Kim Kendall

Kim Kendall Interview

“Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.” ~ Anonymous

DIEDERIK: I’m here in the country today with Dr. Kim Kendall. Hi Kim.

Kim: Hi,

DIEDERIK: Thanks for taking the time to join us today. So, you’re a very successful veterinarian, and I just wanted to ask you some questions about success.

So the first thing is what ignited your passion to become a vet, and at what age?

Kim: Well it happened when I was about seven, and I started saying that I was either going to be vet, a teacher or air hostess.

So, I got too fat to be air hostess and too tall, because back in those days, it was all small airplanes. And, I realized at school that if I was a school teacher, I was going to have to kill all the other kids. So that left me with being a vet.

So over the following many years, when people said what do you want to be, I said I want to be a vet. And I said, “Well, I’ll take this course.” And I did that, and I passed. And then, one day I was 25 and I was a vet. And then I knew I didn’t know what the plan was, and I figured I had to wing it from there.

DIEDERIK: Okay. And you went into what I call an ‘Alternative Career Path’, a feline and behaviour career path. So, why did you that? When did you that? How did you do that?

Kim: Well I was actually wanting to be a Goat vet so I guess I always had a view of where I wanted to go. Actually I wanted to be an elephant vet, but I wanted to be an elephant vet in Balmain in Sidney, and I couldn’t make that business plan work. I decided, I liked goats, so John and I moved to England because I figured that the intensive care of sheep there was very close to goat practice in Australia. And, while I was there, I did actually work with sheep, I worked with a shepherd and then I worked with a vet in general practice.

So in about 1985, I realized that cats were underrepresented in medicine. Basically, a sick cat was a dead cat. So then I started to try and find out what was really going on with the cats, and there was a practice based in Bristol called the Feline Advisory Bureau, and they had interns there who knew about cats. So, I used to call them up and find out about these individual cats. And the more you know the better. The other people in my practice would send me the cats, and so you get to know more and more about less and less basically.

Then I heard about feline only practices in America, so I went to work in America and learned more there. And then in 1992, John and I drove a 1966 Buick from Cape Cod to L.A. and visited a lot of feline practices on the way.

So during that trip, the East Chatswood Cat Clinic was born. And so, in 1994, we set that up. And, a lot of people thought I was nuts to have a cat only clinic in Sydney. They said it’ll never work. Well, I’m here now for 22 years. 

DIEDERIK: So what didn’t they teach you at vet school that retrospectively, now you know is absolutely crucial to your success as a veterinarian, and where can other people learn about that?

Kim: What they didn’t tell me was that every animal came attached to an owner, including wildlife, the government owns wildlife. And when we went to Africa—because we went there for six month of work—that’s where I really learned that there was no point in saving an antelope because then the lion or the leopard missed out on its dinner. So you start to understand about the ecology of communities and wildlife and so forth.

The other thing I learned in Zimbabwe was the robustness of the organism; I think we forget that now. That, if you just push the animal a little bit along the way to health, they can take over and get better. If you’re working with the animal to get better with, say, with things like trauma or diseases that we have drugs for, then you only have to push them on their way and they will work with you.

Unfortunately, we also see the situation when you’re working against the animal. And that seems like cancer and many new diseases. And then the push is really up hill.

So, I wish that I had understood how tough the animals are. I mean I was told at the University to take the credit for those successes and blame the failures on the animal, but I think I didn’t truly appreciate how good biology is at getting to the goal of life.

DIEDERIK: And another vet school question. What they did teach you at vet school, which in the real world of veterinary practice is wrong, is incorrect?

Kim: They taught us to chase the zebras instead of to look for the horses and look after the horses well.

DIEDERIK: I understand.

Kim: And it took a long time…Before I wasn’t looking for Cushing’s Disease in every dog and cats that were drinking too much.

I think the other thing was that—I don’t know if it was for good or for bad, or right or wrong—but, understanding that your normal of other people’s animals is much more difficult than you imagine. I had a lot of staff who were terribly disappointed that the animals in the clinic or in boarding did not treat them like their own animals did. They didn’t give them a break. And I think you have to handle a thousand normal animals in order to understand what normal is, from each of the species, and that’s very difficult to deal with.

