My Industry is Failing: Veterinary Medicine Edition with Karen Fine | Crooked Media
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June 14, 2023
Work Appropriate
My Industry is Failing: Veterinary Medicine Edition with Karen Fine

In This Episode

For those of us who are pet lovers, a good vet clinic makes all the difference. But for those working in vet clinics, things can be really hard. In fact, veterinarians have a risk of death by suicide at a rate 2-4 times that of the general public. How did things get to be this way, and what hope is there for improvement? Dr. Karen Fine, DVM and author of The Other Family Doctor, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about working in the vet industry– and how pet owners can offer support.





Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] So I just want to make this clear right now that I love vets and vet techs and everyone who works at veterinarian offices. I have had more dog trauma in the last decade than most, and vets and vet techs and vet receptionists have made it bearable. But over this past decade, I’ve also come to understand how working in vet medicine has become incredibly difficult. Some of it is just the reality of talking to people day in and day out about their precious pets when they’re suffering. But that’s just the baseline. It’s even harder when pet care has become even more expensive. And pet insurance is essentially a scam. And so many vet practices have been acquired by private equity. It’s never been more expensive student loan wise, to become a vet. And basically, every vet clinic is understaffed. It is really, really hard to work in veterinary medicine right now. And the suicide rates amongst vets really reflect that. I’ve been wanting to write about the vet industry for some time now. And then I heard about Karen Fine’s new book, The Other Family Doctor, which addresses both the essential role of vets in our pets lives, but also so many of the ways that the profession as a whole is in crisis. In this episode, you’ll see that she provides some really lovely and empathetic answers to questions from listeners who are in the veterinary medicine field. But I also want to note that we talked Karen and I, back in early May when my beloved tri-pawed mutt Peggy, was in the midst of a gastrointestinal crisis that would just a few days later lead us to make the truly heart wrenching decision to put her down at the age of eight. That’s part of why we’ve delayed this episode for a few weeks. It was really just too much for me to even write this intro. But I want to say that when I was talking to the emergency vet at 1 a.m. making that incredibly difficult decision, I held Karen’s words in my mind and felt nothing but deep waves of appreciation for the work that this vet was doing, soothing both us and our dog whose suffering needed to end. I’ll also say that even though this intro is a little bit dog sad, the rest of this episode is not. But it will give you a lot more empathy for the people who make our pets best lives possible. I’m so grateful for it. [music plays]


Karen Fine: My name is Karen Fine, and I’m a veterinarian. And I just wrote a memoir called The Other Family Doctor. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So tell us about writing The Other Family Doctor. So what was your goal for writing it? Why did it feel like a book that you had to write? 


Karen Fine: It felt like a book I had to write because I see so many people that are so upset when their animal dies or at the end of their animals life. And I think a lot of people feel that they’re alone in their grief and perhaps that it’s unusual to have such a close relationship with an animal. And not only have I had those relationships, those close relationships myself, I’ve seen them in so many people. And I wanted to write a book to kind of talk about that. And it’s also pretty rare to have a book that talks about euthanasia in veterinary medicine. So a lot of books will sort of touch on it in, you know, the end of an animal’s life, but not really go into detail about what it involves and how how difficult it can be for people. And also some of the things, some of the narratives that people have that I think are not helpful. I think a lot of people feel very guilty before and afterwards. People feel that there’s this huge choice they have to make and they don’t feel qualified to make it. So even though I’m helping people with that decision, I still feel from them and often see a lot of this real anxiety around the decision as well as the grief that’s inherent. You know, you’re losing this this animal family member, but it’s also around this making the decision. And then you’re also feeling like it’s called disenfranchised grief. It’s a grief that not everybody recognizes. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Karen Fine: So it’s hard to say to your workplace, you know, I need a day or two off because my animal died. You know, I’m having a hard time focusing. I’m crying all the time. And, you know, it’s it’s hard. Some people have the type of workplace where they can say that and many people don’t. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I find that actually with like stress over my dog, I have a three legged dog that was in an accident and had to over the course was paralyzed and then had to have an amputation. And she’s she’s great now this was several years ago, but it just, you know, created a fraught emotional relationship with this dog. Like, I just feel very, very connected to her. And when things happen, like right now she’s on hunger strike because we’re away from home. You’re like, what’s going to happen? Like, is this happening because I’m not there? And it’s hard to explain to people who don’t have that sort of relationship with their pets. And you know what it what it feels like. But it’s very real. And I love that phrase just disenfranchised grief, too, to talk about what it feels like when you can’t talk about your grief. 


