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Equine September 2009 (Vol 4, No 7)

Managing Your Practice and Life — The Upside of Weekend Work: A Talk With Dr. Claudia Sandoval

by C. Lyon, VMD

    Claudia Sandoval, DVM, of Fairfield Equine Associates in Newtown, Connecticut, has found a rewarding career in equine medicine that allows her to enjoy time with her husband and twin 6-year-old daughters.

    When and where did you graduate from veterinary school?

    Cornell University in 2007.

    How did you find your current position?

    I completed an internship at Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland, Virginia, from 2007 to 2008 and then joined Fairfield Equine Associates in the summer of 2008. I found my position through a job posting on aaep.org asking for a doctor interested in weekend emergency duty and a 2-day workweek. By the time I applied, the posting had been removed because Fairfield Equine was unsure whether anyone would respond. I jumped at the position, realizing it was an opportunity to have time with my daughters, work in an extraordinary practice, return to the Northeast to be closer to family, and do what I like most—wellness, dental, and internal medicine. In joining a practice predominantly focused on lameness, I felt that I could provide other valuable services and learn from the doctors' experience with lameness and other areas in which I felt less adept.

    Do you treat species other than equids?

    No, only equids!

    How many veterinarians are in the practice?

    There are three partners, a board-certified surgeon, three associates, and two interns—nine total.

    What is your work schedule?

    My schedule consists of three emergency weekends per month and wellness and dentistry work on Mondays and Fridays. This schedule allows me to spend time with my kids during the week. Although I like emergency work, I can't honestly say that I would have searched for a position like this if I didn't have a family.

    Are your colleagues supportive of your schedule?

    Definitely. But, for my own sanity, I try my best not to have my family life interfere with my work.

    What do you enjoy most about your job?

    I love the variety. While I hear that most practitioners hate dealing with emergencies, several practitioners have told me that they like working up emergency cases, but they don't like having to suddenly change their personal plans or having to go on calls after a tiring workweek. I don't mind changes to my weekend plans, and I'm especially happy that I get to spend time with my daughters and husband on weekdays.

    What do you enjoy least about your job?

    While I'm rarely asked to work midweek, sometimes I feel like I need to go in, especially if I have to check on cases, do paperwork, or make phone calls. To compensate for this, I dedicate a weekday to these tasks so that I'm less distracted by work when spending time with my family. This also gives me the opportunity to go on calls with the more experienced doctors, which further improves my skills. While emergency cases can vary, I don't see many lame horses, and I don't want to lose the skills I acquired during school and my internship.

    Do you have any hobbies?

    I probably sound like a geek, but I enjoy my work so much that it feels like a hobby. If I'm not at work, I mostly focus on my kids. We enjoy activities at home, or I take them to the library, the park, or after-school activities. We purchased a house last year, so I'm working on several home-improvement projects. Before I had the twins, I was an avid runner, and I would love to return to the sport in the fall.

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

    I think it's always a struggle. It's definitely easier now that my internship is finished. That year was so tough that it makes my current position seem easy to balance with family life. But I still run into snags, such as when horses are in the hospital, I'm following up a case, or the kids are sick. I'm lucky to have my husband, who is extremely supportive, and my colleagues, who are understanding and supportive.

    How does your personal life affect your professional life?

    It sort of feels like an escape in both directions. Work can be a nice break from caring for my kids. Likewise, when I'm frustrated at work (for example, when a client won't pay a bill), it's nice to go home to my family and escape—physically and mentally. The balance goes in waves: sometimes I feel like I'm not giving 110% to work, and sometimes work distracts me when I'm with my kids. Obviously, my family comes first, but I always strive to do my best work and continue learning. I've learned to accept my shortcomings as long as I'm doing my best for my patients and clients. I may not know everything, but I can certainly learn from each case for the future. This way, I feel like I'm striving to become a better clinician.

    Do you have any advice for veterinarians interested in adjusting their work schedules or in changing practices to improve their work-life balance?

    From speaking to other doctors, it sounds like equine medicine is slowly moving away from the mentality of working 24/7. There's no harm in asking for a schedule change or whether your practice would support a position that you want to create for yourself. It certainly helps to work for a multidoctor practice that shares responsibilities and supports the personal lives of its staff.

    I'm really lucky to have the support of Fairfield Equine Associates and to have had mentors and other veterinarians who helped me become successful and happy. It all started in veterinary school when I asked one of my professors how I could become an equine veterinarian. After developing friendships through my externships and internship, I began to understand that being an equine veterinarian doesn't have to mean giving up your personal life. Because of my kids, I knew that I wanted a 4-day workweek, but I never imagined that I would find it so soon. I thought I would have to "pay my dues." I feel really lucky: I love my work and still get to spend time with my family.

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