Veterinary professionals share how they’re handling trying times with their children
June 24, 2020
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, Dr. Michelle Meyer began overseeing distance learning for her three sons while continuing to practice—and found that cooking helped her cope. Dr. Kate Brucker was practicing while checking in with her two daughters and son back at home. Tasha McNerney, a veterinary technician, was balancing working with schooling her son and providing online content on anesthesia. Work got busier for Dr. Brenten Minick, a solo practitioner, but his wife is a behavioral teacher’s assistant who started schooling their two sons at home instead. Dr. Kate Boatright was continuing to practice while a nanny cared for her infant son, but she still had plenty of worries.
These veterinary professionals are among the millions of working mothers and fathers figuring out how to handle these trying times with their children. The five found a few minutes to share their stories with JAVMA News.
Dr. Meyer practices at Serenity Animal Hospital near Detroit and is president-elect of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Typically, she works three, 10-hour days during the week and every other Saturday. During the pandemic, many staff members stopped working, and the clinic shortened its hours. Her schedule changed to working two days per week with shortened hours, plus every other Saturday.
“Work is completely different as clients are not currently allowed in the building,” Dr. Meyer said. “The only exception is for euthanasia procedures, where clients must wear a mask, and we only allow two clients in at a time.”
Dr. Meyer’s three sons are Caden, 10; Declan, 6; and Linden, 3. During the pandemic this spring, Caden was learning remotely and submitting all his schoolwork online. Declan had a mixture of online work and a weekly packet of worksheets that Dr. Meyer picked up from school. Linden’s early childhood education center even had an app for Dr. Meyer to submit photographs to his teachers of projects and activities he was supposed to be doing.
“It’s probably the most multitasking that I have ever done in my career,” Dr. Meyer said. “Being a veterinarian, you inherently have to be an excellent multitasker. I work eight to 10 hours a day and come home to a messy house and have to still make dinner.”
Because Dr. Meyer was already leaving her house for work, she started doing all the shopping for the family. Her husband was working from home but has an autoimmune disease that limits his ability to help out with schooling or household chores.
Dr. Meyer’s shortened work schedule did allow her to get home earlier and have more time to spend with her family. As a result, she has been cooking more from scratch and trying out tons of new recipes.
A friend of the family owns a home day care center on a lake that the boys will attend during the summer. But first the friend was researching all the adjustments that have to be made for COVID-19. The family also plans to camp every weekend on a lake that is open and allowing access.
Dr. Brucker practices at Albin Animal Hospital in central Illinois, splitting her time between the practice’s two locations, in Mattoon and Charleston. Both locations started offering curbside service only, but the hours did not change, and Dr. Brucker continued to work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, plus two Saturdays per month.
Dr. Brucker’s children are Alyson, 14; Tessa, 11; and Jacob, 8. The children were on break in March when they got the announcement that the schools were closing. All the children’s books and supplies were still at school. The district did not start online learning for two to three weeks. Dr. Brucker said, “After we started, learning looked very different for my children.”
Jacob’s teacher provided a weekly learning board with activities for each core subject, along with optional worksheets. Tessa’s teacher used Google Classroom to provide assignments weekly. Alyson had to manage a different Google Classroom for each class. The children also were given assignments in art, music, and physical education to complete weekly, plus they had optional weekly Google Hangouts.
Dr. Brucker and her husband had to leave all three of the children home by themselves with Alyson supervising from approximately 8 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. Dr. Brucker took over managing Jacob and his work on her day off each week, plus tried to keep the house somewhat clean.
“Alyson and Tess were responsible enough to manage their assignments on their own, with some occasional checking in from me,” Dr. Brucker said. “Jacob, however, needed a lot of support and prodding to get his assignments done. A lot of his learning unfortunately fell on Alyson because I was still working full time. What she couldn’t get done with him during the day, while completing her own assignments, fell on my husband and me in the evening.”
Dr. Brucker and her husband tried their hardest, but the art, music, and PE assignments often went undone. They had the added complication of poor internet service. She was relieved when school ended and hopes the children will be back to in-person schooling in the fall.