Karen Fine: Very much. And I’m fortunate being in the veterinary field because I’m surrounded by people who do understand and even any people in my life who don’t feel that way themselves understand that I’m a veterinarian. So I get a little bit of leeway. But I think a lot of people don’t have as many people in their life who who really get it, especially potentially at work. And another thing you brought up is when you were saying, you know, that your dog has three legs and we call that a tri-pawd, p a w d, is that when you have a special needs animal and a lot of animals at the end of their lives become special needs. So especially with some of these older animals that people are sleeping downstairs because they can’t go upstairs anymore or they’re giving them medication multiple times a day, they’re helping them go in and out of the house. All these things that we do that sort of build up until we may not realize how much we’re doing and that bonds you even more with that animal. You’re so in tune with them and what their needs are. I think you’re you’re bonded even more than if it’s sort of a healthy animal that doesn’t need that much as much care from you. 


Anne Helen Petersen: You know, I think that people don’t often think of veterinary medicine as an industry, but it very much is. It is an industry that makes money, that has industrial changes, that have changed the character of the work. And so I love to hear from you how you’ve seen the industry change over the course of your career. 


Karen Fine: Yeah, it’s very much an industry and it’s very interesting too, because there have been so many changes since I graduated, which was about 30 years ago. And you know, I’m sort of considered possibly old school. And I would say people that are older than me say ten years older, that’s probably pretty old school. And the changes have just been phenomenal. So say 40 years ago, most practices where one doctor, maybe two doctor practices. And there wasn’t nearly as many options as there are now for care. There weren’t as many specialists. And when I was first in practice, if I suggested a specialist to somebody, a lot of times they would look at me like I was crazy. [laughter] You know, you want me to take Fluffy to an ophthalmologist, a veterinary ophthalmologist, And now it’s rare that people laugh. They may or may not go, but most of the time they do. And just knowing that there are specialists, most people are much more knowledgeable about that. They’re much more savvy. And they know that there are specialists for different things. I think what people don’t realize cost wise is that we don’t have a lot of control over a lot of the costs. The costs keep rising from our suppliers. And also veterinary medicine. It takes as long to become a veterinarian, as it does to become a human physician. And veterinarians often have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans with a far lower salary than a physician. So it’s that’s one reason why I think many veterinarians are under fairly significant financial stress. And then, you know, we’ll hear people complaining about prices and saying, you know, well, you people are, you know, you should be doing this for free if you care about animals, which pretty much every veterinarian and staff member has heard. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So we’re going to talk a lot about mental health in the veterinary medicine field. But before we do that, I kind of want to just think about some of these structural challenges that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. So what are some of the trends, you know, business or otherwise, that are really challenging right now in particularly the American understanding of how veterinary medicine works? 


Karen Fine: Yeah, So it used to be you’d have a one or maybe a two doctor practice that would be sort of local in your town. And if the you know, there weren’t really a lot of specialists and it was sort of, you know, if you could do it, you did it. And a lot of those veterinarians were really good at, you know, a broken leg, fixing a fracture, that kind of a thing. But something more complicated medically or, you know, diagnostically were were much more difficult to treat. And then what happened is we had corporations coming in and starting to buy up these large practices, partly because veterinarians coming out of school can’t afford to purchase these larger clinics. You know, I think it was easier when it was a one doctor practice for someone to say, okay, I’m going to take out a bank loan. Having a practice is incredibly expensive because we have the same surgical equipment for human hospitals. So opening a practice is not just like putting your name on a shingle and opening your door and having a table and a stethoscope. It’s it’s far more involved. So for someone to come out of school with heavy student loan debt and then to think about purchasing a practice with all of these things going into it, you’re you’re talking about an enormous you know, someone would have to have a huge, deep pockets to do that. And a lot of veterinarians don’t. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I mean, that’s one thing I think most people don’t think of at all is that if you start a veterinary practice, you are also starting a small business. And so, like you said, you have to have an enormous amount of capital, either through a loan or through private funds, which, you know, not most people [laughs] if they come from like normal means, don’t have that. So there are other businesses that are taking advantage of this situation. We’re going to get more into this. So I think this is a perfect segue way into a question about one of these business trends. It’s from Christie. 


