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October 01, 2020

More than a veterinarian

Practitioners discuss various side gigs inside, outside of veterinary medicine
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Dr. Zimmerman as Tutu Cute the clown
Dr. Rheba Zimmerman is a relief veterinarian. She also does work on the side as a clown, going by the name of Tutu Cute. (Courtesy of Dr. Zimmerman)

Studies have shown that workers with a creative hobby are more helpful, collaborative, and creative when it comes to job performance. Many veterinarians commonly pursue outside interests, but some have taken those endeavors to another level. For example, when Dr. Rheba Zimmerman took some time off during her undergraduate years, she studied to be a clown. Now she performs for charity events when she’s not working in relief medicine.

Dr. Zimmerman, or Tutu Cute, was trained by former circus clowns and has competed all over the country. In fact, she became so adept at clowning that she was inducted into the Midwest Clown Association Hall of Fame in 2004.

JAVMA News spoke with several veterinarians who have side hustles about the work they do outside of clinical practice. Also, during the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020, one session focused on identifying areas of interest for development of a new business in veterinary medicine and how to make the time for such an endeavor.

Outside learning

Dr. Zimmerman said being a clown has improved her interpersonal and communication skills.

“It has helped me realize what my patients need from me on a day-to-day basis. In the clinic, there are so many emotions going on, and I feel that I try to have that same smile on my face, when appropriate,” Dr. Zimmerman said.

She said it’s hard to balance everything, but she tries to make time for clowning and other hobbies.

“I do like to go out and clown periodically,” she said. “It is a break where I get to be a different character. I am going to a job where everyone smiles, and that doesn’t usually happen. It is a good break from everyday life, and I can play for a couple of hours with everyone.

“As veterinarians, we have a hard time managing a work-life balance, and finding something outside of veterinary medicine that you enjoy and love is healthy. It can help reignite the love of veterinary medicine. It is easy to get burned out in this profession, and it is mentally taxing. Allowing your brain to focus on something else really benefits your overall mental health.”

It is important to have interests outside of veterinary medicine. I think it’s important to have something to keep your mind active and something to destress—any hobby, an outlet to unwind and disconnect.

Dr. Vishal Murthy, illustrator and clinical assistant professor of neurology, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Art sides

Dr. Vishal Murthy, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, grew up drawing.

“I always wanted to be a cartoonist,” he said. “When I started getting into veterinary medicine, art became a way to keep myself sane through veterinary school.”

He took on several illustration jobs while in veterinary school; some even involved veterinary medicine. However, during his residency, he started using art as a relief.

“It is important to have interests outside of veterinary medicine,” Dr. Murthy said. “I think it’s important to have something to keep your mind active and something to destress—any hobby, an outlet to unwind and disconnect.”

Now, Dr. Murthy said he does more realistic and educational art. He hopes to use his art to create better educational materials for students and clients.

A Dr. Murthy cartoon strip
Dr. Vishal Murthy, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, wanted to be a cartoonist when he was young. Now he draws for his classes and the occasional client. (Courtesy of Dr. Murthy)

Business building

Dr. Kemba Marshall, director of veterinary services at Land O’Lakes, is also a startup founder. The Marshall Recruiting Consortium is expected to soft launch in December.

Dr. Marshall said the company will act as a job board for folks in agriculture and animal sciences. She said the company will also offer mentorship opportunities, business tips, and other help for job seekers, including relocation advice.

Marshall Recruiting Consortium logoDespite the COVID-19 pandemic, she feels the startup will do well.

“People eat multiple times a day. If you touch anything that involves people eating, that is happening inside and outside of a pandemic,” Dr. Marshall said. “Agriculture is always going to be necessary.”

Dr. Marshall said building a startup has allowed her to realize the power of her network and that she has had to get good about asking for help.

Dr. Quincy Hawley, the co-founder of Get MotiVETed, is no stranger to building a business while also working as a full-time veterinarian.

