Johanna Kingsley, DVM, traces her interest in becoming a veterinarian to the tender age of five when she pulled a calf out of its birthing mother. While the calf presented normal and did not need her help, Dr. Kingsley’s father decided to humor her interest and observe just how strong the curiosity really was. Kingsley felt exhilarated seeing the calf take its first steps and, from there, she set her path towards a career in veterinary medicine.
Growing up on a farm in Northern New York, Kingsley was constantly surrounded by animals, which helped her to feel at ease around them. Shortly after the birth of the calf, her family sold their cows and purchased Dorset sheep, which became Kingsley’s personal project. She helped raise the flock and sold the lambs for her spending money.
In 2007, she earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and, in 2011, her dream of becoming a veterinarian was achieved when she graduated from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
After graduating, Kingsley worked in a mixed practice from 2011 to 2013 and then switched to small-animal for two more years before opening her mobile practice in 2015. Initially, she solely treated small ruminants, but after multiple requests, she decided to offer home euthanasia and palliative care services for companion animals. Kingsley finds it incredibly rewarding to help owners ensure their pets’ final days are as pain and stress free as possible.
1) What made you want to work in a mobile environment?
On the most basic level, I felt constricted spending so much time inside, day after day. I wanted to see my clients and patients in their natural environment—it helps me observe aspects of their behavior and care that are more difficult to see when they’re away from home. I have also found interacting with clients on their farms and in their homes can lead to deeper, more authentic relationships. Finally, I wanted to treat species most brick-and-mortar clinics in my area have not incorporated into their practices.
2) What has been the most difficult situation you’ve encountered while working mobile?
Aggressive dog euthanasias are the most challenging calls I do. Before the call, I have to discuss the situation in depth with the owner, referring veterinarian, and sometimes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure this is an appropriate and legal choice. Once I’m there, I’m managing a situation with an aggressive animal, untrained help, and an unfamiliar environment. I need to be sure I have everything I might need in my truck. I make a plan based on the dog’s triggers and the physical space. I also have to keep everyone safe. I travel without a technician, so I have no one else to rely on. The emotional work associated with these calls is tremendous since the owners involved are often dealing with a mix of guilt, fear, anger, love, among others.
3) What is a day like for you?
Every day is different, which I’m very grateful for. Most days, I have a handful of calls, which are hopefully located in the same part of the county. I start with a quick review of my truck to ensure I don’t get caught without equipment or supplies. Then I head to my calls, which, depending of the time of year, might include a quality of life assessment for an old dog, a few goat kid disbuddings, writing health papers to go to the fair, or assessing and treating a colicky alpaca. Since I own the practice, I am free to mix work and pleasure as much as I like, so I often do things like stop at the library between calls or take an impromptu swim in one of our beautiful rivers. Because my practice is young, there are other days where I work for a local small-animal clinic, fitting in my calls during the early morning or late afternoon, or spend a few hours working at the Humane Society. Since I’m not doing these things every day, I enjoy them, too. They help ensure financial viability for the practice, especially when things are less busy in the winter.
4) What kind of preparation goes into setting up a mobile practice like yours?
At the beginning, I spent a long time researching business and fee structures and legal protection, but it wasn’t until some potential clients purchased a pair of goat kids that I bought equipment and started going on a few calls. I maintained a part time job and grew based on the needs I saw. I kept my overhead low, so I was able to grow slowly and organically. I absolutely made mistakes, but I learned from them and corrected them.
5) What are the advantages and the disadvantages of working in a mobile practice?
Being mobile eliminates many of the overhead expenses and complications that come with having a physical practice. The flip side is that you can’t have everything you could possibly need with you at all times, so you are forced to plan a bit better and really prioritize what you carry with you. I am able to see far fewer clients in a given day on the road than I would in a clinic. This is both an advantage, in terms of relationship building and interest, and a disadvantage with regard to cash flow and during busy times, physically ensuring all my patients are receiving the care they deserve. As a mobile veterinarian, I don’t have facilities to hospitalize or radiograph patients. Most of the time that is fine, but occasionally I rely on other veterinarians in the area to provide services to my patients that I cannot. I find the freedom, flexibility, and diversity of my practice greatly outweighs any inconveniences.
I am so thankful to practice where and how I do.