If you understand that it’s going to take time until you can be excellent once you’ve graduated, I think that would take a lot the pressure off the new graduate. I mean they know they’re going to need to be helped, but it’s this great divide between competence and excellence, and I subscribe to the 10,000 hours of excellence theory. And I think if that was promoted a bit more, it would take off the pressure, then you could think about your errors and your successes as part of the learning process, part of the acquisition of something that can’t be downloaded. No one can teach you excellence. That’s a motor skill and a mental skill.

That would take a lot of pressure off to know that you can’t have the answers standing in front of the animal in the first five minutes. You just can’t.

DIEDERIK: Yeah, that 10,000 hours, that’s just been proven again and again in studies, hasn’t it? It’s very relevant.

Moving on to new graduates, you alluded to that a second ago. Based on your experience, again, what are the three things that a new graduate must do immediately to turbocharge their veterinary career?

Kim: Understanding how the nurses are trying to help you. And I think these days, the universities are trying to do a bit more of that. They’re installing the early students in with vet nurses to make them follow them around and to find out what they do and to appreciate the background work that they do. Because a nurse will make or break you in your first year. They’ll cover for you or support you or whatever and you’re going to feel a lot better about what you’re doing then. You can put them off-side and make them feel unwelcome and inadequate, when really, the vet nurses’ going to be so more experienced than you in just the mechanics.

So learning to get the nurses on their side, and it might only take chocolate cake.

A lot of practices are now doing dentals. So I think you probably have to know your way around teeth and a dental machine.

And the other is—I don’t know if you can have it before you graduate—but what I’ve discovered is animals don’t read the textbooks, so are you going to have to understand that the first few animals you see haven’t read the textbooks and they’re not going to present with the classic symptoms. So, you’re going to have to be in there asking…. So if you understood what you didn’t know, you could ask for help; and so I would ask for help when the animal hasn’t read the textbook.

DIEDERIK: And the flipside of that coin, what are the three things that a new graduate must avoid, or avoid doing, to turbocharge their career?

Kim: Well, they talk about the problem for vets being going home and ruminating. You have to stop vets from ruminating. And I think with a new graduate, the technique of writing down your concerns probably before you leave the practice, so that you aren’t going over and over and worrying about whether you remember them and what you’ll be able to do about them the next day, because you must have some mental down-time. That would be very value, I think. That would the number one way to be able to approach it more robustly.

DIEDERIK: If you were starting all over again, would you, in fact, be a vet?

Kim: I wanted to be a vet or a commercial pilot. I did my private pilot’s license when I was in my 30s and I realized once I got it that I was going to have to start at the bottom of the pile, and there’s no two ways about it. That’s the only thing a new graduate should understand, is that you are going to start at the bottom of the pile. You’re an expensive asset, and it’s going to take some time before you can reach breakeven. And it’s the same with commercial pilots, they wash airplanes in exchange for hours in the air as commander number one so that they can build up those hours. And they have a minimum number of hours they have to build up. I mean why don’t we have the same? If vets have a process, just like pilots have, the point at which you are safe to be let loose on the public. it requires that you’ll be supervised or doing something else for hours, and it’s just part of the process.

So, I wanted to be a commercial pilot, but I have never regretted being a vet—well I did once. At one point, I wanted to be an Accountant, but that’s another story.

DIEDERIK: What were three major challenges that you faced in your career?

Kim: I’ve always had too many options. It’s one of the things that has been difficult. My husband has an English passport, so we could work there. I have an American Passport so we can work there, we can work in Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia, and in some way, that was too many choices. It would have been nice to have a narrower path, because choice can confuse you and consume your productivity because you think too much: “Should I do this? Should I do that?” In fact, you eventually have to decide on what you’re going to do and go for it, and that’s where you have to put your energy. It’s alright to be a bit defocused for a couple of years, but you really do need to decide on a path and go for it, and then you can start to get some consolidation.

