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Q&A with a keynote: Ashley S. Bourgeois, DVM, DACVD

Kansas City

With the dvm360® Fetch Kansas City Conference just 2 months away, here’s an inside look at one of our renowned keynote speakers

The dvm360® Fetch Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, will be taking place from August 25-27, 2023. The second day will begin with an inspiring keynote address delivered by Ashley S. Bourgeois, DVM, DACVD, “The Derm Vet,” practice owner with Animal Dermatology Clinic, Portland, Oregon. A well-known veterinary leader, Bourgeois is also a speaker, media personality, and podcaster with a passion for making dermatology practical for general practitioners and increasing access to this education through her various outlets.

Ashley S. Bourgeois, DVM, DACVD, a keynote speaker to lecture at the Fetch Kansas City Conference.

Ashley S. Bourgeois, DVM, DACVD, a keynote speaker to lecture at the Fetch Kansas City Conference.

She achieved her bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University and her veterinary degree from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. She then completed a small animal internship at Purdue University. In 2014, she became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology. She has been with Animal Dermatology Group in Portland since its founding in 2016.

Bourgeois’ keynote lecture, “Controlling the Controllable—Life Lessons In & Out of the Exam Room” will discuss the importance of having empathy for clients as you never know what someone is going through and incorporating this by learning to play “offense” rather than “defense.” As she is experiencing hardship in her personal life because her 4-year-old son was recently diagnosed with leukemia, she feels it has strengthened her compassion inside the clinic.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your personal life?

It's getting to the stage with my children that they're becoming their own little selves, their personalities are really coming out. One of my favorite things to do currently is especially with my 6-year-old, since she's a little bit older and becoming more independent, is just watching her become involved in things. She's in taekwondo, swimming, and just watching her be independent, figure things out, and want to accomplish things. She just finished kindergarten, and that was really exciting.

The other thing with my son is that he is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia. And watching him over the last year be so brave, strong, still have this really outgoing personality with the doctors and nurses, has been just amazing. And just seeing how well he's handled everything, compared to what I think honestly, a lot of adults would do in this situation, he's just been the epitome of perseverance and handling things.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your professional life?

One is just watching the clinic grow here in Portland, when originally I came up, and it's been myself and then another doctor, and now we have a third dermatologist and a resident, and she's about to be a senior resident. I think working with my other dermatology cohorts and just growing that practice over time has been a really rewarding thing to do. And just seeing the outreach and the benefit we can have with the pets in Portland.

Then honestly, it's just been in the last few years, really diving into speaking and having the podcast grow. That's been awesome. Just to go from a baby idea of ‘I love doing this. Could this really be something I could do more often and implement? Could I start a podcast based on how I speak at conferences and have that continue be successful?’ And it's been around now for 3 and a half years and still growing and still gaining traction, which has been awesome.

What is your favorite part of being a veterinary dermatologist?

My favorite part is seeing the clients understand and get it. A lot of times they come in and we deal with chronic diseases for the most part. So oftentimes, they're coming to us because they have had years of going through the management of skin disease or ear disease, and really just taking the time to educate them on here's our options, here’s what our expectations are, I need you on my team through all this, tell me what's going on at home, we're going to have flares, here's how we're going to react to that. Seeing that click when they become part of that team for their pet with us, I think is my favorite thing and dealing with the long-term nature of allergies and skin disease, we really get to know our clients. A lot of times we know things about their personal lives, they know things about us. It's just fun to have that team mentality because of the chronic nature of what we deal with.

Can you describe your passion for wellness topics and the inspiration behind your keynote address?

Especially becoming a mom, I started focusing a lot on getting married, and then having kids, that there were other facets to life. I love what I do work wise. And sometimes still, that balance can be tough for someone who's passionate about what they do and for their career. But when you start to raise a child, foster your partner and your relationship and your marriage, you really just start to understand, those difficult times how you really need to spend time with that portion of your life.

It’s become more and more clear this last year, and what will be a huge part of the keynote is my journey of being a cancer mom and having to be put in a situation where I had to 100% lose the balance of work-life and just focus on life. I took a step away from the clinic for a month and a half, I cancelled most of my speaking engagements and traveling last year. And that was something especially post-pandemic, where I already had to do that to some degree, that really put a lot of perspective in what I had to focus on. And that that was okay, that this balance can be an overall thing and not a day-to-day thing. At that point, and still to this day, as he's still going through treatment, that's something that we must really take into consideration.

What do you hope attendees take away from the keynote?

This is going to be completely new and different than anything I've done before. And [the biggest takeaway] is to find that empathy for your clients, and we absolutely must have boundaries, that is key in our field. But sometimes we tend to be on the defense rather than the offense. If someone's running 5 minutes late for their appointment, [it’s easy to think], ‘Well, how could they? Don't they respect my time?’ If someone is delayed for their recheck, [it’s easy to think], ‘Oh, they didn't come when I told them to.’ If they look on Google for something, [you may think], ‘How could they look for Google instead of asking me?’ And what I can say with dealing with my son's issues over the last year, is that I did all those things. I was late for appointments, didn't recheck when I was supposed to for things with my daughter because we were in the hospital with our son getting chemotherapy. You better believe I was on the internet looking for things and looking for support, because you kind of are in this really weird headspace and you have to balance that with obviously listening to the experts. You do just start to feel as an advocate for someone you're caring for, whether it's a child, a parent, or a pet, you are just trying to collect as much information as possible.

So, when owners now come in and say, ‘You know I read this online,’ or ‘I was talking to my friend who did this,’ even if I'm not so much in agreeance with what they said, I'll listen [and say], ‘Well, what did you read? What are your concerns?’ It’s really changed my perspective, after doing all of those things myself when you are kind of in that crisis mode and just trying to do the best you can for this living [person] you're taking care of.

What advice do you have for others experiencing hardship in their personal lives?

One is it's okay to not know the future. I did not know what I was going to do for my work schedule. And that really was hard for me because I identify a lot with my clients and my clinical work. I was having a hard time not knowing after taking time off what the future was going to look like, like how are we going to balance a child who can't go to daycare because they're going through chemotherapy and being 2 working parents? And it really took a step of saying, ‘It's okay, that we don't know, we can figure it out, we can change if something doesn't work, we can work with our job to make sure that they're flexible and understanding what we need, that we might not have all the answers right now. And that's okay.’

Then the other one is to let people help you. I mean, it was really amazing to see all the support but overwhelming when so many people were sending things. But in the end, it made that journey so much better. And just taking those walls down and saying I am still a strong person, I am still a strong mom, I'm still a strong veterinarian, but I am in a really difficult situation right now. And I have people who love our family and want to help us, and I would want to do the same if someone else was going through it, so just allow it to happen.

To see Bourgeois and other incredible veterinary professionals lecture at the Fetch Kansas City Conference, register here.

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