For the summer, Alyson is doing field work with her father at Illinois Foundation Seeds, and Jacob is back at the in-home day care he attended when he was little. Tessa is hanging out at home, in touch with her parents by phone.
McNerney works as a veterinary technician focusing on anesthesia and pain management at Mount Laurel Animal Hospital, a specialty practice in New Jersey. Her husband, Rob Cantagallo, also is a veterinary technician, and he works at a dental specialty practice.
McNerney’s schedule had been four straight days in the clinic each week with at least a week each month spent traveling to other clinics to consult. Her schedule changed to sporadic days in the clinic, with every week being different, and her travel was canceled. The clinic was offering curbside service only, with employees required to wear a face mask at all times. A few of the smaller practices nearby had reduced hours, so the clinic was seeing many emergencies.
Work at home revolved around Veterinary Anesthesia Nerds, a Facebook group that McNerney founded in 2013. The group also offers a website, symposium, and podcast. McNerney has continued to create online content to help keep up-to-date information out there.
McNerney’s son, Oliver, is 8. His school moved to online lessons, so McNerney had to learn how to work Google Classroom and relearn some second-grade math concepts.
“It’s unbelievable, you feel like you’re pulled into seven different directions,” McNerney said. “My husband has taken over certain days so I can go into the office, so we have just had to adjust to not being able to go in and pick up extra shifts as easily as we used to. And it’s been hard to separate clinic and family time as I’m constantly answering anesthesia questions while I’m home with Oliver.”
McNerney didn’t think she and her husband would send Oliver to summer camp, even if it opened, because they already had changed their work schedules to be home with Oliver on alternating days. She hoped the community pool would open so at least she would have somewhere to take Oliver for a few hours every afternoon she is home with him.
Dr. Minick is the only veterinarian and owner at Bel Aire Pet Clinic in the village of Mount Zion, located in central Illinois near the small city of Decatur. The rest of his team consists of two veterinary technicians and a receptionist.
“Work has gotten busier,” Dr. Minick said. “We are doing curbside service and have our lobby closed. Not doing any work at home.”
Dr. Minick’s two sons are Jameson, 10, and Jack, 8. His wife, Abby, is a behavioral teacher’s assistant who went on spring break at her school and never went back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker first closed the schools from mid-March until the end of the month. Schools transitioned to remote learning. On March 20, the governor extended the school closures through April 7. On April 1, he extended the school closures through April 30. On April 17, he extended the closures through the rest of the school year.
“I am very lucky to have a very supportive wife,” Dr. Minick said. “She does the heavy lifting when it comes to the children. But as a business owner, I am able to schedule myself out for blocks of time to make sure I can help when needed.”
Throughout the spring, Jameson and Jack were doing schoolwork at home. The school sent out packets to print, and the boys had daily work.
This summer, the boys are continuing to stay home with their mom, who has summers off because of her position.
Dr. Kate Boatright practices at Butler Veterinary Associates Inc. & Emergency Center in Butler, Pennsylvania. Her work hours were reduced slightly during April in an effort to limit the number of people in the building at any given time, but the practice was so busy that things didn’t seem much different than usual. The practice had been doing curbside service since late March and, as of early June, planned to continue for the foreseeable future.
“I am not doing work at home, though I considered it for a short time early on because of my concern of being exposed to the virus and bringing it home to my infant son,” Dr. Boatright said.
In early June, Connor was 9 months old. Dr. Boatright and her husband have a nanny because of their odd work hours. The three discussed the pandemic early on, and the nanny was comfortable continuing to take care of Connor.
“I have been very careful to minimize the number of items I bring from the clinic into the house and always make sure to change as soon as I get home,” Dr. Boatright said. “The other big struggle has been the emotional toll of the pandemic and the burnout I am experiencing.”
Many clients are unhappy with the restrictions her practice has put in place, such as not allowing clients in the building, not doing nail trims, and not taking nonurgent appointments. Dr. Boatright said the sheer volume of patients and seeing only sick animals and emergency appointments have been very wearing.
She said, “I’m grateful to have a happy child to come home to!”
For more about parenthood during the COVID-19 pandemic, listen to the “Celebrating Moms During COVID-19” episode of the My Veterinary Life podcast, available on Spotify and at AVMA Axon.