Lynn Happel, DVM: The art of veterinary practice

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Lynn Happel, DVM, and practice owner at Eastown Veterinary Clinic in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wanted to be a veterinarian since the third grade. And, her love of horses has since grown into a lifelong journey of working with animals.

After graduating from Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003, Dr. Happel worked for both large and small practices, until she embarked on the greatest endeavor of her career, practice ownership.

Outside of the clinic, Dr. Happel lives with her two sons, husband and their pets—three dogs, Rogue, Addie and Sienna, as well as the family cat Sweetie Black.

Voice of the Vet™ talked with Dr. Happel just after she finished an afternoon surgery.

What inspired you to own your own practice?
Well I never thought I would own my own practice. It was something that developed over time. Ultimately, I wanted a practice that looked, felt, and ran how I wanted it to.

Do you feel like a healthy and courageous veterinarian? What do you think it means to be a healthy and courageous veterinarian?
I do feel like a healthy veterinarian. Work-life balance is important. But as a practitioner, you also need to have compassion for yourself and wisdom about who you are.

I also feel courageous. This might go along with feeling healthy, but I believe the key to being a courageous veterinarian is to set appropriate boundaries. We have to be brave enough not to give in to everything. As a veterinarian, I have found that we want to help everyone and make everyone like us all of the time. I know it’s difficult to set those boundaries. We have to charge appropriate fees for our services. We have to take care of ourselves and our veterinary care teams so we can all lead productive, fulfilled lives.

You have a strong interest in veterinary dentistry. Can you tell us more about this specialty area of yours?
I love veterinary dentistry because you can be artful with it. For example, I had a golden retriever in the clinic that appeared to have minimal dental disease during her physical exam, but I was wrong. On the palatal side, on her upper fourth pre-molar there was significant periodontal pocketing due to tissue infection and bone loss. I had to intervene because it’s a major chewing tooth. I was able to do something called guided tissue regeneration. With this procedure, I had to pick up the gum tissue, clean the tooth’s root, put antibiotic gel down, and suture the gum tissue back in place to eliminate the periodontal pocket. Hopefully, the dog will get some continued use and lack of pain from that treatment. So to me, dentistry is artful in that as the veterinarian, I have to find the problem. And then, figure out a creative solution to “how do I get to that tight spot?” and “how do I treat the problem?” Then I make it work and fix it. That’s fun for me.

Do you have a memorable animal that comes to your clinic?
Well there’s a lot. But, I would say that there’s one particular patient that sticks out because of his owner. I started my practice six years ago and this client started coming to see us around that time. She had a new, little goldendoodle puppy named Jack. And Jack’s owner had never had a puppy before and she was so excited.

A week later, she came back in because Jack had diarrhea. She was up all night with him, blurry eyed from lack of sleep and on the brink of tears because she didn’t know how to help him. She wanted to do the right thing and here she was in in my exam room asking for help. I have two kids, I know what it’s like to be sleepless and reaching your limit, I just totally understood what she was going through. Jack was her baby and she just wanted to do what’s best.

Jack’s been coming to the clinic for years now and with every visit, his owner has gained more knowledge and confidence in her ability to determine when he needs to come in and what she can manage at home. He’s about six now. We have a really strong bond. As the vet, you go through all of the trials and tribulations with an animal and their pet parent.

Now, I’m sad, because they’ve since moved to Florida.

What is the secret to your veterinary care team’s success?
Communication. As the practice has grown, our staff has changed. There have been team members that just haven’t been a good fit. We all want to be treated with respect and feel valued. There’s a certain level of maturity and level headedness that we need as a team. It all takes cooperation and good communication.

I haven’t always had those things in different life experiences, so I’ve really learned that these elements are invaluable. In life, there are always opportunities for growth if you choose to handle it in a positive, constructive way.

What’s one piece of wisdom you wish you would have known before vet school?

I haven’t always looked at the bigger picture of success. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and problem solving. But, it’s really important to take a step back and appreciate all of the accomplishments that we have as veterinarians. We’re hard on ourselves as a profession. It’s easy to think “I could have done this better or this better.” We do a lot of good, so it’s imperative that we realize that and be appreciative.



This is the tenth post in a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers discussing their devotion to the noble veterinary profession and love for their pet patients. We hope you will follow us during this series.

If you are a clinical vet, vet tech or practice manager we want to interview you for this series. It only takes an hour of your time and Zomedica makes a donation in your name to an animal charity of your choice.