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Oyen Interviews Dr Calvin: Untold tales of the veterinary industry [Part 1]

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Today’s vet story is different from what you have read thus far. Dr Calvin came prepared with stories that will change your perspective of people in the veterinary industry. A two-part interview that will leave you at the edge of your seats; a raw and honest narrative of a Malaysian vet of 13 years.

Dr Calvin: I'm Dr Calvin, a veterinarian by profession who graduated from UPM in 2009. I worked at a small animal clinic for ten months before joining a corporate and leading the veterinary department for over three years. Then, I joined Royal Canin as a marketing manager before I was promoted to corporate affairs manager, leading the corporate affairs team in Royal Canin. I also own veterinary clinics which are Vet for Pets Animal Clinic (VPAC) in Kuchai Lama and Solaris Mont Kiara.

Oyen: You mentioned that you graduated in 2009, that would make this year your thirteenth year as a veterinarian?

Dr Calvin:  Yes, it has been quite some time!

VPAC Kuchai Lama

Oyen: Can you tell us a bit about how your clinics were founded?

Dr Calvin: The first clinic I founded was the branch in Kuchai Lama in 2012. I remember thinking to myself that I was trained to be a vet but for the past three years I hadn’t done much of hands-on clinical cases. I started to realise that I couldn’t remember the names of medications I utilised when I was practising as a vet.

I contacted my colleague who is my current business partner and suggested that we do a partnership. In 2017, I left Royal Canin and we founded our branch in Solaris Mont Kiara together with Dr Robyn.

Oyen: I’ve interviewed multiple vets before and a question I always ask is what does being a veterinarian mean to you or how has it affected your life?

Dr Calvin: I’m sure that most vets would agree to this. How you see us as vets and what we experience as vets are totally different. Those who are not in this field may assume that we have an easy and breezy life since we deal with cute animals every day. Honestly, I thought of the same thing when I entered vet school but it was just too good to be true. After I graduated, I realised how difficult it was working as a small animal veterinarian.

The time that we spend treating ill or injured animals and the amount of energy used does not reflect how much we earn. There are days we'd feel happy when we see pets we once treated come back and appear healthier.

Oyen: What about a rewarding experience? Can you perhaps talk a bit about that?

Dr Calvin: I think it would be the trust that some pet owners have in me to treat their ill or wounded babies. After the outbreak of Covid-19, all vets were operating on appointment-basis schedules. Some clients would be persistent in getting an appointment with me even though I’d be fully booked. There are those who would even wait a whole week to have consultations with me even when I suggested going to another vet.

This kind of trust and bond motivates me. It makes me feel beyond grateful to have pet owners who willingly believe in me.

I always believe that you’ll be rewarded for the genuine deeds you have done. As vets, we have to put ourselves in pet owners’ shoes. There are of course instances where we feel exhausted and people still come to get their pets treated. We try our best to sympathise and understand these owners because if my pet was in the same situation, I’d feel just as restless.

We try to let our junior vets understand that the desire they have to go home half an hour early shouldn’t be the reason animals have to suffer another night. That is something we try to remind them always.

Oyen: I do agree because being a vet is not merely about saving an animal. You have to be compassionate to help people and their pets.

Dr Calvin: Another important thing to remember is respect. Both pet owners and vets have to be on the same page and understand each other. A common consumer mindset is that if I pay you then you are responsible to provide me with my needs. I'm so sorry to tell these people that as vets, we also have a choice of wanting to provide medical assistance or not depending on how you choose to treat us.

I also think that it is important for a pet owner to put themselves in other pet owners’ shoes. Imagine having booked an appointment two weeks earlier and comes in a lady who uses the word ‘emergency’ to justify cutting lines.

Our clinic actually created a list of other vets that pet owners may go to when we are fully booked or have no free slots for walk-in consultations. We  provide them with the names, addresses and phone numbers of other vets. We would even print them out to pass to these pet owners. What is rather odd is when you look at our Google review, some would say that we are money minded and that we refuse to treat their pets which makes no sense. If I am money minded, I would accept everyone that walks in and give them all a five-minute consultation just to charge them consultation fee.

Oyen: Previous vets I interviewed informed me that negative Google reviews affect their mental health. It becomes an issue because when pet owners cannot get what they want during a consultation, they’d get upset and leave negative feedbacks so others would feel reluctant to visit the vet.

Dr Calvin: What you say is true, we are mentally affected. The main reason for that is when we have given our absolute best to help, but some will still think that we haven’t exhausted our options and efforts. I’ve had an owner tell me, “You should do better next time.” I remember going back to my practice on my day off to make sure the client’s pet was well. In the end, the pet didn’t survive and the owner told me that I should do better. For them, it might just be a statement, but it affected us a lot as we had tried our very best to help. No one seems to appreciate our effort.

I always tell my team that if hari kiamat was to happen and God asks us if we’ve done our best, we should be able to say that we have because we have done our absolute best to help every animal that crosses our front door. It does feel as if there’s a black hole that draws every bit of our energy which is why this industry has one of the highest death rates by suicide. The veterinary industry is so niche that not everyone can fully fathom the stress that we experience.

Oyen: How do you usually tell pet owners about their pets’ illnesses?

Dr Calvin: We have to be transparent. Transparency is something that pet owners look for. Do not give them a false hope on the outcome of their pets, especially if the pet has very low chance of surviving. Then again, this can be a two-way knife. If we tell them there is no hope and the pet ends up surviving then these owners would question us. If we tell them that their pet will survive and it ends up dying, they would also blame us.

That's why it is sad to realise that vets, specifically younger vets in their thirties who have children, they would not encourage them to enter this path. I have a few friends who would call me saying that their daughters and sons are interested in this field. They would ask me for advice. My advice would always be, if you can handle extreme stress then go ahead. If you can’t handle much stress then please stop yourself before it’s too late. The stress begins when you enter vet school.  

I would tell those who are looking to become a vet that if I were given a second chance to do this all over again, I wouldn't have the guts to. Five years in vet school, I dare to say it was like hell.

A heart-wrenching story has yet to come. Part 2 of our interview with Dr Calvin will take you on a roller coaster of emotions as he shares a personal struggle about the passing of his beloved 16-year-old dog he calls daughter. Spending a long day treating and saving animals at the clinic and coming home to a lifeless anatomy.