Michelle Mayers, VMD, learned as a child about extending a helping hand when her mother made her put some of her allowance money into a tzedakah box—Judaism’s version of a collection box—to buy toys for underprivileged children.
She has carried this concern for others into her Simpsonville, S.C., veterinary practice, Hillcrest Animal Hospital, by creating more than a half-dozen programs that deal with thehuman-animal bond and one she borrowed from other clinics.
Dr. Mayers loves animals, but she likes people even more.
“I hear all the time, ‘I want to go into veterinary medicine because I love animals, but I don’t like people,’” she said. “There’s a person attached to this animal; it’s not separate at all.”
Therein lies the key to her practice’s success: interaction with pet owners through superb communication, education and bonding.
Hillcrest is an American Animal Hospital Association-accredited, five-veterinarian practice that is state of the art inside and out. What isn’t seen are all the ways Mayers and her staff reach out through their community mindedness.
Visitors to Hillcrest can see that people aren’t just afterthoughts. The interior design includes a glass-enclosed children’s play area so parents can keep an eye on them.
Hillcrest also has something few hospitals offer: a grieving room with soft lighting and warm ambiance that is set aside for clients faced with having to euthanize their pet. A separate exit permits the owner to leave without drawing attention.
“Half of why I feel I’m successful is because I see these clients who come through my door as my friends, my neighbors, and I treat them like I would my mother,” Mayers noted.
Righting a Wrong
Mayers, who acquired Hillcrest four years ago when she, her husband and their young daughter moved to Simpsonville, also serves as a guiding light to students at the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy, where she lectures on veterinary pharmacology.
Third- and fourth-year students spend a month at Hillcrest, shadowing veterinarians and seeing firsthand how drugs are prescribed to animals.
“Pharmacists are educating and dispensing a lot of veterinary drugs with no education about animals,” Mayers said.
“Now that veterinarians are getting more prescriptions filled at CVS, Walgreens or whatnot, mistakes are being made because pharmacists are thinking of pets as small humans, [which] cats and dogs … are certainly not.”
Mayers likes to visit other veterinary clinics while on vacation because she believes that a lot of good business ideas come from other businesses.
“If you see a good idea, try and improve upon it,” she said.
One of her signature programs, the Veterinary Kids Club, was adapted from programs she’d seen at other clinics.
Fourteen-year-old Sarah Elson brought her Siberian husky puppy, Lexi, in last summer for a first checkup. It was during one of Lexi’s subsequent visits that Mayers learned of Sarah’s desire to become a veterinarian.
Participating in the Kids Club gave Sarah an opportunity to walk in a veterinarian’s shoes for a day. Sarah and other young participants got to experience a veterinarian’s typical workday, received an overview of medical instruments, took a crash course in parasitology, looked at an ear mite through a microscope, viewed an X-ray of a stone-filled bladder and saw the extracted stones, observed a feline checkup and performed mock surgery on a teddy bear.
“What a great feeling that you can ignite a passion and help that child become a better member of society and grow up to be something great,” Mayers said.
A Shoulder to Cry On
Mayers thinks the profession can improve on the way veterinarians handle what comes after a pet is euthanized.
Hillcrest’s Pet Loss Support Group meets the first Monday of every month at the hospital and helps grieving clients seek closure.
“As veterinarians, we leave [pet owners] when they need us the most,” Mayers said.
Hillcrest provides a book on mourning the loss of a pet and sends clients a sympathy card that contains information about the support group.
Angela Brittain found out about the group after her Maltese, Stoli, passed. Stoli had been Brittain’s constant traveling companion for more than 11 years; she got him from a breeder in South Africa when he was 6 weeks old.
“I was not hesitant to participate in the group, as I needed someone to share my grief with who would understand the void that the loss had caused,” Brittain said.
Mayers and her employees launched a pet seat-belt initiative in January.
“My goal is to sell 50 seat belts for the month and go out and walk the dogs to their cars and show [the owners] how to put the seat belt on,” Mayers said. “Our staff wants to make a video and post it on YouTube.”
Another possible project is the placement of carved-stone pet memorials along a short hiking loop in the woods behind the hospital.
Mayers called veterinary medicine a “cut-and-dry” profession that “doesn’t involve much creativity.” She is looking for ways to give back.
“These are things where you can use the opposite end of your brain and be totally creative and have fun with it,” she said.
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!