Define your purpose or find your niche. Relief vet work is pretty niche, but I realized that I didn’t want to work with clinics or doctors whose practices or methods I didn’t fully agree with. I wanted to offer a more personal service with better communication. I don’t want to be the biggest, I want to be the best. I try to set a bar of excellence that other veterinarians will easily recognize. That means I’m looking for controlled growth and good people to maintain my reputation and quality.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caren Carney, DVM.
Dr. Caren Carney has dedicated her life to the pursuit of improving the lives of animals- first as a technician, then as a researcher, and finally as a Veterinarian. Now she helps other vets find their work-life balance through her veterinary staffing service, Holiday Vet.
She graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Louisiana State University in 2007 and spent 10 years practicing in Nevada before relocating to Georgia with her husband, son, German Shepherd, and 3 cats. In her free time she enjoys hiking, exploring new places, and spending time with friends and family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a small town in south Louisiana in a suburb of Baton Rouge. At age 7, I decided I wanted to be a vet. I was always rescuing stray animals. One Easter, we were hunting for Easter eggs — the real ones. I found a starving stray dog eating one of the eggs and nursed him back to health. As much as my parents tried to give him away, the dog always came back. He wound up living with us for years.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I was living in Louisiana and in vet school when Hurricane Katrina hit. I shifted immediately into rescuing animals. I didn’t worry about my own situation or possessions, or anything else, just about helping these animals survive and their devastated owners rescue the pets they were forced to leave behind. I donated every spare minute of my day in those first weeks following the hurricane. I really had to focus on the positive to avoid getting overwhelmed. I might not have been able to help all of them, but I could help this one, and then the next one. And each life mattered.
It’s not about ignoring the negatives, but working to make them better. Maybe you can’t help them all, and I wasn’t equipped to help in the human medical field, but I could help the human owners by helping the pets they cared about.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Perseverance — The willingness to tackle hard obstacles is crucial. I started this company alone, and building connections and a business without a backup plan was a challenge.
Positive attitude — The difference between us and our competition is that we bring our positive, can-do attitude to every interaction with our team, our doctors and our hospitals.
Courage — Taking the chance, even when you’re scared, or especially when you’re scared, is important. For me, this interview was a challenge! I like to let my work speak for itself. So talking about my work is outside my comfort zone. I knew I had to face it head on if I want to grow my business.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Although I knew I wanted to be a vet, getting into vet school is incredibly competitive. So I took a more traditional major in microbiology with a minor in chemistry. My first job was as a Researcher in Entomology, studying fire ants. Then I went to vet school and, after graduating, worked as an associate veterinarian in private practice. I was part of a busy, multi-veterinarian practice, with after-hours emergency services. It was very exciting, but also very demanding. I would get emergency calls in the middle of the night, and have to go in and care for those emergencies, but also had to be at my best during the day for my scheduled clients, some days with little sleep. It was a lot of pressure and demanded a lot of time.
I was working so many hours, some days I had to talk myself into going to work. I felt like I was getting further away from the core of being a vet — taking care of animals! The pressure kept growing, and I wanted more than just wake up, work, come home and hope for a few hours of sleep. I was losing so much control over my time due to demands from work.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I switched to relief veterinary work. Relief or locum work is when an experienced, fully-credentialed veterinarian works in or even manages someone else’s practice for a short time, to cover for staffing shortages, maternity and sick leave, or vacations.
It changed my world. I had complete control over my time. The pressure was gone. I worked when I wanted, and relaxed when I didn’t. I knew that I was providing better care to my patients, and I was helping my colleagues take the breaks that they needed. It was a win-win-win. At the time, there were only 2 or 3 different relief services companies that were database driven and I didn’t like the impersonal process. There were so many variables to finding hospitals that were a good fit, and these services provided so little information. There had to be a better way.
I built up a reputation for reliable, personal relief services. When I couldn’t be there, I recruited friends and colleagues that I trusted to fill in. One trusted friend recruited another, who told another. That led to me opening Holiday Vet Veterinary Relief Services. We now provide relief services for veterinary clinics across the country.