So, the challenges were…. well, my husband tagged along. He was quite prepared to tag along, and when I got bored, we changed countries. Not, just jobs, but we changed countries, in order to pursue what I was doing. He said the only place he wouldn’t live was America. Well, it took about three years, and then we were there.

I think you have a choice, I think either your partner accommodates what you do, and with respect to the veterinary side …the other thing you need to understand is that it’s not well paid; I think what phases people. And for us to inflate our value to society above that, is creating unrealistic expectations.

I think it’s really important to understand when is enough, and what does a good life look like or a worthwhile veterinary life.

So, my partner was prepared to follow with my dreams even though it meant three months living on baked potatoes and cheese in England. We got pretty skinny; when there’s no money around, you don’t get fat.

If you’re going to go for earning potential, then I think you may have to assess what your partner’s going to do, and if you’re going to… I can’t answer about how you make your decision when you got children, and I can’t make the decision about which partner should be the main bread winner. But, sometimes, it comes down to economics and not passion. We were very fortunate that we could do both, because John’s a builder, he’s acceptable anywhere in the world, and he always earned 25% more than I did, anywhere in the world. I knew my value; it was 25% of the trades. 

DIEDERIK: If you had a son or a daughter, and they were about to start on a veterinary career, what are 3, 4, 5 things will you advise them?

Kim: Well, one of the things that I’m telling people who tell me they want to be vets is to spend a year as a vet nurse, in a decent practice. Whether you do the vet nursing degree or not, diploma or not, it doesn’t matter, not in Australia. The situation has been the same in America for a long time. A lot of people do the two-year vet tech degree, work as a vet nurse and earn some money, get some more experience, and then go to vet school. And what does that is prepare you for normal and for communication with clients.

In these days, since you can have a career that goes from 25-75, you don’t have to be in a rush to do that vet degree and get out and work, because you need to manage those 1000 animals. And if you’re a vet nurse, you are not responsible for them. There’s a huge difference between being able to help them and being responsible for the outcome. And I think, if you get the experience and you know what normal is, you know what a broken leg looks like, you know what questions to ask people, and I think that all comes from veterinary nursing rather than from the veterinary course as such or even from whilst you’re working as a vet. You could get too caught up in solving the problem to develop those really good skills.

And the new DVM at Sydney Uni now, they have these three years when you do, essentially, a vet tech course. I think they need to start more toward small animals, and then take a gap year and work as a vet nurse. And I think once that system gets established, then those people who worked as vet nurses in that gap year are going to do much better once they hit the vet course.

DIEDERIK: What does success look like to you?

Kim: Success, to me and to a lot of CEOs of big companies, is about…they talk about work-life balance. Well, I work 100% of the time. What’s balance? I enjoy my job. However, in order to sustain relationships and so forth, you need time away. John works with me in the practice quite often, it’s not ideal, but at least we enjoy each other’s company 24/7.

So, success to me is not finding the vet work too challenging. So I’ve seen normal presentation of the common diseases, I’ve seen uncommon presentations of common diseases, I’ve even seen the uncommon diseases presented as uncommon diseases. And then, you get the uncommon one presenting as common, and those are really the specialist ones. So I reckon that accepting and doing 85% of your vet work really well, that’s success on the professional part, and it should lead to success on a business part, and, if you can blend that with however much social life you need… John and I, when we travelled in the early days, we used to work for three weeks, and holiday for six weeks. So we did most of the holiday things that other people do once they’re older. So, I think we’ve got our life the right way around because I wouldn’t want to be cycling around Europe now in the cold and with a bad knee at my age.

So, success to me…we sat down and wrote a business plan about our life. People write business plans for their businesses, but when you’re a microbusiness, that’s going to include your partner and kids, etc. And, we decided what kind of unit we wanted to live in, what kind of car we wanted to drive, and I decided that I wanted to ride horses on my days off. So, those were the three things, and for a five-year plan, well we achieved that within three years because we had a goal and we focused. I think one of the things that terrifies people is an impoverished retirement, and how you manage to alleviate that concern. We managed to alleviate it, and as I said, I married a builder. I get free kitchen and bathroom renovation! That work and my career created the platform for our retirements; what I believe will be a successful retirement when finally get there.

