20 Questions: Candace A. Sousa, DVM



Candace A. Sousa, DVM, is a senior veterinary specialist (dermatology) with the Veterinary Specialty Team at Pfizer Animal Health’s Companion Animal Division. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physiology in 1973, followed by her doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) in 1977, and served her residency in dermatology and allergy in 1983, all at University of California, Davis (UCD).
Prior to her work at Pfizer Animal Health, which she joined in 2003, Dr. Sousa was the owner of a small animal practice in Sacramento, California. Her prior work also includes maintaining a private dermatology referral practice and working as a consultant for a large commercial laboratory. She currently maintains an appointment as a clinical professor in the department of medicine and epidemiology at UCD and as an adjunct assistant professor at Washington State University. She received the American College of Veterinary Dermatology Award for Excellence in 2008, and she has been published in numerous publications, including the American Journal of Veterinary Research, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc., Journal of the American Animal Hospital Assoc., Journal of the California Veterinary Medical Assoc., Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Veterinary Dermatology, Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary International, Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Journal of Small Animal Dermatology, and Manual of Canine and Feline Dermatology.
When did you first decide to become a veterinarian? Why?
My extended family had dairy farms in the Marin County area and we would visit there often. I loved the animals, especially the calves, the thought of caring for them as they gave us milk and meat, and everything about this. I also had a very inquisitive mind and liked science in school. This seemed like a good fit. When I was 12, my dog injured a pet parakeet and I felt helpless when I couldn’t do anything and the bird died, so from that point on I focused on a career in veterinary medicine.
How/why did you choose the veterinary school you went to?
I was born and raised in California and UCD had the only in-state veterinary school so that was my only choice. You had to apply in state back then (1973) and it was the only vet school in California.
What surprised you the most about veterinary school?
Nothing. It was challenging but what I expected. The challenge was the volume of work all day every day with no time off. Between classes, labs and studying, it was all about time management.
Why did you choose to specialize (or not to)?
After a short time in private practice, I realized that I wanted to know more about a narrow area of medicine – that is, dermatology. I was intrigued by immunology, and patients with dermatologic conditions had a disease I could see and touch. It’s also the most common reason that pet owners present their animals to a veterinarian, so there is obviously a demand and quality of life for both the owners and animals is a big issue.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
Finding a job as a private practitioner or a dermatologist has never been an issue. I owned a small animal practice at one time as well as acting as an employee, an independent contractor, doing general medicine as well as dermatology referral practice, teaching at the University doing a sabbatical replacement, working as a consultant for a diagnostic laboratory, and now for a pharmaceutical company where I teach other veterinarians how to do a better job with dermatology. I’ve also written articles for journals and books, done clinical research and lectured and taught globally.
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. The degree allows me to choose a wide variety of jobs. I don’t know what else I would have done, but it probably would have been something in the field of science.
Has being a veterinarian met your expectations? Why?
Yes. I have felt educationally fulfilled, have been able to work for myself, help animals and their owners, made a good living and still had time to parent and be involved with family.
What do you like most about being a veterinarian?
Initially I liked being able to provide services to animals and clients, and form relationships with pet owners and have one on one interactions. Now I can bring education to vets to help them in their relationships with their patients. I like knowing what I do makes a difference in the welfare and health of animals and helping in the bigger picture in caring for companion animals.
What do you like least about being a veterinarian?
The fact that I’m not financially compensated to the extent of my education. Back then the debt load was low, but now students can have $200k in debt by the time they are vets. Starting salary for vets versus a lawyer or physician is low, but the debt load is comparable. It can be like charity work. You need to consider earning a living, because this is an investment in a lifestyle. You might think a degree equals a job, but that’s also not the case. You still have to go get a job when you graduate.
Also running a business was not what I really wanted to do. Running a business has nothing to do with being a vet—you have to take care of staff, office space, bills, etc. I sold my practice.
Lastly, having to answer questions at parties, on airplanes, via email, etc. about peoples’ pets problems without being able to see the pet or actually treat them can be frustrating.
Describe a typical day at work.
Currently it’s traveling to another city and visiting a veterinary clinic where we discuss how to do dermatology in the private practice setting, visit with a few cases where I can teach the veterinarians and technicians diagnostic techniques and then end the day with an evening dinner lecture. I travel based on the requests of the field force, so it can be anywhere in the U.S. When I travel, it’s usually out Monday and back Thursday, so three nights out. But it’s not every week. In a 52-week year, it’s about three vacation weeks, two to three weeks for meetings, about 21 weeks for field work, one week for continuing education, and for the rest I work from home doing webinars, etc.
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?
I work 60 hours a week, sleep seven hours a night, and take three weeks of vacation. That’s all changed because of the Internet—work hours have increased. It’s harder to turn off work now. The time I spend working is as much as a practice owner might.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work & life outside of work?
I have two daughters, two grandchildren, a husband and extended family (sisters, nieces and nephews, parents, etc.). For the most part, I can find enough time to satisfy all of their needs along with my own. It takes discipline to prioritize and still find time for myself. No one gives work life balance, you have to make it for yourself. The world will go on, so you need to prioritize
Are you satisfied with your income? Why or why not?
Currently, yes. There have been times when I felt undercompensated for four years of college, a four-year veterinary degree, three years of post-graduate training, two board certifications, publications, and many years of practice and business experience. This is a cash basis career, so it’s a challenge to be compensated what you’re worth.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I was able to finish veterinary school without any substantial debt.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your veterinary career?
You’ll be very satisfied but have to work very hard as a businessperson.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were pre veterinary school?
Technicians get to do many of the fun things with the animals, and as a veterinarian I have to sell a lot of services and manage communication. Techs have more flexibility and less responsibility–it’s a nice job.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in veterinary medicine today?
Services are becoming very specialized and many small animal practices are being run by corporations, so that the cost to pet owners is increasing to the point where many can’t afford care.
Where do you see veterinary medicine in 10 years?
Small drop-in, well pet care clinics, with a few centers for more extensive diagnostics and therapies.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I occasionally lecture to elementary school groups and the Girls Scouts. I used to give tours of my practice and talk to the kids about the veterinary profession in general.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing veterinary medicine as a career?
Most students think only of small animal work. This degree opens up many other avenues than companion animal veterinary services. You can be a consultant, work in pharmacy, etc. It’s a flexible degree, so don’t go into it with only one vision. The opportunities are endless.