I’ve gone from being an associate veterinarian to a freelancer to an entrepreneur. Each step has shifted how much control I have over my time and how much I can help others. As an employee, I had no control over my schedule and could only help my patients. As a freelancer, I had total control, but I had a limited impact on how much I could help patients and other vets. As an employer, I still have full control over my time (and don’t get me wrong- I still work a lot, but under my own control and schedule), and I’m giving others great opportunities to control their own time as well.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I was working too many hours. I felt myself starting to burn out. I had to give myself a pep talk before going to work. I was just tired.
I love the work, and the animals, so I looked at something where I could control my schedule. Sometimes I overbook myself, but it’s different when I’m doing it vs when someone else is forcing it on me.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I jumped into a side of the business that I knew nothing about. I had to learn to swim or I was going to drown.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
We’ve grown, even with the pandemic! We increased to a record number of doctors and shifts covered in 2020, a year where plenty of businesses had to cut staff or close entirely. We’re excited to grow even more in 2021.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There’s several! My husband, for putting up with the challenges that have come along. My parents, especially for helping with our son. Paul DiCianno, a personal friend and longtime business owner, has been instrumental as a mentor, giving advice, and sharing things that have worked and failed. David Mason, a veterinary surgeon in Las Vegas, was very encouraging in my early days. I came to him with, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and he’d say “yes you can.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Early on, I needed to be the relief vet to my relief vets. We had a doctor who cancelled a multi-day shift in an ER with only one day notice. I had to re-arrange my schedule, pack luggage, and together with my husband, head out the door one hour later. We drove 8 hours across state lines to cover the shift. Talk about learning to be spontaneous to get the job done.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Yes, I struggled at the beginning. I used to lack the internal confidence in business matters. I moved cautiously at first because I knew that, as a veterinarian, reputation for excellence is so much more important than rapid growth. When really good vets started to come on-board, my confidence grew because I found that I could rely on them. I’m an extrovert and work well with positive feedback from others. When a clinic says how much they appreciate the help, that’s really motivating for me. Seeing what I’ve accomplished has also helped. I can see the numbers of vets and clinics grow on paper. And of course my support network helped — I wanted to prove that all the people who believed in me were right.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I had some amazing entrepreneurs and business owners in my personal network before starting the business. I leaned on their experience and advice to get me started. Once I got to a certain size, I started working with SCORE, which has been critical to helping me with the business side of things rather than the operational side.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I try to always put things in perspective — what’s the worst thing that can happen if this fails? I can always fall back as an associate veterinarian. But alternatively, what if it’s successful? I can do so much more for myself and for others. The huge potential upside gets me motivated every time. It’s a different way of asking, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Define your purpose or find your niche. Relief vet work is pretty niche, but I realized that I didn’t want to work with clinics or doctors whose practices or methods I didn’t fully agree with. I wanted to offer a more personal service with better communication. I don’t want to be the biggest, I want to be the best. I try to set a bar of excellence that other veterinarians will easily recognize. That means I’m looking for controlled growth and good people to maintain my reputation and quality.
- Take some businesses classes before you start! If I could go back, I would have taken some business classes before I started. All those bits of paperwork are really important, and you have no visibility into running a business as an employee. How do you do payroll? How do you hire good people? Ask these questions before you start.
- Remember why you got into it. The day-to-day operations can easily overwhelm you, especially when you’re growing fast. I started this company to save my sanity and help other veterinarians do the same, while still being able to do what they love- caring for our patients. That guides how I run the business.
- Work-life balance is real and critical. Medical professions — whether with humans or animals — are incredibly high stress. We literally deal with life and death situations on a regular basis. That takes a mental toll. As medical professionals, we need to remember to take care of ourselves as well as our patients. You can’t help others if you’re drowning yourself.
- Don’t be scared of trying your ideas. I usually see that the benefits of a decision outweigh the potential risk. And when something goes wrong, you learn from it. That learning process is painful but very helpful in being the best you can be.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The veterinary field is a high-stress field. People are getting burned out and their private life suffers. Veterinarians have a high suicide rate due to the stress. I saw it in my colleagues, and I saw burn out happening to me. I’d love to inspire more veterinarians to take care of their mental well-being, however they need to do that. I would also like to encourage clients to remember that we love their furry family members and we care.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
An achiever with great goals, maybe Elon Musk or Bill Gates. I’d love to pick their brains to see ”How did you do it, and are you happy?” What is your work-life balance? And is there anything I’d need to know to help me bring my business to the next level.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!