What I’ve Learned in 5 Years

Last week, my company passed it’s 5 year anniversary. We’ve grown considerably within these first five years, and are now on to new challenges. The hardest thing about this job is that there is no blueprint. All bakers can follow the examples of previous bakeries. The same goes for doctors, dentists, contractors, ballerinas, software designers, pilots, politicians and even other veterinarians. There are over 2,000 books on Amazon about “How to Run a Veterinary Practice.” Mobile veterinary practice only shows one title. Aquatic Veterinary Practice = 0. Mobile Aquatic Veterinary Pracitice = 0. We hope that the hard work we have done will make it exponentially easier for the veterinarians who come after us that want to work with aquatic animals.

Since it’s inception, our company has grown and changed from its original entity as a one-person, 18″x24″ desk and a 2008 Nissan Altima. Looking back at how large we’ve gotten, some days I wish it was so small again. Now, I have to manage staff, a hospital with anywhere between 18-28 tanks at one time, a retail store with all that entails and drive a Toyota RAV4 dressed as a giant clownfish. At the end of this year, we will be downsizing a little and trying to find a facility that is a better fit for what our directives have become. Our larger hospital tanks will be taken offline since they’ve been mostly unused. We will be refocusing on goldfish and tropicals for our retail establishment and improve our home delivery service. Did you know that our store offers FREE NEXT DAY DELIVERY in Santa Cruz County, CA for only an $8 minimum? Yeah, I’m not surprised you haven’t heard about that before. Our advertising schemes have not had a great reach for that particular aspect.

Even in our off season this year, calls have kept rolling in with very little advertising effort. Although the koi are starting to wake up as I type this, bettas and goldfish have been keeping us busy. We have taken in over 3 dozen surrendered fish and only lost one to disease. The rest have been rehomed or stay with us as filtration upkeepers. We hope to start a Fish Rescue Fund in the next few months to help pay for their expenses.

Marketing continues to be a struggle for us. Trying to explain to people what we do, and no, it’s not a joke, takes considerable effort and patience. Again, since this profession has no blueprint, almost everyone we meet has NEVER heard of a fish veterinarian before, let alone one that makes house calls. Thankfully, in building up our website and YouTube channel, we have lots of visual aids to help people understand what we do. I try to talk about my job with anyone who asks. And though we may get the “I thought you were joking” or “that’s so cute!” more often than serious comments, I am not giving up. Eventually, bringing your fish to the vet will be the first thing that crosses any fish pet parent’s mind and all veterinarians will be able to see fish patients. It will be an agonizingly slow process, but the same has already occurred for cats and dogs, and now reptiles. Decades ago, you didn’t take your cat or dog to the vet, just your livestock. It will take decades to change a public mentality, but we’re going to do it and this practitioner will be part of the reason why.

So, to summarize, here are some of the most important things I have learned in 5 years of doing what I do:

  • You will get laughed at. You have to develop a tough skin and shake these comments off.
  • You will be dismissed for attempting to create a new niche in the veterinary profession. A lot of older fish keepers don’t want a young, female veterinarian butting in on their business. They will make it very hard for you to do your job.
  • You will not be respected by other business owners who don’t comprehend what you do. It will make working with other business professionals, neighbors and landlords exceedingly difficult.
  • You will be dismissed for having a “cute” profession and not be taken seriously.
  • You will come up against advice from every internet forum and Google search.
  • You will have clients that are unbelievably grateful for your unique service.
  • You will learn so much about other aspects of taking care of fish from people who have been around fish for a long time and are willing to teach and listen to you.
  • You will come to rely on a staff that listens to what you say and can pass their knowledge onto clients.
  • You will create great relationships with colleagues who completely understand what you do and admire your determination.
  • You will make the world aware how much fish veterinarians are needed.
  • You will find out just how strong you are.
  • You will learn to keep going no matter how hard things may seem.
  • You will be happy being a fish veterinarian because it is what you were put on this earth to do.
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