I can’t believe another year has passed at Aquatic Veterinary Services. Has doing this job gotten any easier? In some ways yes, in others, not so much. We still struggle against the age-old stigma that pet fish don’t have access to or require veterinary care. We still get bad reviews from people who’s expectations do not match up. I still get asked daily, “how on earth did you get started in this?” and have the answer down so well that apparently I’ve quoted it in my sleep.
As with every birthday, I take some time to reflect on our journey so far…
2019 saw the closure of our retail store and hospital. Do I miss it? Not at all! My staff was fantastic, but I didn’t have enough time and energy to truly devote to it. I know I tried everything to the best of my ability and it just didn’t work. I know I would have tried at some point in my career, so I’m glad I did it when I did. For those of you getting ready or in the midst of attempting this endeavor, my best advice is to work with a good landlord and get a building with no attaching walls.
It’s hard to not compare this practice to a “standard” small animal practice. Our cash numbers are just a small fraction of other practices, but then you have to look at our practice compared to the small handful of other aquatic practices. We are blowing them out of the water. The income we are making on this niche is unheard of and encourages other veterinarians to get their feet and hands wet. It would be great if more veterinarians had experience handling aquatic pets. We’re just not at that point yet. Our online Fish Health Masterclass is one of the few educational opportunities available, and unfortunately, does not offer any hands on training like our Wet Vet Weekends. Due to low attendance last year, I am not sure if we’ll offer one again this summer.
It’s a continual balance between seeing as many clients as I can and keeping my sanity. Last September, things had gotten to a breaking point where the decision was made to shut down the clinic for a week. Keep in mind that our office is one veterinarian and one and a half managers. We are working hard to bring in some more help, but I just physically cannot cover the entire state. Legally, I cannot cover other states other than California and Nevada. We refer out as best we can, but then if our recommendation gets in hot water, our reputation gets tarnished. I cannot personally vet every single maintenance company, fish store and other veterinarian and it is unrealistic to think I can do so. Our office can no longer recommend any maintenance companies, save one, but he’s VERY busy, fish stores or non-veterinary products. I cannot say “salt” without specifying “sodium chloride.” It’s nuts, but I don’t want to get sued.
Keeping this in mind, I have mandated quarterly paid vacations for all of our staff. They are already on the calendar for the year and set in stone. We have temps in place to make sure our phones are covered. Sure, they love their jobs, but we’re not going to get in the same situation we were in late last year. I also have to carefully balance my travel schedule during our busy season, but I do a fair bit of traveling for lectures. Like I said, there are too few veterinarians interested in fish, and I do all I can to inspire and train. If you absolutely have to have an appointment, call early. An issue that has been ongoing for 3 months is not an “emergency.” We have collected a fair amount of referrals, but do not expect every practice and veterinarian to work the same way or charge the same amount. (That’s called price fixing and it’s illegal.)
All things considered, I am very proud of the practice I have built. Am I done making it better? Absolutely not! We continue to strive to be the leader in aquatic veterinary health and practice. I continue to devote my career to serving my clients and inspiring other veterinarians to join me. No matter how our practice crossed into your life, as a birthday present to me, please tell one person about us. The more our message spreads, the better care pet fish will receive.
Sincerely, Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV