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20 Questions: Jean Rabinowitz, DVM

Dr. Jean Rabinowitz studied history at University of California, Berkeley, and went on to attend Yale University, where she earned a masters in history with a focus on late antiquity and medieval European history. She left Yale all but dissertated, having found the process was no longer satisfactory, and she moved on to another passion.
Rabinowitz decided to go back and do what, since she was a teenager, was what she thought she would do in the long run—attend veterinary school and become a veterinarian. Due to her prior college focus, Rabinowitz had to first go back and take the coursework equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in biology, which she did in three years at University of California Davis.

While Rabinowitz says it typically takes three to five tries to get into veterinary school, she was fortunate enough to be accepted to three of her choices on her first try, those three being North Carolina State University; the University of Minnesota; and UC Davis. Rabinowitz decided to continue at UC Davis in the town she grew up in.
After graduating UC Davis veterinary school, Dr. Rabinowitz has worked in various area private practices, mainly focusing on emergency critical care and GP. She is currently working part time at Abel Pet Clinic, Inc.
When did you first decide to become a veterinarian? Why?
As a younger kid, I liked animals and was interested in animal behavior. When I was really young, my goal in life was to talk to animals. I swore if I tried hard enough, I would understand what they were saying. By college, I was much more interested in social problems, more interested than in dry science.
By grad school, I was circling back to the desire to go to veterinary school. It was a perfect fit, as I felt a need to be more useful than I would be as an academic in history. I was looking for something not just intellectual, but also hands on, physical, tactile, active. I was interested in how the body worked, but not so interested in medical school. I also liked the problem solving involved in veterinary medicine, the intellectual challenge of it, and the drama of doing something that seemed to have real consequences. No one dies in medieval history.
Plus, I love animals. I was always the person who was crossing the street to make sure I would bump into the person walking their dog. Now, being someone who, every 20 to 30 minutes, can walk into a room and have a new pet to snuggle with, is pretty much heaven.
How/why did you choose the school you went to?
Partly because it was in my hometown, but it is also considered to be one of the very best in the country.
What surprised you the most about veterinary school?
How socially entwined the students were with each other. An as introvert and someone a little older, the amount of socializing they did with each other surprised me.
I was also disappointed that so much of the teaching was dependent upon recycling old exams, memorizing instead of thinking, etc.
Do you have a specialty, and if so, what? If you don’t, why?
Only about five percent of veterinarians go on to be board certified in a specialty, although the tide is shifting more and more to specialty work these days.
I’ve been tempted by it, but being older as a veterinary student, by the time I was done with school I was very ready to be the doctor and not be the student anymore. Also, when you become a specialist, you often end up doing the same thing over and over. I really like variety and being surprised by what’s coming in.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a veterinarian? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Yes. I love almost everything about what I get to do as a veterinarian. There’s tremendous satisfaction in it. I also find that I have a knack for a lot of it—more than I ever expected I would.
My relationships with my clients are very satisfying. When people come in asking for help with their beloved family members, a lot of times you see the very best come out of them. There’s something very intimate about it.
Has being a veterinarian met your expectations?
Yes. It has exceeded them. It’s an intellectual challenge, and my gravitating toward emergency work has helped maintain that intellectual challenge.
What do you like most and least about being a veterinarian?
The fact that so much of what I can do depends on people’s financial priorities and capabilities can be frustrating. There is also such a vast range in the quality of care available, and there isn’t the level of professionalism and consistency that I would like to see, which disappoints me.
I like feeling like I made an undeniable difference and knowing that I truly saved a life that would not have been saved otherwise. I also like solving the puzzle. I enjoy the challenges of emergency work, and I enjoy the relationships with clients via GP work.
Describe a typical day at work.
I strive for a job where there is no typical. That being said:
Start with rounds from doctor who received cases (anywhere between 1 and 15), including cage-side discussion of each case, history, presenting complaint, results of diagnostics, treatment plan, and expectation where things are going. Finances are also discussed.
Then I try to find time to do my own physical exam on each patient, contact owners to give status and confirm treatment plans, and work up discharge instructions for any patients going home. I also may change orders, order diagnostics, etc.
In emergency, I’m also seeing whatever is walking through the door, which could be a dog or cat in critical or crashing condition that’s brought directly into the back and worked on immediately, in which case I may have only a brief encounter with the owner. There are also the peace of mind visits, such as a first seizure, reverse sneeze, or even a clump of litter stuck to a cat’s foot (true story). These peace of mind visits usually take more time than anything.
I’m always surprised at how much time I spend sitting at a desk writing records, corresponding with the referring veterinarian, and detailing all emergency work.
My day also may involve taking cases to surgery, referring to specialists, and helping owners make decisions about surgery, euthanasia, etc.
Lastly, I transfer any cases still in the hospital to the doctor coming on.
Do you work with mid-level providers, and if so, what kind(s)?
There are two kinds. Technicians have their hands on patients the most – Registered Veterinary Technicians are allowed to induce anesthesia, place external stitches, place casts and bandages; non registered animal veterinary assistants can do anything up to that.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
When I was full time in private practice, I worked 50 to 60 hours a week (four shifts a week) and in emergency I worked 40 to 50 hours a week in three shifts. When I work overnights, I don’t sleep, but when I work days, I like to get eight hours of sleep. When I was full time, I got two weeks of vacation per year.
Are you satisfied with your income?
In general, no. For our level of education and the hours we work, veterinarians are compensated far below what a job outside this profession would get.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
No loans—I paid my way as I went. I don’t own a home, but I don’t have student loans to pay back, either.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Ten years ago I was halfway through vet school, and I would say, “Make sure you get a contract before you start working anywhere.”
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were a pre- vet?
I’m glad I did it the way I did. I consider myself one of the lucky few in that I was able to fill my mind with new things for years and years and pursue so many areas of education. I’m a better doctor because I’m more mature and have wider experience and have cultivated my intellect in a wider array of fields.
On the flip side, I might have benefited from more experience in the workplace, in addition to my experience in the classroom. Veterinary medicine is a team endeavor, and the efficacy of the doctor depends on both the good will and the work ethic of the rest of the staff. Being a successful leader of the team, cooperating well with the other doctors, and keeping the client happy can be a tricky balancing act. The unwritten rules and culture of the workplace are far more complicated than the simple and clear requirements for success in the academy.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in veterinarian medicine today?
The misperception on the part of the public about how much the practice of veterinary medicine truly costs. Most people don’t pay their medical bills themselves, so they don’t realize how much things really cost. To get the kind of care that’s possible and that people want for their pets comes with a high price, but a lot of people don’t want to have to pay for it. They perceive providers as greedy because they need to charge appropriately to keep the doors open. But we (the providers) make a lot of hard decisions and sacrifice our personal life and personal finances to not do things that make us too sad (as in euthanize pets that we could fix).
Where do you see veterinary medicine in 10 years?
I have grave concerns about veterinary medicine in 10 years. There is a shift away from the locally, individually owned small practice, with longstanding relationships with the clientele and community, toward hospital ownership by large regional and national corporate entities. These corporations have the advantage of operating with an economy of scale, and strong management demanding a standard quality of care efficiency. On the other hand, I fear that when hospitals are ultimately accountable to the shareholders, hospitals and doctors will be responsive less to the community than to the financial concerns of the corporation. I believe that in veterinary medicine, like the human health services, the need to be financially stable must be balanced with the responsibility to be advocates for the health and welfare of our patients.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I am the president and founder of 4 R Friends, a non profit that provides lifesaving emergency care to sick and injured pets that would otherwise be euthanized, or are relinquished by owners or shelters. We also provide community outreach to cultivate responsible pet ownership. I’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been a veterinarian, paying for it on my own and doing it on my own time. Clients started offering donations to the cause, and eventually the non profit was created.
What’s your favorite TV show?
I don’t own a TV, but I do like medical and crime shows. Right now, my favorites are Castle and the American remake of Wilfred. I love its unsentimental look at a dog.
How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
I like to make things, garden, sew and quilt, refinish and refurbish furniture, cook and bake. I like learning new skills, so I try to find new a craft or skill set every couple of years and immerse myself completely. Right now I’m looking into photography classes.

