I also see that there is a perception that animals are not as complicated at humans. Thus, I think it is difficult for families to grasp the level of diagnostics and medical interventions needed in a crisis. Another unfortunate and large challenge becomes the cost of performing the tests AND providing the advance hospitalized care these pets need. Unfortunately, many families do not carry insurance for their pets. We as vets identify with and understand the financial challenge.
So, it’s not uncommon that we are treating with only parts of the puzzle answered. Based on our knowledge base, and pets we have treated before, this combination of abbreviated testing and empirical medical therapy often works out well, but when the patient is not recovering, these vital missing pieces can greatly affect outcome. When clients understand these barriers, even the hardest medical case is easier to manage.
You are on double duty every day… your primary patients are animals, but you also have to consider their families, and the deep human emotions that come along with having a special needs/sick/dying pet. How do you manage that?
KM: There is no doubt that this is an emotionally intense and exhausting vocation. The reward for that investment is truly worthwhile, especially when you can reunite a patient who feels much better with their family. The experience is priceless. It becomes more difficult when we are dealing with the uncertainty of a disease outcome, or the decision to end suffering. At the center of all of this is communication and compassion.
While it certainly does not work with each client, I spend a lot time initially letting the family know what the journey to diagnosis/treatment will involve, the pros and cons, and how I would proceed if it was my own pet (I have three cats). The patient’s comfort, the time we need to realize/discover the outcomes/response to treatment, the costs, the emotional investment are all laid out on the line. Regardless of outcome, if this communication happens early on, and repetitively if needed, it helps the family through the process. Allowing the owners to visit the patient when they want, and making sure I communicate about the patient status (if hospitalized), at least at the beginning and end of day, is very important (and, of course, whenever there is an important change).
To manage the many demands of the job, I have the support of fantastic co-workers… my fellow doctors, including interns, my practice manger, my front desk staff, and my LVTs. They all play a large role in client support and communications. In my off-hours, I like to run, which is a great mind/body release.
There are a large number of women in your hospital. Is this typical for veterinary medicine? If so, is this just a sign of the times or do you think there is something about the field that draws more women to it or vice versa?
KM: It is true across the field since I went to vet school in 1998 – majority of women in both the veterinary and LVT classes. It was a male predominant field a decade or more before that. The theory I have heard was dictated by the financial aspect (i.e. you spend a lot of money getting through all the schooling and the salary is not commiserate with that across the country). Excessive school debt is common place among veterinarians. For a single income family, it is typically not lucrative enough to support their needs.
Are there any common mistakes you see owners make when caring for a pet?
- Not having insurance for their pet
- Allowing their dogs to be off leash (lots hit by cars)
- Not keeping up with dental hygiene
- Not pursuing annual physicals up to age 7 and biannual after that; to assess for physical changes and assess lab work
- Not spending enough time on training when the pet is young
Editor’s Note: In August of 2013, the 4.5 month old kitten we had just adopted, went into inexplicable, bi-lateral kidney failure. In a span of 12 hours, our regular vet went from telling us that Peachu “just had a sensitive stomach”, to telling us she was suffering “a catastrophic kidney issue” and would likely die. We went to BluePearl for a “last resort” ultrasound, which is where we met Katie McGonigle, the doctor and woman who ultimately saved our kitten’s life… a priceless gift for which our family will be forever grateful.
The level of compassion, care, attention, and treatment Peachu received from Dr. McGonigle and her amazing staff was unparalleled, matched only by the level of kindness that she extended to my boyfriend and I through all of the touch and go moments, and months of follow-up. I am truly in awe of her skills as an internist and diagnostician, and equally inspired by the incredible woman she is.
Today, Peachu is a perfectly healthy, thriving one year old cat who covers Animal Kingdom news for WYSK and we have Dr. McGonigle to thank, in large part, for that.
– Jen Jones, Co-Founder and Managing Editor, Women You Should Know