Veterinarians typically work in veterinary clinics, or they own and run them. Therefore, they tend to stay in one place throughout the day, perhaps leaving the clinic only for lunch and at the end of their workday.
Not Bev Hollis, DVM, the Vice President, practice support for VetCor, a Massachusetts-based company that purchases practices from veterinary owners and then joins forces with them to help manage the “back of the house.” VetCor owns 196 practices to date and in her role, Dr. Hollis helps 41 of them located in America’s southeast.
When did you decide to become a vet?
The people I grew up with tell me I wanted to be a vet since the fifth grade but – I swear – I don’t remember that. I do know that my life has always been “animal-centric.”
I got the first of my undergrad degrees – a double major in math and English – from the University of Minnesota thinking I was going to attend human medical school. After graduation, I decided I didn’t want to be a human doctor and instead worked as a flight attendant for six years with United Airlines.
At some point, I knew I needed something that would challenge me intellectually and so I took a strong look at my beliefs, values, passions, and interests—and veterinary medicine ended up at the top of that list.
I then earned a second bachelor’s in biology from George Mason University (to get my pre-requisites) and went on to earn my doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee in 1997.
How did you come to work for VetCor?
I worked as a veterinary associate for many years. I also had my own house call practice and became certified in animal acupuncture. After I sold my house call practice, I moved to northern Virginia and started working as an associate at a practice that was ultimately purchased by VetCor. I experienced firsthand what the company brought to the table – more buying power, better equipment, the complete ability to practice independently – and most importantly, I believed in their vision. So it was very easy to say “yes” when asked to step into a senior management role.
I love the business side of veterinary practice because I understand how hard it is to do this job—be a vet and run a business. If I can bring anything to these younger doctors as they grow – help them create a better, healthier environment and help the industry become healthier and happier – then I feel my time spent will have been well worth it.
What do you wish you knew before starting veterinary school?
I just wish I had known myself better. I wish I understood what fulfilled me more on a daily basis. If I’d known myself better – had a better assessment of what it took to stay healthy, happy, and balanced – I would have been better able to handle the very taxing demands of the veterinarian’s journey. Though there weren’t as many opportunities then as there are now, I also wish I had taken a career assessment and moved into a corporate role sooner.
What do you think makes for a healthy veterinarian?
A vet can only be healthy if he or she leads a balanced life. Frankly, the healthiest vets are the ones who understand that a personal life is just as important as their career and they don’t have to do it all (in the clinic).
Too many of the veterinarians I meet in my position are desperate to do it all in the workplace. Amongst many of my peers there seems to be this need, or drive, to be THE ONE the client wants to see. I have always felt that as long as the pet gets help I don’t care about the “who.” I think this has helped me mentally sustain the stresses of this career.
Too many vets believe they are responsible for everything. How can you be healthy if you take all of that on? It’s not possible.
What wisdom would you like to pass on to veterinary students or new vets?
It’s easy to love being a vet when all you think about is helping animals. However, understand that you will serve those animals better if you look at the reality, which includes school debt, quality of life, and the stressors that come with seeing death and pain in animals. Preparing for ALL of these things will keep you healthier and practicing longer, which ultimately means you are a far more effective advocate for your patients.
As for advice to those thinking of going into vet school, already in it, or just graduated, I offer this: get a business background somehow so that you can be smart in your career progress. You have to learn how to value yourself and what you bring to your workplace, and that’s hard unless you really understand how a vet clinic works. You aren’t taught this in vet school and reality can be surprising. Instead, make understanding the business side of veterinary medicine a priority; it will put you in a much better place to advocate for yourself and your career progression.
What types of things have you been able to do in life as a vet that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
Two amazing experiences come to mind.
The first is I co-founded a rescue group in Spain for Galgos (Spanish Greyhounds) that are bred and used for gaming – gambling. Traditionally, if the dog doesn’t perform well, they are disposed of at the end of the season, often in horrific ways. Our foundation raised money and took teams to Spain annually to perform life-saving procedures and many spays and neuters which gave these dogs a chance for another life in other European countries.
Also, soon after Hurricane Katrina, a friend and I raised $35,000 in just four days and took a team of vet professionals and animal lovers to help with disaster relief. Assigned to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, our daily mission was to access (or attempt to access) a list of addresses in hopes of rescuing pets. Often the news was bad but we had so many heartwarming rescues. I still get emotional talking about it. That experience is when I really understood what my skillset could bring to humans who were suffering.
These two experiences made all the struggles of being a vet worth it; they would not have happened if I weren’t a vet.
What do you say when people tell you, “It must be so cool to be a veterinarian”?
I say, “It certainly can be.” If I feel people are open to it, I feel a responsibility to educate people about veterinary medicine because too many think we’re just trying to make money, that things should be less expensive. I try to speak more about the business as well as the emotional side of what we do.