutritional Advocate. I am an AdvoCat mentor for AAFP. I regularly attend conferences as well as complete CE online.

The values I hold most dear are in sync with those of the clinic. I was raised and taught school in the Midwest and exemplify that strong Midwest work ethic. Integrity, fairness and compassion are three values I revere and at the clinic we consistently demonstrate these.

I love working with people of all ages and can do so each day. I enjoy working with children and miss that aspect of teaching school, so I love seeing children come to the clinic. Small children like adults my size (4 feet, 11 inches) because we are closer to their eye level. Seniors relate well with me because we're close to the same age. Because there is such a wide age range within our team, our other clients know I work with people their age every day.

Animals bring joy to my life, and through our work we can make their lives more joyful. The slogan of Windsor Veterinary Clinic is “Celebrating, protecting, and sharing the special love of animals.” We practice that every day at work. The slogan of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management is, “They don't deserve to hurt.”  Each day we are able to ease the pain of our patients. Through our work, we can help our patients have a better, happier life.

My work allows me to fulfill my life's mission. My mission in life is to help others reach their potential. My work allows me to educate clients to become better caregivers, to help our team hone their knowledge and skills and to mentor veterinary assistant students, technician students and veterinary students. I also get to companion our bereaved clients on their grief journey.

All of these elements help me avoid burnout and compassion fatigue.

Sharon DeNayer is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. 

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