DIEDERIK: What are your biggest success?

Kim: I have to say, marrying my stalker. Marrying my stalker, the builder. That was a pretty big success. And, well the other thing…not everyone can do it because they’ve be swamped, but I always go up to lecturers afterwards with questions. …I mean my hair is my trademark, so I’ve used that to get into various places with some very high up people, and you’d be surprised at how accommodating they are.

I find that the top of a profession, these people will help you. You would think that they were unreachable, but they’re actually not. And those have kick started me in directions that were a bit unexpected, and have provided the major success that I’ve had. It was just talking to people that you think know better than you do…talking to the top of the line, basically so that you get quality information.

But, the other thing is keeping an eye on the background economics and how the world is working. You certainly don’t have / want a business in a vacuum, and you always need backup and plan B or plan C, D, and down to Z, and then you start getting AA, BB, CC. if you do those sorts of things, then you can usually come out of problems ahead. So I think it’s about keeping a background eye on the economics as well. How you do that is to talk to people like yourself, who put together sensible information on where the vetting world is going. Our degree is so broad, you can learn to do anything with it. I did my commercial pilot’s license. If I’d decided to do it when I was 25, I might well have ended up as a commercial pilot. But, you can’t know everything so you have to talk to the people whose job it is to put together the basic platform.

DIEDERIK: What have you found are the best strategies for keeping yourself focused and motivated, aside from riding horses?

Kim: Well, riding horses kept me sane for a long time. That was all I need to do…

DIEDERIK: You pre-empted one of my later questions… What’s kept you sane?

Kim: Eventually it became…. I eventually hit the wall. What was the original question?

DIEDERIK: What did you find to be the best strategies to get you motivated and focused?

Kim: Continuing education. I have an insatiable curiosity. It’s just insatiable. If I see something interesting, then I want to understand it. And, I’m really disappointed these days that so much is now down to opinion instead of fact. One of the things I wished I found out about earlier was evidence-based medicine. It’s a bit depressing because there’s almost no evidence-based medicine now in veterinary science because doing the experiments is too expensive, especially with horses.

How you can have massive dollars for an experiment in a drug. You can’t do it. No one can afford that. So it’s all clinical, and then you have to have the vets who are prepared to engage with the clinical evaluation process, and vets tend to get busy one way or another to help out. So, I think the next generation’s going to have a huge headache and will need to start with evidence-based medicine.

And so, my curiosity has kept me motivated. Why is it so? Who said it was so? And one of the recent things I’ve now gone on to is cat pee. I’m going to be the pee queen of the world. But, it turns out that most of the parameters for cat urine were established on about 12 cats back in 1956, and I think that has put an enormous disparity into the observations on cats and their kittens. Because cat pee is really important, but the pee parameters were done back in 1956. That’s just not good enough.

So, at my own expense and for my own interest, I’m finding out whether the experiments done then…because we’ve got a much better equipment now. We’ve got mass spectrometers, etc., let’s see what we can find. But that, to me…that’s my passion, is the curiosity of why.

DIEDERIK: If you have the chance to do it all again, would you do anything differently? And, what would you do differently if you do?

Kim: What I’d do differently is understand and address the process of the onset of depression in vets. 100% of vets will go through some form of major stress, that sounds completely irrelevant to veterinary science, but it’s such a drag on your relationships, on your curiosity, on the things that make you want to get up and go do stuff, including going to work, and I thought it was me that was problem, but it’s not. It’s a chemical imbalance, and it’s set up by the way we approach the things that are out of our control.

So, if I had understood this better and as I approached 40; and I think for women 40 is a shedding point. I know quite a few female vets who wanted to get out of vet practice at about 40, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think something’s happening then.