4 thoughts on “20 Questions: Jean Rabinowitz, DVM”

  1. The University of North Carolina does not have a veterinary school. It is at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Sadly, this interview barely touches the poor financial returns on an investment in veterinary medicine. Dr Rabinowitz seems to be like many matriculating into our veterinary schools more interested in pursuing veterinary medicine as a personal passion than as a lifetime career that will allow you to provide for yourself.

  2. Dear Editor,
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does NOT have a veterinary school. It is the North Carolina State University at Raleigh, NC that has a veterinary school.
    Thank you.

  3. Dr. Rabinowitz is by far the very best, compassionate, down-to-earth veterinarian/person that I have ever come across. I was very fortunate to have found someone like her to treat my ailing best friend Dallas. Amazingly kind and understanding as a doctor and a woman. I thoroughly appreciate all that she did for me. As well, as continues to do for the community with which she works. Thank heavens for people such as Dr. Rabinowitz!!

  4. I can certainly identify with the issues of educational investment vs. financial compensation. I’ve even been told that my profession (physical anthropology/archaeology) is an “avocation, rather than a vocation”. However, these are issues that are better brought in for discussion about Union representation and the AVMA. Being “passionate” about your occupation is not part of our economic language and I hardly see how it can make anyone less qualified or desirable for any career. I enjoyed this article. Partly because it brought an awareness of some of the conditions and changes in veterinary medicine practices that I, as a consumer, rather than provider should and will consider but also because it shared the balance of the personal and professional passion of someone who could be caring for my loved ones. My expenses and donations will go into the pocket of passionate over disgruntled every time.

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