A veterinary practice is a doctor’s office, sure, but it’s also a hospital, a surgical center, a pharmacy, and an emergency care center. It’s an employer and community resource and wildlife rescue gateway. It’s a place people call for information and advice about anything from when to neuter your kitten to what to do when your dog is lost. At some point, a veterinary practice takes on a life of its own. It’s part of the community; more than just a business, it’s an institution. People depend on it for help.
And so I find myself contemplating the future of Bodega Bay Veterinary Hospital. We are in our eighth year of operation, but so far, this practice has been me and my staff (and Barbara, of course, my business manager and Queen). A one doctor practice has certain advantages, but also certain limitations: Limitations that I would like to overcome.
Though no one would ever know by looking at me (or so I claim), I am, in fact, not nearly as young as I used to be. This begs the question: How can I ensure that my practice will continue to serve our community? I don’t expect to fully retire - ever - but it’s not getting any easier to keep up the pace, and I have no leftover capacity to work additional days per week or more hours per day than I already do. And yet, I have patients who need my help at times when I can’t be available.
And I can’t have just anybody fill in for me. It requires a certain philosophical bent to engage in small town, family veterinary practice. There are less than 1,000 residents in the town of Bodega Bay. My clients really are my friends and neighbors. Between them and our many town visitors, we are very, very busy. It takes just the right person.
Some years ago, a young woman, then just a junior in high school, came to work for me. She was quiet, but hard-working and sharp as a whip. She aimed to become a veterinarian, and I employed her for a few summers. We hit it off and our paths crossed repeatedly over the years. When it came time for her to apply to veterinary school, I was pleased to write a recommendation. When she was accepted to U.C. Davis, I cheered and did what I could to smooth her path through four difficult years. In 2014, she was re-born as a newly minted veterinarian: Dr. Nicole Jaggi.
Nicole and I share a fascination with the natural world, which includes everything from wildlife care to the natural history of whales, and Italian cooking, Margaritas, and pretty much anything having to do with science. We also share a practical, compassion-centered view of veterinary practice. Of course, I wanted her to work with me, but the sparse earnings of a young veterinary practice made that impossible. Instead, Nicole would join Barb and me for dinner and talk as she worked her way through her first years in practice. Still, I clung to the hope that she would someday join my practice.
And then, out of the blue, all the random factors aligned. I still can’t afford a full time associate, but Dr. Nicole has other jobs, including teaching at the local Community College and doing relief work for other veterinarians, that make it possible for her to work with me part time.
And I think it’s great! It is SO nice to have another doctor in the house, whether to take patients while I am doing surgery, or to bounce ideas back and forth about the true nature of a diagnostically challenging case. Best of all, I trust Dr. Nicole to take care of my friends and neighbors, and all their little critters, with the same compassion and concern as I do. It’s also great to compare ideas with someone whose education is 32 years fresher than my own. Experience is fine, and I’ve got plenty, but modern veterinary medicine is full of ideas and concepts and medications that didn’t even exist when I graduated in 1982. Dr. Nicole and I are good compliments to one another and our patients benefit from the interaction.
And the practice? I am free to spend more time in surgery, which decreases delays in patient care. We will soon be offering Saturday appointments, something the community has needed for some time. Best of all, I have hope that Dr. Nicole will someday, in the distant future, take charge. Then I’ll be the one working part time for her.
After so many years, there has been a melding of the job and the man. I am and will always be a veterinarian. I’ll never stop, but I can’t go on forever. Now I see hope for BBVH to continue, even after I am gone.