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Equine March 2009 (Vol 4, No 2)

Managing Your Practice and Life — A Workhorse at Play: A Talk with Dr. Bob Emery

by C. Lyon, VMD

    Equine practitioner Robert Emery, DVM, specializes in performance horse medicine and does some competing of his own ... in triathlons! We talked to him about his practice (Beadle Lake Large Animal Clinic in Battle Creek, Michigan), his triathlon training, his family, and how he maintains his work-life balance.

    How long have you been practicing veterinary medicine?

    I graduated in 1990, so almost 20 years now.

    Do you practice equine medicine exclusively, or do you treat other species on a regular basis?

    When I came out of school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I worked with everything: dogs, cats, gerbils, horses, cows, goats, llamas. As time went on, I developed into a performance equine vet. I really love performance work (chiropractic, acupuncture, lameness) and dentistry. That's pretty much what I do now—exclusively performance equine medicine. I don't work with one particular group of horses. I work with racehorses, dressage horses, a little bit of everything.

    What do you enjoy most about your job?

    There is always a challenge. There is always a better, more efficient way to do things. It's really the challenge I enjoy most. It's never the same thing. There's always more to learn.

    What do you enjoy least?

    The hardest part of being an equine vet is being on call—late night call. I don't mind the emergencies. I actually enjoy doing emergencies if I can help my patients. However, I like working hard from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and then going home and being done. Managing the practice and all the different personalities in it can also be challenging.

    Describe your practice setup. How many vets work with you?

    Our practice is an exclusively large animal practice with an outpatient clinic. On a daily basis, the practice works best with one veterinarian in the clinic and the rest of the veterinarians driving around the country working on farms. We have four veterinarians—two full-time and two associates. The associates are part-time and kind of job-share, which I think could be a niche for the future.

    Have you struggled to find and maintain a balance between your work and personal life?

    I think I've always made it a very high priority to try to maintain a balance. Honestly, my family is always the most important. I've learned that if I do the things that I really love first, early in the morning, nobody really misses me. Our town has the greatest group of people who love to play in the morning before work. Some are swimmers, some are runners, some are cyclists. As long as I train early in the morning, before work, my training gets done. If I try to train after work, I find that I'm tired, I've got lots of family commitments, etc. I've got three children, and they're all teenagers now. They don't miss me early in the morning...especially on the weekend!

    You are a competitive triathlete. How long have you been competing in triathlons?

    For about 9 years.

    Tell us a little about your involvement in this sport.

    I started mountain biking first and could not believe how much fun I had. Everything was a challenge. At first, I couldn't get up that hill, I couldn't get over that log, and then the next time out, I could get up that hill, I could get over that log. One particular Saturday, I had had a pretty stressful week and I really needed the ride. I was on the mountain, and all the trails were closed because of a big race. So I said, "Well, how much does it cost to enter the race?" And the answer was $25. I actually had $25 with me, so I entered. There were about 300 or 400 people in the race, and I came in 10th in my age group. So, I did well and could not believe how much fun I had competing again (I played sports in high school and college). And then I found out that the really good mountain bikers train on road bikes 4 days a week. I realized that I could get a great workout on my road bike from home in an hour or 2, whereas with my mountain bike, I had to drive to trails and then ride, so road biking was a lot faster. It was fun and a great workout. A client of mine introduced me to a lot of people who got me doing triathlons and other races.

    How many triathlons do you do per year?

    This year, I only did three, but one of them was an ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, 26.2-mile run, and 112-mile bike ride). I'm really glad I did the ironman, but I seriously doubt I'll do something that big again for 4 or 5 years. It got very, very challenging the last 2 months to hold it all together: the family, work, and training. I usually do about four or five triathlons per year. I'd really like to do more Xterra triathlons (mountain biking and trail running).

    Do you find that your colleagues are supportive of your training and competitions?

    They are. I actually made sure my business partner was supportive before he became my partner. And he has been extremely supportive. He covers call for me, etc. If you're ever going to do something like this, you've got to have your family 100% behind you. Your partners at work have to support you, too.

    How would you describe the effect of triathlon training and competitions on your work?

    I'm not quite as nice to be around if I don't exercise in the morning. I am on a higher plane all day if I work out early in the morning. I just function better if I get up and train. When I'm training for a big race, I am more efficient at work. I work fewer hours, but my productivity goes up. It's not sustainable, of course, but it is surprising.

    Also, I have learned a lot about equine performance injuries and other issues from my own ailments during training—things like rest and recovery, nutrition, footwear, etc.

    What advice, if any, would you give to practitioners who are having trouble finding the time to pursue interests outside of work?

    You have to look at what's important to you. You need to keep enough staff so you don't have to work 70 hours a week. Keep your prices competitive. If it interests you, figure out ways to job share. Have a great staff that you really trust and be a good delegator.

    NEXT: The Editor's Desk—Meet Our New Online CE "Sister"


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