Meet A Relief Vet – Dr. Kate Swindell
Whoever said that a degree in Philosophy and Art History wouldn’t lead to a prolific and fulfilling scientific career? Whether it’s within general practice, shelter medicine, or emergency, Dr. Kate Swindell is a veterinarian who loves being a chameleon and blending in with a variety of environments. This multi-state licensed Chicago city slicker and Colorado outdoor enthusiast looks forward to alleviating the stress of staff DVMs and loves helping veterinary practices thrive.
What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
Ultimately, I was inspired by a post-undergrad job as a lab tech in a medical research lab. But short story, long….if there is space to include it.
Obviously I loved animals growing up, but didn’t really consider being a veterinarian until after I graduated from college with a B.A.. I had a strong interest in undergrad in evolutionary biology/animal behavior and was considering graduate school in neuroscience or evolutionary biology. This interest connected me with a job right out of undergrad at the University’s medical school as a laboratory technician in a neuroscience lab. I worked directly with the research rodents performing small surgeries and socializing them prior to studies. My favorite days were surgery days, and I quickly realized I really enjoyed being in a medical environment. While I had considered Veterinary Medicine for about 5 minutes in undergraduate, I shied away from all the science and math pre-reqs because they were not my strength and interest as much as humanities studies were. Also, I always thought in college, why complete boring classes in chemistry and physics when I could be learning about philosophy and art history (my minor)?! I loved to learn, and I was not very concerned with grades in college. When I had to go back to school to work on my post-baccalaureate pre-medical courses, I learned that if I committed to the goal and worked hard, I could do well enough in these ‘boring’ classes.
What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?
When I was younger, I was a sleep-away camp counselor and worked in retail. I was also a full time laboratory technician in medical research before vet school for 3 of my 4 years in between undergrad and vet school. I did this at two different labs in two different cities, but both were human neurologic disease labs. I was a veterinary assistant at a general practice prior to vet school, and at an ER /specialty clinic one summer during vet school. I also volunteered at a zoo hospital (so much fun for me!), which was mostly cleaning and feeding, but I observed a lot.
After vet school, I worked in a general practice (high quality/ low volume) at a hospital that provided close training and mentorship. I worked there for 10.5 years. Since I have become an independent contractor, I have worked in shelter medicine, general practice, and emergency at a specialty hospital. I have always had an interest in public health or lab animal medicine, exploring those options during vet school. I haven’t ruled-out moving to a completely different less clinical (or less client focused) veterinary related job in the future.
What made you switch to relief practice?
For me, it was situational and professional. My partner, Mike and I aimed to spend more and more time in the mountains. After many years of living in Chicago, we made a goal to eventually become only part-time residents of the city. Eventually, after a few years of traveling and visiting lots of locales, we settled on Western Colorado, for now at least! (I am considering additional state licenses.) Because we wanted to have a more ‘mobile’ lifestyle, I needed my work to be versatile. His work allowed him to work from home, so I was the one that had to make a change for our dream to be realized. Additionally, after 10.5 years at the same practice I craved a massive change professionally. I wanted to develop and nurture my own individual practice style and philosophy, and that was not possible in the environment I was in.
What are your favorite things about being a relief vet?
So many. Variety!!! And being able to make my own schedule. As well as the constant learning involved with using different pharmaceuticals, protocols, and ways of running a clinical day. I enjoy being a chameleon and trying my best to blend into whatever environment I am in.
What are your least favorite things about being a relief vet?
I do not consider business management and accounting to be my strong suit, and while it’s wonderful to have my own business, these are my less favorite things about the profession. Thankfully I can hire people to help me with business management. 😉
How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?
Improving quality of life and aiding with business growth. If a practice can use relief vets well, then they should be able to increase the quality of life of their staff DVMs by allowing them to feel comfortable taking time off work without causing the practice to suffer. This can make work-life balance more attainable. Also, I think we are an important part of growing a practice, as we can allow small businesses to thrive during transitional periods while they grow from 1 DVM to multiple DVMs.
What supplies or equipment do you bring with you on the job?
A bag with a few essential books, a name tag, my tools (stethoscope, indirect ocular lens, pen light, pens), a few notepads, and a lab coat. Also, a few essential veterinary smartphone apps, like the plumb formulary app.
What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?
First I look to see if they are AAHA accredited. If they are, then I know I will feel at home, and will not find many, if any surprises in terms of medical care, drugs available and anesthesia.
Otherwise, I look for well managed clinics that have used relief vets in the past and feel they can trust them, and clinics whose staff is leveraged and contributing well to the overall efficiency of a practice. Most of these qualities are evident with a conversation and a visit to the clinic. I send a detailed questionnaire to a new clinic that is very helpful for me as well. Fingers crossed my luck continues, but I have YET to work somewhere I consider a disaster!!
What is your most memorable relief job?
The first clinic at which I worked as relief because of what it meant to me. It was in a dramatically different setting, with such a different client and patient population than I was used to, and the staff was wonderful. It was a great experience and was so important for it to be so for me to be excited about my new career choice!
What advice would you give new relief vets? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief vet?)
For someone thinking about doing relief, I think it’s really important to have enough experience behind you to be confident in your skills to work independently and make clinical decisions as the only doctor, and to understand the value of a detailed medical record. When you add flexibility, an open-mind, and positivity to that clinical confidence and experience, then you will do great! And if there’s any question, then it’s easy to do some networking and pick up a few shifts on your days off to test your skills before you fully commit.
How has the global pandemic affected your relief practice?
Not dramatically from a business standpoint, as I think some increase in demand recently has cancelled out some lost work in the spring. Regarding safety, I try to avoid new environments with large staff numbers, and assure the clinics at which I work are all following CDC recs. My work last spring at a feline shelter was affected the most by loss of work, but it was amazing to see how much the cats thrived living in foster homes instead of the shelter, and so wonderful that they were adopted in record numbers during the pandemic! We had a lot less medical work to do since there was a lot less stress related and infectious illnesses.
What are your hobbies / passions outside of work?
I’m a mountain outdoor sports lover. When in Colorado, I hike, road bike, downhill ski, snowshoe, nordic ski, and spend as much time outdoors no matter the season. I take my athletic dog with me on many of these adventures. I am also a birder, and really enjoy birding during spring migration in the Midwest. When I am in the city, I enjoy trying to keep up so many tasty restaurants, and staying in shape with indoor fitness classes.
To learn more or contact Dr. Swindell click here.