Christie: I am a mid-level manager at a private equity backed veterinary consolidator. Consolidation of privately owned vet practices is a rapidly increasing and, in my opinion, scary trend. I stayed at this job because of the great pay and schedule and because I know that my team and I genuinely work every day to advocate for higher pay and better working conditions for the people in our practices. Is consolidation in the vet industry a foregone conclusion we should accept and lean in to how to make it better? Or am I totally kidding myself that fighting from the inside will make any difference at all? Why aren’t unions more popular in vet med? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So can you explain this consolidation thing for people who aren’t in this world? Like, how does this work? 


Karen Fine: I think what they mean by consolidation is private entities, these corporations buying up clinics. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of consolidating like two clinics into one clinic. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah. 


Karen Fine: So it’s more that that the clinics are owned by these corporate entities who can, you know, they’ll set the prices, they can, you know, set the salaries, raises those types of things. But I think from the perspective of the industry, it’s become. Very, very challenging. And especially with COVID, it was sort of a trifecta. Just to kind of get into COVID, because that’s been also a huge shift in the industry. Many more people got puppies. Many people left the industry or were unable. They were either sick or home taking care of kids. And people were curbside, which took a lot longer. So we when we weren’t letting clients into the building. So that’s sort of a history of veterinary medicine. You’ve got these small clinics and now you’re getting bigger clinics. And I think it would be great if there were unions. But I think when you have these really small businesses, that’s not really something that you picture. Unions, maybe that could be the future of veterinary medicine. It would be great. But I am an optimist and I do think advocating from the inside and this writer sounds lovely. I love the way that there’s, you know, working with others to advocate for higher pay and better working conditions. I would sure much rather have somebody with that attitude working in that field than someone who says, well, why should I care, you know [laughs] or thinks we make a lot of money or something like that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Do you think that this sort of ownership consolidation so companies buying up various practices in various towns, so like you said, it’s not necessarily like the practices themselves are joining, it’s that their owners are owning more veterinary practices. Do you think that this is kind of inevitable, like this is the way things are going to go unless there is a huge shift in the way that we train and fund and think about debt for [laughs] for veterinarians? 


Karen Fine: I do. I guess I can’t see it going any any other way. I think, though, there are still some small 1 to 2 doctor practices, but more and more of them are these larger practices. And those are you know, there there are pros and cons. But I think having being able to be open more hours and then if that one veterinarian gets sick or takes a day off, you have somebody to cover. It’s not you know, if you’re a one doctor practice and you know, then you’re closing. If you want to go to your kids concert or whatever it is or you’re sick, it’s very difficult. So it does give people more wiggle room when there are more doctors. And also you can bounce things off different people and different different practitioners have different skill sets. So somebody may be really good, say with ophthalmology and someone else may be really good at surgery. I think it’s a good model to have multiple doctors, but it’s just unfortunate that it sort of prices out many veterinarians and and not to say too I mean, I never wanted to own my own clinic just because of the huge the huge overhead and responsibility. I would say, you know, financially it was out of reach, but it was also it also felt overwhelming to me, responsibility wise. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, as far as any sort of advice that we can give this this question asker Christie, I wonder, you know, the company that owns the practice would also presumably be in charge of benefits and that sort of thing. And I know that therapy is something just having a therapist, having someone that that vets can talk to that that’s something that you’ve talked about a lot in terms of just like being really conscious of of mental health when it comes to vets. So maybe it would be even something like advocating for affordable access to mental health care for all employees. 


Karen Fine: Yes. I’m really glad you brought that up, because there is a fairly new field called veterinary social work. And. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, yeah. 


