Web exclusive: Challenges of a rural vet


Dr. Shelley Lenz refuses to be typecast into the role of overworked, underpaid rural vet.

Read more about the changing demands on rural veterinarians here.

Killdeer, N.D. -- Dr. Shelley Lenz, owner of the Killdeer Veterinary Clinic in Killdeer, N.D., refuses to be typecast into the role of overworked, underpaid rural veterinarian.

Dr. Shelley Lenz

She opened her solo practice, an equine and small-animal haul-in facility, about a year ago in an area that has a definite shortage of rural veterinarians.

Her own research showed that the 75-mile radius of where she was opening could support 19 veterinarians, yet there are only four.

Even with numbers like that, she is doing much better than she projected she would. Yet she isn't running around ragged.

"It got busy pretty quick," she says. "I'm doing 30 percent better than my projections."

Lenz describes her schedule as "pretty reasonable," keeping Monday through Friday hours and special appointments on Saturdays, if needed. She also is available for emergencies.

Some days, she may have five emergencies one right after another, and on others, nothing, depending on the season. But what saves her time is the fact that she is not ambulatory.

Of course, the area could use a few more veterinarians, but she isn't complaining.

One of the big drawbacks to being a solo practitioner in a rural area is isolation, she says.

New to the area, Lenz says she doesn't know anyone and given the remote location of other nearby veterinarians, it can be daunting. Without networking groups, like the Academy of Rural Veterinarians, of which Lenz is president, she doesn't think she would have stayed in rural medicine, which would have been a shame.

But it's a scenario that is very common for new graduates.

"There is such tremendous interest from the students," she says. "The stereotype is there that it is low-pay and hard hours, but I don't think my life is hectic in any way. And I'm compensated very well."

She also says that students get the impression that rural vets do not practice the highest quality of veterinary medicine, which is absolutely not true.

"When I came out here, it was almost like 'I finally get to be vet,'" she says. "In urban practices, it's almost like you become a gate keeper to the specialists."

On the plains of North Dakota, she is free.

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