Veterinarian Q&AVeterinary Medicine

20 Questions: Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM, opened Paws & Claws Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas in 1991. Messonnier received a bachelor’s degree in animal science (cum laude) from Texas A&M (1983), as well as a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science from the same institution (1985). Messonnier received his doctor of veterinary medicine from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine (1987).
Dr. Messonnier has written for numerous veterinary and pet publications including Animal Wellness, Dog Fancy, Cat FancyDog WorldFido Friendly, Whole Dog Journal, and Whole Cat Journal. In addition, he is the author of several books, including The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & CatsThe Allergy Solution for DogsThe Arthritis Solution for Dogs & CatsThe Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs8 Weeks to a Healthy DogUnexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for PetsBe Your Own Boss, Starting Your Veterinary PracticeMarketing Your Veterinary Practice, Volumes I and IIExotic Pets: A Veterinary Guide for OwnersCommon Reptile Diseases and TreatmentThe Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Arthritis in Dogs & Cats; and Nutritional Supplements for the Veterinary Practice. Dr. Messonnier is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Texas Veterinary Medical Association.
When did you first decide to become a veterinarian?
I decided to become a veterinarian in junior high, because I always enjoyed science and loved animals.
How/why did you choose the veterinary school you attended?
I’m a Texas resident, so that was really my only choice. I’m glad I made it though, because I loved my time at Texas A&M. It’s a great veterinary school.
What surprised you the most about your veterinary studies?
I found my veterinary studies to be easier than I expected, but I had studied veterinary books and journals prior to getting into veterinary school, and I had worked in both human and veterinary medicine, so veterinary school for me was more of a review than totally new information.
Did you choose to specialize? If so, in what and why (or why not)?
I’m technically not a specialist, but I have special expertise in exotic pets, as well as holistic and naturopathic medicine. There are no board certified specialists in these fields, but those of us who are experts in these fields are often thought of as “non-official” specialists. I also focus on dermatology, cancer, and internal medicine.
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, if I started when I started many years ago. I’m not sure now, due to so many new challenges in the field, and I’m not sure the schools prepare the students for the new marketplace they face—things like dealing with the internet, pharmacies, and various business issues.
Has being a veterinarian met your expectations? Why?
Yes. I get to be my own boss, do my own thing, and make a nice living doing something I really enjoy–helping save the lives of pets when other doctors can’t and making owners happy and fulfilled.
What do you like most about being a veterinarian? Explain.
I most enjoy making a positive difference in the lives of pets and their people.
What do you like least about being a veterinarian? Explain.
It’s not so much about being a veterinarian, but since I’m self employed, I don’t like dealing with the business side, which is challenging and at times depressing. Things like various regulations, employee issues, etc.
Describe a typical day at work—walk readers through a day in your shoes.
As a holistic veterinarian, I only see one to two patients per hour, so I can take more time with them and help them get healthy. I see medical cases (sick pets), healthy pets interested in a holistic health care program, and surgical cases (dental cleanings, tumor removals, etc.). I start my work day at 8:30 a.m. and finish at 5:30 p.m., with a day full of seeing patients, phone consults, and writing books/articles.
On average: How many hours a week do you work?
At my practice, I work about 30 hours per week. Writing/speaking/consulting adds up to another 10 to 20 per week, but as my own boss I’m always doing something work related.
How many hours do you sleep per night?
I sleep about six to eight hours per night, but I think I need to sleep more.
How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I take all major holidays off and another two weeks or so per year. I wish I could take much more, but being self employed that won’t happen.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
Yes I have a family. I make a point of making family time, but I always wish I had more time.
How do you balance work and life outside of work?
It’s not always easy, but I make time for family, friends, and fun. I play golf, perform magic, and I am in two bands, all of which helps keep me balanced and things in perspective.
Do you feel you are adequately compensated? Explain.
Yes. Being self employed, I visited with other veterinarians to determine my pricing.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
I didn’t have any loans, but I also know this is a major problem facing our profession these days.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself back when you started your veterinary career?
I would tell myself to learn as much as possible about the business side of running a veterinary practice—how to run the business, marketing, etc.
Where do you think that business knowledge can/should be acquired?
There are books (some I’ve written), conferences, etc. But I wish more of this was covered in veterinary school.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in veterinary health care today? Explain.
Running a successful business. But also providing the best health care possible knowing many owners don’t have insurance for their pets and often put financial restrictions on doing everything possible for the patient.
Where do you see veterinary health care in five years?
I see the future of veterinary medicine as more focused on services, less on products…hopefully more focus on natural care such as supplements.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I am involved in music ministry at my church, but I do hope to do more when I retire.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a veterinary career?
My final piece of advice is to find a good mentor and learn as much as possible about veterinary medicine.