Karen Fine: A lot of the big hospitals, like at the Veterinary Schools or Angell Memorial in Boston, have veterinary social workers on staff. But other than that, they’re not really out in the veterinary world. And I think it would be a great model if some of these consolidators or big corporations employed veterinary social workers, and maybe they would go and spend each day at a different practice. So then if there was a social worker at your practice one day a week to talk to the doctors and the staff, also to talk to some of the clients who are really struggling with decisions or with loss or whatever. And then also the veterinarians and the staff, you know, we go through really difficult situations very regularly, so that that would totally be on my wish list for the veterinary corporations to to do to, you know, because I’ve thought of that before as a model. And you don’t know, you know, who would pay for it? Would it be, you know, people’s private insurance? And then that would be difficult, it would be clients, it would be staff. But if you had it paid for by the corporation, and then one veterinary social worker could do five practices if they were one day at each. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I mean, it strikes me as good business sense too, just because [laughs] like you have someone who is providing an outlet for the people within the profession who need someone to talk to and to kind of outsource some of those emotions. But then it also is providing someone who is incredibly skilled at those sort of soft skills of dealing with patients and patients owners. That makes it just all around a better experience, a more sustainable experience. So that’s that I think that’s our great specific advice is start talking about veterinary social workers and how that can maybe work within the larger scenario of a private equity backed veterinary consolidator. 


Karen Fine: I would love to see that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from someone who has been in the business almost as long as you have, but is making a change. This is from Lowell and Matt, Crooked’s VP of Production, is going to read it for us. 


Lowell: I’ve been in the veterinary field for almost 20 years and I’m getting ready to go back to school for a tech career. I make decent pay, but I live in the Bay Area and everything is very expensive. About half of my tech classmates are still in the field and the rest either went into vet school or left the field entirely. Why is my field struggling so much to keep long term nurses? And will it get better? Or should I warn the younger nurses to get out while they can? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So first, Karen, can you give us some insight into the different roles? Like, what is the difference between a tech and a nurse and what’s the schooling like and that sort of thing. 


Karen Fine: So tech and a nurse would be the same thing. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. 


Karen Fine: So some people want to call them nurses and some people say technicians. Historically in the field, we’ve always said technicians, but also historically, techs have been trained. They may have been, you know, high school students that were trained by the the local doctor and have had not had any specific education in the veterinary tech field. And that has changed dramatically over the last like, say, 10 to 20 years, that now there are technician programs where people go to school and they really have many, many skills that are learned in school, not sort of learned on the job according to that one person’s training them on the job. So that’s kind of the history of it. And that may be why there is this history well, there’s a history of bad pay. Veterinarians don’t make much. Technicians aren’t going to make as much as veterinarians. So which is a shame because you have people that are very knowledgeable and very dedicated. And it’s it’s a poor paying field in general. So I’m impressed that the person says they make decent pay. But I can understand it’s a it’s a challenging field. And I think many people can make more money for less hassle, if you will, or less, you know, maybe emotional stress in different fields. And again, I’m an optimist and I also there’s a shortage of veterinarians. So I would say, you know, looking ahead, there’s a lot of talk in the field about how we don’t utilize technicians as well as we should. So when I for instance, what that means is if I look at, you know, say, my afternoon in practice, how many things am I doing that I need my doctor skills to do versus how many things am I doing that I don’t. So if I’m inputting charges into the computer, well, someone else could do that. And technicians have these higher skills, like they can be drawing blood from an animal, doing all the treatments to the animal. Sometimes I’m drawing blood. Well, that’s time that I could be spending doing more doctor things, whether that’s talking to clients, writing in the record, stuff like that, or doing procedures that are more like you need a doctor to do them, say aspirating a lump or something else like that. So there are definitely people saying, you know, we need to use technicians more widely, especially because there’s a veterinarian shortage. So I’m hoping that that will become the case. And technicians will, for instance, putting in an intravenous catheter. I learned how to do that in school. And when I was a new vet, I was the one responsible for doing that. And now it’s just assumed that the technicians are going to do that. Just sort of like in human medicine, you wouldn’t have the doctor inserting the IV catheter, you’d have a nurse doing it, and they also run lab tests. And do you know all kinds of other help with surgeries, getting surgery, they do anesthesia. They’re pretty much in charge of the the anesthesia being overseen by the doctor. So they have a lot of important responsibilities. So I’m hoping that there’s going to be more and more call for veterinary technicians and that they will be more utilized and better paid. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. See, that was as you were describing, all the things that they’re expected to do now and to do high level, high stress skills. And if you’re not getting paid a lot and if your hours are kind of crappy, that seems like a recipe for burnout. It’s just hard to keep a tech on staff, if that’s the scenario. 


