After nine years of practicing medicine, Dr. Galvan has seen a lot and learned even more. After years of experience, there are a lot of things he wishes he could have learned back in veterinary school: practical business management, navigating a winding career path, or how to be taken seriously after a patient’s abscess unexpectedly bursts onto your glasses.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a veterinarian? What triggered your interest?
I grew up in a small, rural town in southern Idaho. My family had a small-scale ranch/hobby farm, so I spent all the time I could outside with those animals. We had goats and some sheep. I was also really active in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and similar types of organizations. I knew that my life would include animals in some aspect, and I figured being a veterinarian was the best way to incorporate that. I didn’t really know what that all entailed when I was younger, and probably didn’t fully understand until I got into college and realized the full scope of dedication and work this profession entails. Since I graduated from veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin, I’ve been practicing different types of veterinary medicine.
What does your current veterinary work entail?
Currently I’m a locum doctor, relief veterinarian, in Austin, Texas. I am licensed in multiple states, but I’m only practicing in Texas right now. Many relief veterinarians are licensed in multiple states and practice relief work in a variety of places. That’s ultimately what I want to do, I plan to eventually get my license in Washington and California.
It’s funny because what I’m doing now is not what I envisioned myself doing when I started pursuing my degree or when I finished. When I started, I had this great idea that I was going to be a researcher with a double PhD – a virology, bacteriologist veterinarian. Then as I got into more clinical classes, and coming from a farm background, I realized I wanted to do large animal internal medicine.
That led me to my internship at Missouri. It was a hard experience being an intern. I think maybe interns don’t get enough credit for doing what they do. You work long hours, you’re underpaid, you’re just trying to survive, and it’s all for the sake of this one-year learning experience. I wouldn’t take it back though, I definitely learned a lot and met a lot of great people.
The internship changed my course again! After that I thought “I’m glad I did this, but this is not what I want to do. This is not what I feel my career should be.” That led me into small animal practice, and eventually emergency medicine, which I’ve really enjoyed a great, long career in.
I would tell aspiring veterinarians, “Hey, you may be doing this when you graduate, but you may not be doing this eight, ten years from now. That’s not a bad thing, it just means that your interests have changed and you’ve grown.”
Personally, I’m now pursuing a certificate in canine rehabilitation, which I’m really excited about.
That’s awesome! What does that involve?
It’s a program through the University of Tennessee. It consists of online course work that you can take at your own pace, but it also entails a lot of clinical work—case reporting and traveling. A lot of case reporting and traveling. There’s a facility in Arizona to do hands-on, physical therapy with the experts.
I never really thought much about the physical therapy aspects – how the surgeries we do, whether everyday elective or non-elective, really impact pets. How are the TPLOs going to change the patient’s gait? How is that going to change their lifestyle from now on? Will they be predisposed to arthritis?
Going through the modules with the physical therapy program makes me think back on the work I’ve done: “Wow, there’s so many different times that I should’ve instituted some sort of physical therapy.”
That sounds like a great program. What drew you to relief veterinary medicine?
I had always considered it, I just never really looked into it. It wasn’t until about two years ago when I started relief work, the bulk of what I had been doing as a veterinarian was exclusively emergency and specialty practice. I think the day-to-day high-stress environment and lack of sleep on overnights kind of got to me, and I needed a change. That’s essentially why I started practicing relief work.
Is there anything you didn’t learn in veterinary school that you wish you had?
I wish that we would have taken more time to learn about how to be financially literate.
It’s kind of hard, in retrospect, going by just the small business lecture or two that they gave us. I say to to prospective veterinarians: learn to be fiscally responsible while in veterinary school. Try to be as financially conscious as possible and get that literacy by taking extra business electives. I would also recommend taking the initiative to ask more questions if you’re volunteering at a veterinary practice. I wish I asked what kind of salary is expected of most starting veterinarians. It’s those types of things that I really wish I would’ve paid more attention to or had more training on.