Dr. Hawley went into small animal practice after graduating from North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He got burnout after a few years. He used self-care to overcome his anxiety and depression. He started Get MotiVETed with veterinary technician Renee Machel to help people enjoy veterinary medicine by focusing on well-being.

“We talk about the importance of personal development and radical self-care and how to do that,” Dr. Hawley said. “We talk about solutions.”

Into the unknown

A session at the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 delved into building a business.

Drs. Pat Mahaney and Hannah Fore spoke during the session “From Main Gigs to Side Hustles: Entrepreneurship in Veterinary Medicine.” They touched on handling business challenges and provided tips for potential entrepreneurs.

Dr. Fore, a small animal relief veterinarian in St. Louis, has worked at many emergency and specialty practices. She started her own relief company, Foxli, in January after leaving her full-time job.

Dr. Fore doesn’t have a business background, so she has worked with a certified public accountant to set up her LLC.

She initially struggled with leaving her job and its benefits, but said if she could go back in time, she would give herself more confidence in the transition.

“It’s going to be OK; you are going to get through this,” she said. “I am a good veterinarian, and people are going to want to have me in their clinic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of work she is doing, but she said there is a concern about job security with this work, so she is prepared for slow months, too.

Dr. Fore said things such as a business license and the cost of health insurance were hiccups for her, and she recommends research into both areas.

She said overall working for herself has been great so far.

“I’m spending more time with my family,” she said. “And I’ve been able to explore general practice.”

Dr. Fore said her best advice to veterinary professionals interested in business or relief work is to have a good website with a contact page and to “network, network, network.”

Dr. Mahaney, founder of California Pet Acupuncture & Wellness in West Hollywood, California, said his company started as a mobile business, but he mainly does house calls and concierge-type medicine now.

“It’s a very high-touch service. Every day is a workday in some capacity,” he said. “I always wanted to have my own business. I like working with people as a team, but I also like working for myself and deciding what I want to do and when I want to do it.”

Dr. Mahaney is also a part of many side projects, including speaking engagements, and he is a part owner and chief veterinary officer of Pure Dog Food, a Los Angeles–based animal food company focused on whole foods.

Dr. Mahaney said he found fulfillment and success when he moved to Southern California and started his own business.

“My business has become more successful than I ever would have imagined,” Dr. Mahaney said. “I am very satisfied with what I do, and I love having very personal relationships with clients.”

Dr. Mahaney added that owning a business is hard, and you have to prioritize taking care of yourself.

“Every day I eat healthily. I do some kind of exercise. I have mindfulness practices. I’ve created a structure where my clients cannot always communicate with me,” he said. “I have to be able to take care of myself.”

Industry work

Dr. Emily Tincher, a university relations liaison at an animal health company, has worked in various areas of veterinary medicine.

“Without exploring and trying different things in part-time roles, I wouldn’t have the network and skill set that led to my current position,” Dr. Tincher said.

Dr. Tincher feels a side hustle is an opportunity to consider what types of work you enjoy while balancing the additional time and effort they require.

“The balance of impact, compensation, and time should be worth it to you,” Dr. Tincher said.

She added that being a leader in the Veterinary Business Management Association during veterinary school exposed her to different areas of the profession.

Dr. Maggie Canning, who works in data insights and practice intelligence at an animal health company, said the VBMA had an impact on her, too, and it provided a solid foundation for her career.

Dr. Canning and Dr. Tincher attended Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine together.

After graduating in 2016, Dr. Canning used side jobs as a way to explore new things.

“Try to keep saying yes to things that interest you,” Dr. Canning said. “I explore new opportunities and then refine and edit as appropriate.”

Dr. Canning said she knew she needed to diversify her identities, and side hustles helped her do that.

“I realized I couldn’t put all my self-worth and identity into being a clinical practitioner,” Dr. Canning said. “I knew I needed to find other sources of happiness, including sharing ideas as a speaker and becoming a parent.”