Karen Fine: Yeah. And then you have clients that you know and you can have if you have ten clients, you might have seven that are fine. No, you know, big thing one way or the other, two that are super nice and one who gives you a really hard time. And it’s that one [laughs] who gives you a hard time that kind of, you know, sticks in your in your throat and is upsetting and makes you tense. So that’s sort of a you know, it’s something you have to sort of learn how to deal with. I guess, in the industry if you’re going to keep coming to work. And it can be challenging, though, you know, I really tried my best. I squeezed them in and, you know, the animal was difficult trying to bite me. And then still, that person wasn’t happy. And who knows what was going on with that person in their day. You know, they have their own reasons for why they were crabby or unappreciative or whatever. But it’s still it’s still difficult work, you know, working with the public and public who, you know, people that are maybe upset about their animal to some extent. You get just like you get people in the profession that deal better with animals than people. You get people [laughs] that have pets that deal better with animals than people. So. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I want to talk a little bit more explicitly about mental health and your book. The Other Family Doctor has a whole chapter that’s just about veterinarians in crisis. And you write that, quote, “Veterinarians are so involved in helping others with their narratives that they often neglect their own. And the failure to separate from the stories of clients and patients can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue.” This is a version of a story that I’ve heard for so many people in helping professions, you know, whether they’re teachers or social workers. It’s just it’s a real problem. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about how you’ve recognized this in your own practice. I know that you have a policy that you will be the vet for your friend’s pets, but only to a point. Can you talk about that? 


Karen Fine: It’s something that I kind of struggled with for a long time without realizing it in terms of the difficulties of the profession and euthanizing an animal. A lot of people think, oh, okay, euthanasia must be the hardest thing you do. And at first it was, you know, just the giving of the injection that was a little overwhelming to me. And then now, you know, usually I feel that, you know, the animal is suffering. I’m doing a kindness to that animal. But it’s a huge you know, it can be the worst day of that person’s life and that person’s in the room with me. So I’m very conscious of facilitating this event to be as good as possible for the animal and for the person or people. Oftentimes there’s multiple people in the room with me, and that’s challenging. And sometimes it goes, you know, mostly it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t go as well as I’d hope. There’s a lot of things that are not in your control. So I realized a long time ago that it was hard for me to euthanize my friends and families animals if I’ve been to a home socially and, you know, eaten dinner there. And, you know, it’s people I know really well to facilitate that moment on one of the hardest days of their lives, and I can understand why they would want it to be me doing it. But the thought of me, you know, doing that for all of my friends and and family is, you know, is something that felt overwhelming to me when I when I thought about it sort of, you know, in advance going down the road. So I told people and friends and family have been very respectful of that and certainly in an emergency, I would. But that’s something that’s been difficult for me. And then I think just the difficulties of the profession, I feel like in vet school we were really trained to be very stoic and there was no discussion of emotions or ethics and our feelings, there was none of that. It was sort of and I talk about it in the book that we had to do non-survival surgical labs, where for each student a dog died that we did surgery on and then they were euthanized and there were no discussions of how we should feel about this. And if we didn’t, you know, if we struggled with this, there was no place to kind of go with that. So I feel like that really trained me to be very stoic and I didn’t really think about myself in terms of feeling some of the difficulties until I heard that there was a high suicide rate in the veterinary profession. And then it really made me stop and think. And I have not been suicidal, but I think every veterinarian knows people or knows of people who have died by suicide in the profession. But it also made me hearing about this high rate, made me think, well, there’s a lot to struggle about. And I’m not the only one who’s sort of tamping these feelings down and ignoring them and just saying, oh, yeah, well, I’m tough. I can deal with this. And I think from my perspective and I wrote about this in the book, there’s not there’s not really a place for us to reflect on these things and talk about it. If we have a difficult a difficult case or a case that maybe didn’t go the way we wanted to or a difficult conversation with someone, you know, sometimes I’ve just felt really enmeshed with certain situations and and people and animals, and I had a hard time kind of separating myself from them. And, you know, I think probably every probably [laughs] every veterinarian would say there’s times where they wake up at three in the morning and they’re thinking, should I have done this? Should I have done that, that kind of a thing. But nobody talks about that. And in the profession, it’s more been, you know. Focus on wellness. So, you know, well, we all need to make sure we’re eating right and sleeping right and exercising. And I think that that’s good. But that really ignores the whole fact that this is a really challenging profession. And these are hard things that we do, and we need to recognize that. And then there’s also the concern that that can be blaming the practitioner. So if you are struggling and then it becomes like, well, are you eating right and sleeping right and exercising, well, who who [laughs] is doing all those things optimally? And odds are if you’re depressed, you probably aren’t. So then you don’t want to feel, you know, you wouldn’t want someone to then feel that, you know, Oh, okay, well, it’s my fault, you know, if only I could be exercising more, then I wouldn’t be having these struggles. I think that’s not helpful. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I love that you brought up the stoicism that’s really ingrained in veterinary students, and I think that that’s one of those things that if you want to deal with this problem, you have to go back to the root causes, which is oftentimes in the training, in the attitudes that we say are ideal when dealing with problems and in these sorts of situations, instead of saying like, oh, you have this problem, maybe you should meditate. Right. Like you said, that is ascribing the failure to deal with this problem that is basically, like you said, blaming the person for not being good enough at dealing with their own problems instead of saying, oh, look, maybe we created an entire scenario where, like, this is very common for people to feel like they’re struggling and like that it’s somehow not okay to reach out. So my question is, if you have a colleague who comes to you and is struggling, you know, there’s a lot of really great resources in your book, but what would you tell them? Is there a hotline like is there a really great book? Like what? What sort of advice would you have if they were really struggling with their mental health within the field? 


