Industry: Careers in the Veterinary Field

Bianca Zenor, DVM, MS, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Topeka, Kansas

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Industry: Careers in the Veterinary Field

I made up my mind early on—I was going to be a veterinarian and practice avian and exotic animal medicine exclusively. I worked toward my goal all through veterinary school, volunteering at an exotics-only practice and completing off-campus rotations.

I was living my dream the first year of practice. My husband and I had decided to start a family and a little over a year after I graduated, we were expecting our first child. I planned to continue working and to stay focused on my professional goals.

Then everything changed. 

My daughter was born with significant health challenges that required around-the-clock medical care, and we spent much of her first year of life in and out of the hospital. The career I had worked so hard for no longer mattered. 

However, I was fortunate to meet a veterinarian who convinced me I could learn to practice emergency medicine at his specialty practice, keep my skills sharp, and have time to care for my daughter. So, with the support of a team of veterinarians and veterinary nurses, I continued my career and learned to manage challenging cases. I worked nights, which allowed my husband to keep his day job, and was able to be at home during the day to give my daughter the care she needed. My exotics-only dream had to be put on hold, but eventually I began to enjoy the spontaneity of emergency medicine, which I continued for the next 6 years.  

Time for Change

Then I began to wonder about other opportunities. I made several lists and asked myself the following questions:

  • What do I enjoy about my job? 
  • What would I change? 
  • What is my ideal office? 

From my answers, I realized I enjoyed teaching, I wanted somewhat predictable hours, and I wanted to work from a home office. I did not know if such an ideal job even existed, but I did know I was no longer happy with my  career path.  I did love working in emergency medicine—I enjoyed the fast pace, the spontaneity, and my team—but I could not keep up with the long, overnight shifts on top of my family’s needs. I was tired all the time and my health was starting to suffer.

I started looking for new opportunities by putting my résumé online on Monster.com and Yahoo Hot Jobs, which were the top job sites at the time. I spoke regularly with local company representatives, pharmaceutical and other product distributors, and sales representatives who serviced the practice. To my surprise, I quickly began receiving inquiries, but many required relocation and others did not match my needs. Technical service veterinarians were the most common job offers, with a few in organized medicine. Industry jobs are said to be hard to find; however, in my experience, jobs are available, but they are not always exactly what people are looking for (eg, contract work vs full-time, wrong location).  Flexibility is key to break into industry.  

One day, a third-party agency contacted me by email about a job they thought might interest me—a highly reputable global company was seeking a consulting veterinarian who could work from a home office. Third-party agencies, also known as head hunters, search professional sites such as LinkedIn and monster.com, and anyone looking for an industry position should list his or her profile with these groups. When I learned the company was Hill’s Pet Nutrition and the position included everything on my short list (ie, an opportunity to teach, reliable hours, a home office without relocation), I knew I wanted the job.  

Introduction to Industry

A few weeks later, Hill’s offered me the position of professional development veterinarian (ie, technical field service veterinarian), which required developing new skills that I had not used in practice, such as learning how to service my assigned practices, creating sales, and managing sales accounts, and educating veterinarians, veterinary nurses,  and other practice team members about the company’s products. 

Industry also offers chances to grow and move into other areas of a company, such as consumer and retail marketing, sales at district, regional, and national levels, and management.

One big learning curve was how different it is working from home rather than in an office.

Home Rules & Responsibilities

  • Working from home requires self-discipline and time management to organize your travel routes and your time spent making phone calls, writing email, and completing reports.
  • Although you are working from home, technical field service and industry sales positions do require spending time in the field to get to know your customers and their needs. 
  • Companies are invested in your success—they provide coaching and training in areas such as business management and communication to ensure you continue to learn, grow, and improve. 
  • Industry allows you to develop your own path. You can learn to excel at your first job and not move, or, as you become established, you can move into different departments within the organization, build your reputation, and develop new paths into positions with different roles and responsibilities such as marketing or management.

Always a Veterinarian

I am often asked if I miss working in clinical practice. The answer is Yes. I miss the challenge of working up cases, the small-practice atmosphere, the daily interaction (and cuddles) with patients. But, I am still a veterinarian. My team and I work with practices and understand their needs, we help patients with nutritional recommendations every day, and I help provide my team with the tools they need to succeed. A career in industry has provided an alternative way to use my degree—a way I had never imagined.

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