A healthy vet is joyful, profitable, effective & courageous. From your perspective, what makes for a healthy veterinarian, and do you feel like a healthy vet?
I think that all too often, veterinarians, including myself at times, have a tendency to be workaholics. We have this really high drive.
A healthy veterinarian realizes that part of being a healthy, good veterinarian, and a good person all around, is to take breaks. Do the things you wish you had time for, make time for them. Not just hobbies, but family, significant others, the pets that we have at home – all the things that give us joy and make us happy people.
Do you feel like a courageous veterinarian?
I do. I think if you would’ve asked me this as soon as I got out of veterinary school I would’ve been trembling in fear, but having been in the veterinary field for nine years, and doing the tech thing before that, I definitely consider myself a courageous veterinarian.
The way I explain it to my significant other, or other people that may not get what veterinary medicine is about, is that you have to prepare yourself every day for the unexpected. That’s just what practice brings. So to me, being a courageous veterinarian is being able to get up every morning, go to work, and put 100% effort into practicing the best medicine.
That’s great. It sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience with that. Have you had any memorable experiences practicing emergency medicine?
Definitely. Well, it’s not so much the craziest emergency that I’ve seen, but the craziest emergency night that I had. This was about three or four years ago on Christmas Eve.
My shift was supposed to be overnight into Christmas day, and I don’t know if the moons aligned in the correct order or something, but every emergency that you would expect came in on that one night – a ruptured splenic mass, enucleation. It was just kind of one after the other and my staff and I were just joking saying, “Okay, I bet a foreign body won’t come in.” Sure enough, it did.
It was the weirdest emergency night I’ve ever had because everything that you would expect to see in an emergency practice, we saw in that one overnight. I was in surgery for a very, very long time that night.
Can you tell me about one of the grossest stories you have from your time as a vet?
This is a bad one. I had a dog came in for a chronic history of lameness. The owner had been wrapping this wound on its leg, and me being a veterinarian, I wanted to see this wound. So, I unwrap it in the room with the owners. I’m trying to be all academic about the situation – how do I address this wound? How big is it? Is it painful?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was palpating it and in doing so I inadvertently squeezed it too hard, and this huge abscess burst all over my face. Luckily, I was wearing glasses at the time! I was still trying to be academic about the thing, but the owner started cracking up and I just had to excuse myself to clean up. I was mortified, but I was trying to keep it together, because I wanted to give the impression that we knew what we were talking about. But I think it was kind of game over once you saw that abscess all over my face.
What would you say to another vet who’s potentially considering relief veterinary medicine, but hasn’t quite taken the leap, or still kind of on the fence about it?
Take the leap, jump off the deep end! When I decided to do relief work, I was kind of at a loss with my previous job, I was burnt out. One day I just came into work and resigned. I didn’t know what I was going to do for money.
It just so happened one of my friends was doing relief medicine, and she told me about the different possibilities. You are the maker of your destiny, at least in veterinary medicine, just because we’re able to do so much.
I think, financially, some people are scared to do relief, because of the market. Sometimes you have slow periods, and sometimes you have high peaks. But if it’s something that you’re innately craving because you’re sick of the redundancy, or you want to take some time off to travel, explore different areas of medicine, or just take time for yourself, I would say, do it and take as much time as you need.
We’re all on different timelines. Just do it and see what it brings you. If you like it, then continue to do it.
What do you think is a common misconception about what you do?
Actually, I just had this conversation with a fellow veterinarian not too long ago. This is a disheartening misconception, but one is that veterinarians are money-hungry. We’re in it for the money. We don’t care about patients.
If anything, veterinarians will do anything that’s within their power to help people help their pets. Some people don’t understand that pet care is not subsidized like it is in human medicine.
We kind of have to go back and forth with the owner and say, “Is this okay with you? Does this fit your budget? Okay. It doesn’t, let’s go back to the drawing board.” We would rather see that pet go with some treatment, than for the pet and the owner to leave the facility without anything. We’re willing to work with any kind of budget and person to give a patient the best treatment they deserve.