Karen Fine: Well, I would definitely tell them to talk to a therapist. And I’ve talked to therapists, you know, many times over the years. And I think therapy is really valuable to getting to the root causes of certain things. And there are some really good also resources in the veterinary community. There is something called Not One More Vet, which is basically we want not one more veterinarian lost to suicide. And there’s also something called Vets4Vets, which is a program to help veterinarians with situations like this. And I think they even have like small groups to talk about things. So there are a lot of resources now in the profession, which is really good. And that was not the case ten or 15 years ago. There were not really those resources. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. So our last question comes from Maggie, and it’s such an important one. I’m so glad that this person wrote in. 


Maggie: My sister is a veterinarian and often talks about the mental health crisis in her field. She also single parents during the week while my brother in law travels for work. In her social media, she presents a happy life. I know she loves much of her life. I know she’s exhausted, too. How should people outside the field support and recognize possible signs of suicidal ideation and depression, especially since the veterinary world is so dominated by women who face additional pressures to be and present as perfect parents? In addition to the extreme emotional demands of veterinary work. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So I want to address this in tears. So if you have a family member or a close friend in vet medicine, how can people listening right now, how can they support them? 


Karen Fine: Yeah, what a great question. So, yeah, I’ve already talked about some of the wellness and why this is such hard work. And to some extent too, there’s a history. This has been talked about in the profession too, that the profession has a lot of perfectionists. Perfectionism is a problem with veterinarians, and we sort of have high achievers that are you know, we’re not always good at saying no. You know, if the receptionist says so-and-so’s on the phone and Fluffy is really sick and you know, what can we do? It’s hard for me to say no. And I think it’s hard for a lot of people to say no. And part of it is because you want to take the best care of that animal, even though your schedule is full. And you might be better off saying, you know, well, they need to go to urgent care. And part of it is you really want to help that animal and maybe you know that animal and that client. And maybe part of it is that it’s just hard to say no in general. And I think that’s definitely [laughs] the case for me. And I felt for a long time I thought, I have a great life, you know, and I do and I did. But it was also very challenging. And I think how to support somebody specifically might be saying, you know, it’s okay to talk about stuff with me. I think to some extent when people say, your job must be so hard, I don’t know how you do it. That can feel very isolating. And that’s something I’ve been thinking more about. And I kind of wrote that, you know, in the in the book. That’s something we often hear all the time. And it’s it’s a very isolating feeling. You know, I always wanted to be a veterinarian, but I knew I could never euthanize animals. We’ve all heard that countless times. And it just makes you feel separate from other people. So I would not say something like that, but to say something like, you know, I’m here if you want to talk. Have you had any hard cases this week? What’s that like? Maybe being able to be there for that person to open up with and just vent to some extent about a difficult client or a difficult case or even a difficult coworker, whatever it is? You know, I mean [laughs] we’re we’re not immune to those stresses as well. So I think that could be helpful. And then maybe other single parent stresses as well. Like, you know, you’re also thinking what’s for dinner? You know, you’re trying to think through a difficult case. You’ve got phone calls to make. How are you going to pick up your kids? It’s a very challenging time situation. I think it potentially can be where you’re trying to get all your stuff done by a certain timeframe. If you have to pick up children and different. Every workplace has its own culture. So I hope Maggie’s sister is at a place where the culture is that it’s okay for her to leave and that she doesn’t feel like she’s, you know, leaving stuff undone at the end of the day. And that, you know, it’s it’s it’s it’s a hard situation. So I think just probably being there as a support would be the main thing. And then listening, I think for any you know, I’m not an expert on suicide prevention, but any things that would be worrisome. Just asking if if she needs any help or sometimes, you know, a lot of people and I think veterinarians to you know if someone says, do you need help, people are going to say, no, no, I’m fine. But if someone says, hey, I’m cooking dinner and I make it a whole ton, can I come by [laughter] with food? You know, that is a lot easier to say yes to than someone saying, you know, I’m here if you need me, then that’s, you know, then that’s a little bit harder to to reach out. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Absolutely. What about people who have pets and interact with vets in any sort of business relationship? Like basically anyone who has a pet? What are things that people can do to make people who work in the vet’s office easier? 


