The simple life isn't that easy


You have to get to the point where you stop measuring your life in dollars and make decisions that give you other rewards.

She doesn't consider her time off as lost revenue; she considers it a coup for mental health and happiness. When she spoke to DVM Newsmagazine, she was clearing her plate so she could enjoy two weeks in Spain and Morocco.

"I've traded money for personal time and personal wellness, and that was a conscience decision," says Merry Crimi, DVM, proprietor of Gladstone Veterinary Clinic in Milwaukie, Ore. "People tend to measure their time at the clinic in dollars, and it's true that your time is money. So I could calculate the two weeks I'll be gone in terms of money, but you have to get to the point where you stop measuring your life in dollars, and though you recognize the financial tradeoff that you are making, it really doesn't matter because you are making decisions that give you rewards other than money."

Crimi was forced into her soul searching fresh out of school while working as an associate for a workaholic in a small animal clinic. She helped him run the clinic by day, and then he moonlighted with large animal jobs by night. It was his influence that helped her realize what she didn't want out of life, which helped her determine what she did want.

"He worked basically 24 hours a day, and I knew that I didn't want veterinary medicine to be that," she says. "I wanted to be part of veterinary medicine because it adds a tremendous amount to my life in terms of the ability to reach and touch people, but I also have a lot of other things in my life, and I wanted to balance my life with family, work, personal wellness and fun."

Easier said than done

Crimi earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1978, and after a stint as an associate, she bought the Gladstone Veterinary Clinic in 1983. Though she had learned valuable lifestyle lessons as an associate, she still needed to tug at her reigns from time to time.

"I was young and cocky, and I was trying to be everything to everybody," she says. "We are people pleasers by nature, but you have to back off when it isn't fun anymore. Eventually I learned that it was OK to hire help if I needed a day off."

Despite many practitioners' best efforts to balance their lives, many still get overwhelmed with work. In DVM Newsmagazine's exclusive survey, respondents say 41 percent of their day involves work, and they dedicate less than one-quarter to family (see "Work/life balance remains manageable".) Less than 12 percent of the day is slated for personal activities. But when asked how practitioners would prefer to spend their days, respondents, on average, would prefer to spend just 29 percent of their time on work and 28 percent of their time with family; personal activities would constitute almost one-fifth of the day in a perfect world, which leaves about one-fourth of the day to sleep.

But despite a sometimes-overwhelming to-do list, Crimi says there are ways to get back on track.

"Draw yourself a wheel, and label the spokes of the wheel as areas that are important in your life, like personal wellness, career, family, hobbies and volunteer work," she says. "Then you must make sure you are delegating equal time and resources so the wheel remains a balanced circle."

Contrary to basic physics, a lopsided wheel often seems to spin out of control. Crimi says it's important to make plans to rejuvenate yourself, perhaps by doing something you do very frequently.

"For me, it's gardening," Crimi says. "When I walk out into the garden, I can balance my entire day in about a half-hour. It simply might be smelling something, or it might be pruning the heck out of something. It's my outlet, but I have other outlets, too. Sometimes they manifest in big ways like two-week vacations or in small ways like a 30-minute walk through the garden."

But it hasn't always been an easy decision to stay sane in the face of a growing business, Crimi says. The omnipresent pressure to expand facilities and services can lead many veterinarians down the road of longer hours and less free time.

"The most difficult decision I've had to make has been to stay the size we are instead of building the Taj Mahal practice; it was something I considered for a time because we were on pace to outgrow our facility, and it caused me a lot of angst because there was a self-induced pressure to grow the practice," Crimi says. "It took me about five years to be comfortable with staying in a practice this size indefinitely. We can deliver quality medicine, surgery, get all the great physician referrals in the area and remodel our practice, and I can be perfectly happy and stay perfectly balanced."

An eye to buy

Although more women are entering ownership roles (see "Who's buying" in DVM Newsmagazine's October issue,), Crimi says women might not be willing or able to purchase practices until their biological plans are set.

"There is always going to be a difference in timing for when men and women are able to enter ownership roles. Women are physiologically different from men; they have their 30s to be reproductively efficient, and if women don't have a family in their 30s, then they probably aren't going to," she says. "Women straight out of veterinary school are about that age, so practice ownership is never going to be good timing for them right out of school. They will be in their 40s, more often than not, before they can concentrate on ownership, whereas men can do it at any time.

She says it's important for current female owners to acknowledge the importance and timing of family so mentorship can begin to occur for associates who are planning to start families but also intend to be owners some day, too. Crimi says she came to the realization after learning about trends among female doctors in human healthcare.

"We must accept that there are physiological differences and accept that women are going to come into ownership roles in their 40s instead of their 30s," she says. "Women owe it to themselves to get into the practice management education so that when it is our turn, we can begin to mentor at slightly younger ages. The sooner we get out and say it, the sooner we can plan for it."

Despite when women might enter ownership roles, careful planning is crucial to getting the right mix of work and leisure.

"My proudest accomplishment is knowing that I thoroughly enjoy what I've done for a living, but at any time I can walk away from it because it's not everything that I am," she says. "Work is part of my life, but it does not define my entire existence."

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