For Pamela Datsko, DVM, veterinary practice has become so much more than puppy dog tails and roses. Still in practice at the West Lancaster Animal Hospital in Pennsylvania, Pamela’s quest to enhance the emotional and mental wellbeing of her peers and colleagues in the veterinary industry has become a driving force.
Tell me a little bit about your practice. How long have you been practicing?
West Lancaster Animal Hospital was a private practice for about 50 years, but in 2016 VetCor purchased our practice. We have been committed to maintaining the atmosphere and quality our clients always experienced.
I’ve been in practice for about 27 years, ever since I earned my DVM from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a veterinarian and what triggered your interest?
I have always known I wanted to be a vet. My family didn’t really have pets growing up, but I loved horses. I was a horse crazy girl.
What inspired your pathway to small animal medicine versus equine?
The veterinarians with an equine focus that I shadowed during high school and undergrad never had time for their own horses. Horses are my passion. They’re my sanity. They’re my barometer of how I’m feeling emotionally and how I’m dealing with life. I did not want them to be put aside because of my schedule and exhaustion. I decided to be small animal vet so that I would have the time to have them in my life.
What do you think makes for a healthy veterinarian and do you feel like a healthy veterinarian?
I think I am a healthy veterinarian. I attribute that to being aware of my mental, spiritual, and emotional health.
I founded my own business called Heal Thyself DVM, as a resource for those in the veterinary community who are struggling or those who want to learn different ways to cope. A critical part of the veterinary profession is dealing with all of the emotions that arise each day.
What inspired you to found Heal Thyself DVM?
The death of Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, was the spark. When she committed suicide, she was at the top of her game and was leading our industry in an innovative, eye-opening direction with regard to how to handle animals.
I knew at the time that I wasn’t happy in my career or life. Her death made me stop and think that many veterinarians are suffering in silence. We paste smiles on our faces and go to work, but behind closed doors, we’re not happy and we’re not healthy. Clients depend on us. I want our profession to stand proud in our knowledge and in all of the things that we provide for this world by caring for animals.
Do you feel like a courageous veterinarian?
I am courageous! I go to work every day knowing that it’s going to be emotionally charged with life and death decisions, but I go to work every day because I know I make a difference.
I’m also starting a new business with Heal Thyself DVM and that’s courageous. It’s important to speak up and shed light on emotional, spiritual, and mental health.
Thinking back to the day you graduated from veterinary school, is your career what you thought it would be? If not, how is it different?
Ha! I thought I would find the perfect job right off the bat and that it was going to be all puppy dog tails and roses. While my career has been fabulous, it’s taken a few more twists and turns than I would have anticipated. That’s life.
What’s a common misconception about what you do?
Many pet owners feel that veterinarians are out for money and that we have amazing salaries. Some just don’t understand how dedicated we are to our profession, sometimes at the expense of our own health and wellbeing. It’s hard for the general public to understand just how much time and energy goes into our patients, human clients, and our colleagues.
What’s your favorite thing about coming to work every day?
My coworkers! I love my patients and their humans, but my coworkers and I spend a lot of time together. Seeing their strengths shine and coping together with the day that we’re thrown into raises my spirits.
Tell us more about your special interest in veterinary acupuncture.
I’ve been in this profession long enough to be frustrated with diseases or problems that I couldn’t fix or adequately address with conventional medicine. I like acupuncture because I don’t have to have a specific diagnosis. It can be used to treat any problem, whether it be kidney disease, arthritis, or anxiety issues. I can look at the animal as a whole and treat it from tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.
How have your experiences been with acupuncture and different species?
The response has been amazing. I can do acupuncture on any species. I just need to understand the anatomy and the physiology a little bit. I’ve practiced on dogs, cats, horses, and rabbits so far. My practice doesn’t see too many exotics, so my access is limited. But, as long as you’re familiar with the animal’s anatomy, you’re good to go.
Any memorable patients at your clinic?
Oh there are really too many to choose from. I had a powerful euthanasia just a few weeks ago—Smoky the kitty. He had renal failure and heart issues and his owner decided to euthanize him. I cautioned her that we were going to sedate Smoky first before putting in his catheter and delivering the second and final injection. I wanted her to be aware that if Smoky started to get into trouble because of his heart condition, I would need to move quickly with the injection. I didn’t want Smoky to suffer.
You know, the freaking cool thing is that Smoky handled the sedative so well. When we went to touch his leg to start to press it for the IV catheter, he lifted his head up and I was a little worried he was going to object a little bit. But, I just put one hand under his chin and the other on the top of his head. He just relaxed and he let us finish putting the catheter in and giving the second injection. It was just a moment in time between Smoky and myself. It’s cool to be able to help an animal and their owner through that.
What’s your reaction when you tell people that you’re a veterinarian and they respond with, “That’s so cool!”
I don’t mind people knowing that I’m a veterinarian. It is a pretty damn cool job in my opinion. I get to see crazy things every day and the day is never as boring as it might look on the appointment schedule. I don’t mind it at all. I love it!
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
This is the thirteenth post in a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers discussing their devotion to the noble veterinary profession and love for their pet patients. We hope you will follow us during this series.
If you are a clinical vet, vet tech or practice manager we want to interview you for this series. It only takes an hour of your time and Zomedica makes a donation in your name to an animal charity of your choice.