Karen Fine: One thing I said in the book was if you’re buying heartworm and flea and tick preventative to buy it from your local veterinarian, because those things can be pricey and a lot of people buy them from online companies. And that way the money does not stay in your community. And. Even if your vet clinic is owned by a corporation, that money is still going to come in as, oh, that money was earned by this clinic. They may be able to hire another receptionist. So your hold times aren’t as long. They may be able to hire another technician. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Karen Fine: So that they’re able to get through more appointments and things like that. They may be able to buy more equipment so that you won’t have to go to a specialist. You can get some tests done in-house. So those things really affect the the local clinics. So I would encourage people to think about buying their, you know, if they’re if they’re buying medication, whether it’s, you know, over-the-counter stuff, try and purchase it through your veterinarian. I think that’s a helpful thing to keep. Keep your money and your support in—


Anne Helen Petersen: That is such a good point and a very actionable thing. 


Karen Fine: I think, too, understand that the everyone at the clinic a lot of times is in a stressful, potentially a stressful situation. So if they call and then, you know, they think, well, the receptionist seems short with me, well, maybe they just got done checking somebody out for a euthanasia and it’d be someone they’d known for ten years and with an animal. And they’re just, you know, struggling to maintain their composure after that. You just you just don’t know. You know, we see everything a huge spectrum on a daily basis. And I think when people are calling in, they’re worried about their animal. That’s all that’s on their mind is their animal, which is understandable. But I think trying to understand that many times in the vet clinic, we’re all being pulled in many different directions. And that also because of the veterinarian shortage, the huge amount of people that got pets during the pandemic, it is now more common for veterinarians to say we’re already double booked for the rest of the afternoon. And, you know, and then you may have a doctor who has to leave at a certain time to go get their children and then to say, you know, we have to send you to urgent care. And people don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to go to another facility where they don’t know the doctor. They may have to drive further and they may have to pay more money. But that’s going to be more and more common, just like in human medicine, because we can only do so much. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think just having that empathy and that understanding that the people that you’re dealing with are people and they are deserving of our respect. And even though we ourselves might be going through moments of crisis or anxiety, that we owe others our respect as well, I think that’s really important. Karen, I’m just so grateful that you came on the show today and and really elucidated this world for us and gave us a lot of amazing advice. So where can people find you if they want to hear more from you? 


Karen Fine: Thank you so much for having me. This was great and I really appreciate being on the show. You can find me at [music plays]


Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you need help figuring out. Get in touch. You can find submission guidelines at or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at We especially want to hear from you if your problem feels emblematic of the ways your particular industry is failing. We’ve gotten notes from people saying do an episode on architecture or like fashion design is failing. I recently got an email about the wine industry is failing, but as you know, we build this show around your questions. So we need to have a question from like more than one person. So let us know what’s going on in your professional world that way. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen and you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study And if you like the show, leave us a review on your podcast app of choice. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays] Next week we’re talking about relationships, work relationships, work flings, all of it. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it. To.