And if I had address my depression earlier—and I was lucky because I didn’t actually hit the wall and ended up immobilize by it. I was inconvenienced by it, but I was not immobilized by it. And I think understanding that and understanding that it’s okay… I was really lucky because I had my builder, and when I asked him what he would do when I fell off the perch, into this depression; I really saw myself being put into a mental home for a while. He said, “No, I’m just going to build you a bigger perch,” and that’s what he did.

DIEDERIK: What do you think holds most vets back from achieving their goals?

Kim: I think Sam Bowden has a point. Vets are actually afraid of success, because if you’re successful, then for some reason—and it’s around the world—being successful seems to be the antithesis of what vets want to be. I think if you understand that we are tradespeople, we are tradespeople in the companion animal arena, and most of what we do; we are supporting someone else’s passion. That’s what you’re doing. It’s the same as somebody who sells hobby kits, who fixes MG cars. I would never get into spending large dollars on a handmade piece of jewellery, but other people, that’s their hobby, collecting that Faberge Eggs, whatever.

So if you understand that vets are supporting someone else’s passion, and don’t blame the owners for not being as passionate about their pet as you are. You have to live a long time to get to that point where you understand that a perfect life is not necessary and it’s not achievable. Take that weight off yourself and just say, “Yes, I’m a trades man. I’m not competing with the heart transplant people.”

There are some people who know there are specialists and take their dogs do get heart transplants or whatever and there are lots of dog which get taken to Westmead Hospital. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and there’s no need to look at that from where you are. If you make most of the animals that you see, comfortable in tradesman like fashion; there’s good tradesmen and bad tradesmen. And, take the pressure off perfection and the disappointment of not being able to do more, I think you can create a balanced perspective for yourself and a better life for pets.

The vets who work with production animals, they are making a difference to humans in the community. One of the things that human behaviour studies came to understand was that evolution requires that each species makes the most effort for their own species to improve their niche and to improve the numbers of their own species. We’re all programmed to do that, from mosquitos to elephants to people to whales—whatever. People often get in the way. That’s the problem for the other species. But humans will always support humans. You look at that across the board, and if there’s a choice between an animal and a human, whether the animal is of greater evolutionary importance than the person, that doesn’t matter, people support people.

Vets are kind of an interesting subset in that they’re trying to improve things, in counterproductive ways sometimes, they’re trying to improve the ecology of other species, and that simply doesn’t go…that’s running against evolution. It would be much more understandable for us as vets to understand the power of the human is just driven by this evolutionary need to take over the universe, and we’re just the most successful one right now. That’s all it is.

Again, you think global and act local. I do the best that I can for the animals under my care, and I can make a difference to the community, then that’s going to be more emotionally and mentally stabilizing for me.

DIEDERIK: Do you think luck or tragedy has played a part of your success on your career?

Kim: I have been incredibly lucky from birth. I was born to people who were curious, who were bright and supported my drive to be a vet. I wanted to be a vet in days when women shouldn’t be vets. I was told that by one vet, and that just kicked me on. And I said, “Well, no one’s going to tell me that I can’t be a vet.”

And, they invested in my future by giving me a good education so that I could keep achieving these goals. “I want to be a vet. Well, this is what you have to do, and you have to do more or less of that.”

I mean I wouldn’t be allowed to be vet today. I didn’t do well in the HSC, but I’m still a vet. So I know that vet schools are up against is a big problem in terms of how they select people for the course. But I’ve just been lucky all the way. I haven’t had any major… as I said, I married my stalker. He found me and we got married and he followed me around the world. He literally pulled me out of a car out of a river in the Masai Mara when there were Elephants eyeing us off because we were stuck in the river, and he lifted it, this little Suzuki, and lifted the front up and he jumped it out. There’s always been a hero there for me when the going got tough.

I’m just lucky, really lucky.

DIEDERIK: If you were helping someone else, what two or three pitfall should they avoid that you haven’t mentioned up to now?

Kim: Being aware of the toxic effects of other people. It’s very easy to get drawn into other people’s toxicity, and, I don’t know how you learn that skill.

