“I joined because I really liked the idea of being a pet wellness and preventive care advocate.”
PetIQ District Medical Director Dr. Heather Sutton explains why she recently joined the PetIQ team and the role preventive care and pet wellness played in her decision.
How long have you been a veterinarian and what was your experience before coming to PetIQ?
After graduating from veterinary school, I did an equine ambulatory internship in central Florida at a very prestigious practice. But during breeding season (February-June), I was up at 4:00 am and I might go to bed by 11:30 pm for five months straight without a day off. Burnout hit really early, really fast and really hard. So, I then went to Texas to practice mixed animal medicine (horses, cattle, sheep, goats, cats and dogs) before returning to Florida to practice predominantly small animal medicine with horses, pet pigs and goats.
I didn’t really think I was going to do small animal practice in veterinary school, but I found out I liked it a lot because I could touch the fuzzy kittens and puppies.
After that I spent some time working for one of the largest veterinary pharmaceutical companies in the world and a successful capital equipment analyzer company. There was a considerable amount of overnight and long-distance travel. That’s when a former colleague of mine called me and pitched me PetIQ.
What was the pitch?
She said that their focus was on affordable pet wellness. She said that PetIQ’s goal is keeping pets well to start with, and because of that, it helps ensure a long and healthy life. I joined because I really liked the idea of being a pet wellness and preventive care advocate.
What are your current role and responsibilities at PetIQ?
I am the District Medical Director for the West Central District, so I manage 17 veterinarians in Delaware, Indiana and Ohio, and I help with day-to-day operations, top-down information and finding the right answers for my team as well as seeing pets in my assigned wellness center.
I also help ensure that there’s the PetIQ “team of two” structure in our Wellness Centers.
Team of two?
The “team of two” structure pairs the Wellness Center supervisor for the operational side of the business with the veterinarian who brings the medical aspect. That way veterinarians can focus on what they do best and not have to worry about the ins and outs of running a business.
Was there anything else that drew you to PetIQ?
The full services practices have become more specialized. They have more tools in their toolbox. And, because of that, they don’t always have time to see dogs and cats for wellness checks such as immunizations, parasite prevention consultations, and minor illnesses. There are pets with bigger problems that require more attention at a full service veterinary center, which gives PetIQ an opportunity to fill that gap. PetIQ’s main mission and focus is wellness and preventive care.
You mentioned you were drawn to PetIQ because of the emphasis on wellness. What does wellness mean to you?
There’s definitely a client education part, but it also includes making sure pets are parasite free and they’re properly immunized. It also means that they can get care for small issues that may turn into bigger ones. For example, an ear infection, skin related allergies, or maybe they got into the garbage and the pet needs to get their tummy under control because they’ve got some gas or diarrhea.
However, the most important thing to me is that, as pets age, there can be changes to their internal organs that don’t show overtly. With regular wellness checks, including blood work, changes in organ function can be found and treated early. Instead of getting a surprising and difficult diagnosis in an emergency situation, pet parents and veterinarians can get ahead of problems and improve and extend the quality of life for that pet.
How does this idea of wellness carry through the culture of PetIQ outside of treatment for pets?
There’s also a focus internally on work-life balance for our veterinarians. A lot of veterinarians are female, so when they start having families, childcare becomes a real concern. At some of the PetIQ clinics work doesn’t start until 10am so that provides moms (parents) with some flexibility. At a full-service clinic your day may start very early and end very late. At PetIQ, you have a set schedule so you can have quality family time because there’s no after-hours care, no emergency care and no on-call.
Another big difference is that there’s no euthanasia. A lot of veterinarians suffer burnout just from having to deal with and absorb other people’s grief. If a pet comes into one of our clinics with a severe issue, they will get referred out to a partner full-service clinic that’s better suited to that pet’s needs.
What about for pet owners?
For pet owners, we stress convenience. Our Wellness Centers are walk-in only, usually open for longer hours than most full-service practices, and we have Saturday hours. So, we manage to provide wellness care to pet owners on their schedule without over-burdening our veterinarians.
What’s the average day like at PetIQ?
It’s got a predictable rhythm to it in that you’re going to see wellness and minor medical patients, but it’s unpredictable in that you don’t know exactly what the pets are coming in for until they are checked in. Generally, we’re going to see a lot of puppies and kittens for their first vaccines with follow-ups or adult annual wellness visits. Depending on the season, there might be a lot of allergy appointments. In general, we’re doing regular wellness checks or helping with minor issues.
What’s your favorite thing about working for PetIQ?
It feels like home. When I started, I said that I wanted a home, not a house. I wanted a place where I can enjoy what I do and a place I could stay long-term. I think this company offers that to veterinarians.