My Top 10 Regrets After 20 Years In Practice

What’s your biggest regret?

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Originally published in the April 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News

This May, my 1995 colleagues and I celebrate 20 years of degree-wielding, oath-toting veterinary professional wonderfulness. We have survived. And we are all awesomer for it.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any regrets.

We all have regrets. Those who say they don’t are either inhuman or belong to the category of people who find it emotionally expedient to ignore certain words’ definitions.

For my part, I relish regrets –– well, sort of. Ruminating over life’s disappointments and missed chances may not be fun, but it sure does make the future run a whole lot more smoothly –– that is, if you do it right.

With that last bit in mind I offer you here a rundown of my top 10 biggest regrets.

No. 1. Not undertaking an internship

Sure, I made do as a trialed-by-fire newbie. But it wasn’t always pretty.

Mentorship via technician (no matter how experienced) simply isn’t appropriate –– much less in an ER setting with no veterinary ground control for guidance. There’s no doubt my transition into private practice would have gone more smoothly had I either. 

But there’s more to this issue than mere job-readiness. Internships are more than just a great opportunity to avoid that unattractive deer-in-the-headlights look.

After all, internships are about excellent mentorship. And mentorship in this context means helping the intern acquire as many of the good habits and job-coping skills as possible during this formative time.

The way I see it from the vantage point 20 years lends: What’s one more year of deferred loan payments if what it offers is a career’s worth of tools for success?

No. 2. Committing Financial Indiscretions

What can I say? I was young. I was stupid. I committed some pretty heinous financial indiscretions. A BMW, Jimmy Choos … yeah, it was bad. I’m over that now (mostly, anyhow) but I sure do wish I could have all that cash back.

We all make youthful mistakes, of course. And most of us will probably cop to having committed similar sins. This one, however, was one of a series that landed me pretty close to the b-word. In the end, I’d had to hire a debt consolidation service to drag me out of the financial morass I’d mired myself in.

Who wouldn’t regret that?

No. 3. Stressing Excessively About Money

After No. 2 you might think I was in a habit of throwing caution to the wind (along with fistfuls of Jacksons). But not always! The truth is that I was so preternaturally terrified of my precarious financial position I’d recruited a deep denial of its existence –– hence the spending.

While I’ve come to understand that this kind of twisted thinking is common enough in the general population, turns out it’s especially common among those among us with mountains of debt. When the sums are so large as to seem frighteningly unreal, some of us face that fear with   destructive coping mechanisms.

Overspending, hoarding, compulsive behaviors and substance abuse are well-described compensatory approaches to extreme financial stress. This we know.

I only regret that I wasn’t as aware of this reality then as I am now –– and that I never discovered a better way to handle the disturbing reality of my debt overload.

No. 4. Not Buying a Practice Sooner

I’ve addressed this here before but it deserves a BIG mention in any piece about regrets. Indeed, waiting so long to buy a practice may well be my most concrete veterinary regret.

Why? Well, mostly because …

a) It’s nowhere near as stressful as I thought it would be. In fact, it relieves my stress to be more in control of my own professional destiny.

b) In spite of the financial investment, I’m paying off my loans way faster (I could be done now were it not the lesser of my loans, interest-wise).

c) I’m having lots more fun than I thought I would. I never expected to have such an altered perspective on our profession!

How cool is that?

No. 5. Having Been a Crappy Employee

I’ve been employee of the month. I’ve been a star. But I confess: I’ve been a bad employee, too. Really bad.

I’ve learned over the years that even the best employees can be abominable when employed under crappy conditions. Though I deeply regret having been a horrible employee, the experience taught me loads about what it takes to turn one around.

No. 6. Never Having Worked at Banfield

I know it sounds strange, but now that I’m a practice owner I’m wishing I had more perspective on the industry as a whole. And nowhere do I believe I could gain more of that than by working at the nation’s largest chain of veterinary hospitals.

I’ve worked for VCA hospitals, I’ve worked for local chains and I’ve worked for the teensiest mom-and-pop places, but I never managed to get myself a Banfield gig. Sigh … I guess it’s too late now …

No. 7. Not Having Started my Writing Sub-Career Sooner

Everyone needs to nurture their niche. Unfortunately, I didn’t start on mine till I was 10 years out of vet school. Without it, I was getting bored and frustrated with veterinary medicine. Life is undeniably better now.

What’s your niche? Are you on it yet?

No. 8. Not Having Always Remained Independent

One of the smartest decisions I ever made in practice was to dedicate myself exclusively to compensation via straight production. For over 10 years now, 100 percent of my pay as a clinician has been calculated based on my clients’ invoices. That kind of compensation scheme isn’t for everyone, but given that I have an independent streak, it makes sense for me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t always adhere to that approach in all aspects of my work. Six years ago I sold off my blog and lost big –– in my heart, anyway. Here’s wishing I’d never sold out to the man.

Luckily, six years isn’t a lifetime. Now that I’m back to blogging independently I’ll have plenty of time to earn back my integrity.

No. 9. Not Speaking Up

Granted, that doesn’t happen often–not to me, anyway, seeing as I have a big mouth. But I do wish I’d spent more of my time in practice advocating for veterinarians at the local level. I’ve dabbled at roles on my local VMA board but I’ve not yet made serious time commitments.

Perhaps that’s one we can all resolve to remedy.

No. 10. Random Opportunities Lost

We all can say we wish we’d bought stock in Google, Apple or Zoetis before they boomed … or sold x, y, or z before they tanked. (Sure, it would’ve been nice to be rolling in some cash right about now.) But these opportunities lost are useless to ponder.

The ones I believe really count are the ones we lost by really screwing things up ourselves.

Someone once said that “if only” are the saddest two words in the English language. I disagree. How else do we learn if not from our wrong turns, human foibles and personal misadventures?

I, for one, would consider myself poorer if I had fewer “if onlys” under my belt.

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