I’ve employed three pathological liars, and that was very hard to understand and to manage because mostly…common sense says that most people are doing what they can in a helpful way, well there are people who are not. And, because they believe their own lies, you can get very caught up with them. I got through it twice, but it took three times to understand the lesson, then I could see the pathology creeping through my business.

A way to avoid pitfalls, is to ask for help. If you don’t understand what’s going on, somebody else has advice. Ask them, because back with the original, earlier comment, most people are really pleased to help, even if they’re at the top of their field, they’re quite happy to help.

DIEDERIK: That’s become a really common thing that the people that I’ve interviewed have said, “Ask people for help.” Interesting.

What’s your passion?

Kim: My passion is actually for the truth. It sounds a little bit nanny-pamby airy-fairy; I’m quite prepared to believe in alternate universes and alternate truths. But, I believe that there is an answer that will satisfy both science and emotion and the general woe. The truth is out there. if you just quietly tick away—or in some case, loudly tick away—you can find it… If I’m looking for the balance, it’s somewhere between truth and heresy and framing it so that it works for as many people as possible. Because I do believe you have to contribute to your community, and if you can do that in a truthful way, then I think that’s where my balance lies.

DIEDERIK: Thank you. I think you have a perspective on the business side of the practice, and the clinical side of practice. When did you make that differentiation?

Kim: I was working for another vet, and I’d worked for him before. His practice was failing, and by that time, I decided that I probably wanted a cat clinic. It was in about ’86-’87. So, I decided to practice on his clinic because he had a clientele and cash flow. And so, at that point, I realized that I would have to acquire business skills. My ultimate strategy was to go off and do homeopathy—that’s another story.

So, I decided to build the business. I went on a course and I found out what profit and losses things meant and what the basics of marketing are as opposed to advertising. It was a John Sheridan workshop, that’s how long ago it, because he was still lecturing and he wrote books and stuff back then.

So that gave me a good background, and then I tested out the principles on Chris Harris’ practice. And he said, “Well, you’ve got six months to turn this branch practice around.” And I turned it around in three months, in fact to the point he’d gotten investigated by the tax office because it went from being so much in debt to so much profit, that they wondered whether he’d been stealing before, and he hadn’t – he just had a different manager who lost five pence on every consult, and he was quite busy. Do the maths….

DIEDERIK: That’s an interesting business strategy, losing money…

Kim: Yes. 5p on every consult. John figured it out based on the books and stuff. So we decided. we didn’t need any more clients. I changed the structures, moved the staff around, and started to make a profit.

After six months, I asked if I could lease the practice, because that was the basis, that if I fixed it, I could lease it. And he said no. And so we stayed for a further 6 months because John was doing his Clerk Of Works. It turned out that the biggest problem, the reason he didn’t want to lease to me was because I made his staff work too hard. So, from that basis I knew that if you’re going to get a culture change, you got to do a staff change. Unless you’re one of these miracle workers who can manage change well. If you can’t manage change well, if that’s not your forte, I think getting someone who’s forte it is, or get new staff and just go through the crash and crumble, because that’s what happens when you get new staff.

I’ve had that happen twice in my own business. I’ve had all the staff leave all together twice, and I know I almost died in the aftermath because I couldn’t be the trainer, the receptionist, the vet, the caretaker, all of those—the bookkeeper, the payer. I couldn’t be all those things without something breaking.

DIEDERIK: And speaking of breaking, it leads us to the next questions very nicely, and you’ve alluded to this earlier. Our industry has a certain reputation, what kept you sane most of the time?

Kim: Well, I did say that I do horse riding once a week. I’ve been on a horse nearly every Thursday, since 1995.

That worked until I turned 40. And then I turn 40 and a number of issues came to the fore and I ended up, as I said, clinically depressed. I’m was not suicidal, but I wasn’t very effective. And with the support that I had, both with my family and my husband, and my clients even. My clients came and sat in the reception area to…at least answer the phone and saying hello while I was looking at a cat and stuff.

And from that, I gained enormous…the word is not confidence. Emotional support sounds namby-pamby, but it consolidated my faith in humanity. Ever since then, it’s been the drugs.

DIEDERIK: What’s the biggest thing that you’ve given back in the community?

