Moo. Cluck. Nay. Bah. Meow. Woof. All noises you might expect to find surrounding a budding veterinarian. And for Dr. Cierra Buer, that environment is exactly what ignited her love of animals and spurred her dedication to practice veterinary medicine.
In practice for nearly 15 years, Dr. Buer is the lead veterinarian at the Rimrock Veterinary Clinic in Redmond, Oregon where she lives with her family on a small, sustainable ranch.
Voice of the Vet™ caught up with Dr. Buer as she headed home from a busy day at the clinic.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a veterinarian? What triggered your interest?
I grew up on a hobby farm where we had cows, horses, chickens, goats, and lots of other critters. My family did as much as we could ourselves and the only time we called in help was when we needed a veterinarian. I wanted to learn about ALL aspects of animal care. When I saw what veterinarians could do, I was hooked!
What do you think it means to be a healthy veterinarian and do you feel like a healthy veterinarian?
I feel like a healthy vet. I think as a profession, veterinarians have to work at staying healthy. I was just reading an article about taking your work home with you. I think as veterinarians we all do it. But, it helps to keep the personal and the professional separate. We have to embrace the fact that we care, but every veterinarian deserves their work time and their home time. The two will mix, and when they do, the outcome might be disappointing, but in the end, it all turns out OK. Other veterinary professionals talk a lot about the importance of maintaining work life balance. I think that is important. But, I also think it’s important to realize that what goes on in practice is so engaging that it keeps my mind healthy as well. The work is always different and it allows me to challenge myself. Letting go at the end of day at the clinic to just head home helps keep me healthy as well.
Thinking back to the day you graduated from vet school, is your career what you thought it would be? If not, how is it different?
I was going to be an equine veterinarian. I have always loved horses. When I was a student, I spoke with another veterinarian who asked me what I wanted to do and I told her I wanted to be an equine vet. She said, “Oh I did too, but then life gets in the way.” She explained to me that if I wanted to spend time with my own horses and have a home life, I should practice small animal medicine. I was undeterred. I thought, “oh no way, I can do it all.”
Now, I should say horse owners are a bit more demanding than dog or cat owners. In my experience, if a horse owner calls you at 2 a.m. with a perceived emergency, as the veterinarian, you have to go, you can’t send them to a local emergency clinic. Equine work is more expensive. Their owners have made them an investment, so their care is imperative.
As a new graduate, I think I was a little too accommodating. I hadn’t set boundaries yet, so I didn’t know how to say no. I was available 24/7. I was up at 2 a.m. trying to breed mares. It was all the craziness that comes along with equine medicine. I wasn’t spending time with my family or my own animals. I thought back to the conversation I’d had with the more experienced vet and she was totally right. So, I left the mixed animal practice, where I was responsible for our equine patients and began strictly practicing with small animals. I’ve continued to care for horses with different volunteer groups, so I still get my horse time.
Do you have any pets at home?
Yes, we do. My family runs a small ranch. We grow our own hay, vegetables and have a sustainable place here. And, that wouldn’t be complete without our animals. We have 6 cats, 5 dogs, 2 rabbits, 3 goats, 4 horses, 27 head of cattle, 2 turkeys, and 31 chickens. I’m in the clinic 4 days a week, and the ranch is definitely a second job, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I also run a 501c (3) not for profit organization called Lark Ranch Rescue and Rehabilitation. We provide homes and care for unwanted animals of any species along with hospice care for unwanted and elderly animals.
Aside from your pet patients, what do you love most about being a veterinarian that has surprised you?
The variety of cases and patients is one of my favorite things about clinical practice, although I’m not sure I would say it surprised me. As a veterinarian, I make a difference for animals and people, which is meaningful to me.
What is a common misconception about what you do?
The biggest misconception is about how much money I make. It’s a common occurrence to hear, “Oh, you’re a doctor, you charge so much for treatment, you must make a lot of money.” And, that is just not true.
Do you have a memorable patient or client you could tell us about?
I volunteer with a few horse rescue organizations. As a team, we’re lucky we have happy endings. There is a group here in Oregon that sells foals before they send their dams to slaughter. One of the organizations I work with fosters those foals. There was a little foal and her name was Baby Girl. She was about 4 days old when she came to us. We think she had some kind of meningitis. I ended up bringing her home. I fostered her for almost 6 months until she fully recovered. It was very rewarding when she was finally adopted. She’s a happy, healthy horse.
What’s your reaction when you tell people you’re a veterinarian and they respond with, “That’s so cool!”
I say, “it is cool!” For the people who tell me that they would love to be a veterinarian, but couldn’t do euthanasia, I use it as an opportunity to talk about euthanasia and this kindness we can give to animals.
Do you have any memorable euthanasia stories you could share?
My most memorable euthanasia was an equine patient. She had heart failure and would not let go. I ended up having to use three doses of euthanasia solution on this horse. It was excruciating. The owner had owned her since she was born. She kept this horse going with her heart condition longer than anyone else probably would have. She held her head in her lap and talked to her the whole time. I finally had to hold her head up until the euthanasia solution circulated. It was a hard experience for both of us. Euthanasia sticks with you. It’s hard to let go of some of these experiences.
What’s one piece of wisdom you would pass on to future vets?
I always tell people who say they want to be a vet—if it is the only thing you see yourself doing, then you should do it. If there is anything else you can picture yourself doing, then you should do that instead. It is a difficult path because of obstacles like long hours, low pay, and compassion fatigue, but for me it’s all worth it! I never could imagine doing anything else.
Do you feel like a courageous veterinarian?
Ha! I think a courageous veterinarian is one who shows up and does their best. It’s hard to be a veterinarian. First, it’s hard to get into veterinary school. Then once you’re in, the coursework is challenging. After graduation, new vets spend a lot of time learning on the job. Those first three years of practice are incredibly difficult. Ultimately each stage of the career keeps getting better and better. If we, as members of the veterinary care team, just keep showing up, that’s courageous!
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
This is a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary nurses and 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.