Kim: Well, we homed out 5000 cats and kittens over a period of 18 years at our own expense. I got them from the welfare agencies, or from people down the road, or whatever. We vaccinated them, de-sexed them and microchipped them and counselled owners as they went out and we spent an hour with each client, or the staff would. And so I learned an enormous amount, I think there are very few variations on what I call the ‘human-kitten’ relationship that I haven’t seen or learned. And we view each of those animals as one unit of contributing to Gross National Happiness. You know, the return principle of Gross National Happiness.

I reckon that each of those kittens or cats was one unit in that. And I’ve seen those cats and kittens from cradle to grave, and that’s an interesting journey that I never expected, and I never expected to get involved in so many people’s lives, as in divorce and widowing and moving and almost…I’ve been involved in all of that, which surprised me. And then it has been surprisingly energizing. Energizing, again, isn’t the right word but, humans want to contribute to humanity and I think that’s how I contributed to humanity.

DIEDERIK: Please share three success secrets, lessons or takeaway. Just breadcrumbs.

Kim: If you want business success, you’d have to ask people about business and then manage that within your own requirements. Not everybody needs to drive a Rolls Royce. We have to support a rather expensive warmblood and for us, that is our biggest expense.

So, if you’re going to ask about business, ask business people, and then do what they say. If you’re going to pay for advice, then take it; and, don’t knock it until you try it—would be another story.

Keep up-to-date. If you’re going to stay as vet, then keep-up-to-date. Over my 30 years as a vet, there isn’t that much that’s changed in the general…in the run of the mill veterinary work, there isn’t that much that’s changed. What’s happening is that people will focus in more and more on the minor, rare things if you go to seminars and stuff. So at some point, decide that if you’re going to specialize in French Bulldogs, you’re going to have to keep up to date in French Bulldogs.

I do the ordinary things with excellence in cats, and that keeps me mentally and emotionally and financially satisfied. So, those are the two things.

And then the third thing, always, is—although I never thought family life was going to be that important—it’s nice to have someone who is there to pick you up when your car is broken down, and that’s what my husband does.

DIEDERIK: Three personal attributes or drivers to success. Not yours necessarily but for someone watching.

Kim: You do have to be able to pay a certain amount of attention to detail. However, you can’t be perfectionist.

Well I do ask for help, some of my biggest downfalls have been believing people who thought they were being helpful, and I and I can think of number of lawyers…

DIEDERIK: Web designers.

Kim: And accountants. It’s the same as for your clients, how do they know when they’ve got a good vet, and the answer is you just keep trying until you find one that fits. So you have to allow for those mistakes.

So believing and asking for help is one thing, believing in people, well, the best comment I’ve heard was Ronald Raegan, ‘trust and verify’, and that means you have to pay attention to some of the detail. You have to take the time to see whether it’s working or whether you’re being taken up the garden path. And it’s not because the person you’ve asked and came to for advice is intentionally making mistakes, but, again, they’re probably not understanding what you want.

If you’re going into business, you need to be able to pay some attention to detail, you have to, I think, probably have someone in the background…and it might just be the dog or the cat who welcomes you home and says “You had a good day? How was mine?” You have to be able to be taken out of yourself so that you can relax. You shouldn’t need to resort to alcohol for relaxation.

DIEDERIK: You said trust and verify.

Kim: If you’re going to go into business, you need to find a business manager who you can trust and who will follow the business rules.

Business rules don’t change. Vets are not in any privileged position in business; we’re just like the corner grocery and having to deal with the supermarkets. There is no difference.

DIEDERIK: Thank you for pointing that out. It’s something I keep pointing that all the time. Vets think – ‘We’re a different industry,’ well, no, we’re not.

Kim: We’re not. We absolutely rely on people’s emotional attachment to their animals. Now you can call it love, devotion, you can call it whatever you want, but it varies between owners and animals, and we are absolutely…I try not to guilt people into doing things, but there is an argument that that is what occurs. I like to present information so that owners can make and form decisions without the guilt overload. Because eventually, that will bring you down.

So, have a business manager, setup systems… we go back to systems. Systems, I think, is not the right word, but what you have to do is to know whether you’re on track or not, and if you’re not interested in business, find someone who is and then partner with them. You don’t necessarily marry them, but John is very good with business concepts and those sorts of things.

The other thing, I think, if you’re going to be successful, it comes back to the same thing, you can’t be everything to everybody despite what may people think, and you can’t be good at everything. You just can’t.

So either you accept a low standard, if you’re going to be crap business person, then accept you might not make a lot of money. That’s fine. Define what is enough, and that might be what you get from being a crap business person, and that’s fine. If you get the emotional feedback from your clients in their animals, and that sustains you, then don’t expect to send your kids to private school. That’s okay.

DIEDERIK: So what’s your vision for the future of the veterinary industry?

Kim: My personal drive is the welfare of animals, and I think it is for most vets. We got into the business, we got into the profession in order to improve the life of animals. And there is a movement in England now, where the welfare of the animal is taken into account, as well as the financial status of the owner. But the welfare of the animal is not always best served by whether the owner has a lot of money or too little money. I believe a vet has to be able to do more than nothing, which is what animals get if people feel they can’t come to the vets. So I think we have to promote that a vet can do more than nothing, and that the welfare of the animal is paramount…. sometimes there is a surgery too far, or there is a chemo process too far, and I think our role is to educate people on that. And while we can’t take over their animal, we can present the animal’s point of view. I always reckon I put my hand up for the animal for their lawful voice, and I hope that the veterinary profession will take that on board rather than the attitude that we treat animals as a right, because I think that’s a destructive view. It’s going to drive owners away, because, back to the first comment, EVERY animal comes with an owner.

DIEDERIK: Last question. Was there, ever, for you a snap point or a turning point, a defining moment, a line in the sand, when was it and what was it?

Kim: Yeah, there was a line in the sand, and it was about five years up, which is what is quoted as being your turning point when you decided if you’re going to go into another business, into another profession or another line of work, it’s at about five years up. Because you haven’t lost your general competence, you’ve just decided that clinical work is not for you. I was rejected for the position at the Bristol University for the FAB scholar. So I thought at that point….

DIEDERIK: Feline Advisory…

Kim: Yeah. Feline Advisory Board, to become a cat vet, I was rejected for that. And, I’d just done a locum for a vet, and one of the clients had…I’ve misread the client, and I swore in front of them, and she then put in a complaint to the owner of the clinic, and he said… He was gracious enough to say, “What’s your side of the story? How did this occur? And by the way, if it ever happens again, you don’t any have work here.” He had done that in person, which I thought was good. But at that point, I thought, “Well, I’m going to go and be accountant.” I thought, “No. I don’t like people enough to try and read them. I’m not very good at that and I don’t want to do it.” I was being ejected from the thing that I thought was going to take me forward. So I went and I talked to John about it, and he said, “Sure, if you can be an accountant. I don’t know that I want to be married to an accountant, but you can be an accountant, and then we’ll decide.”

And I looked into it and I thought about it, then decided, no. That was the point, actually, at which I decided to either do homeopathy or business management. I thought I needed to broaden my scope. And since then…. I opened my cat clinic because I thought Sydney needed a cat clinic and if there had been one then, I’d have gone and worked for them, but Sydney needed a cat clinic, so that’s why I opened it.

And it has been the biggest joy, and when people talk about joy in their life, but it’s also… It starts with my mental health, without a doubt. But, it’s alright to be crazy, and it’s a good joke now.

DIEDERIK: And Kim right here is a perfect point on which to end. So, Kim Kendall, thank you very much for joining us.

Kim: You’re very welcome.

Key Take-Aways

  • Get focused and go for it
  • Write down your goals and keep referring to them
  • We are just tradespeople
  • Don’t expect all pet owners to be as passionate about their pets as you are
  • Ask for help
  • Trust and verify

“Building better self-esteem and self-worth needs to be part of the undergraduate curriculum at Vet school, because without these skills, most Veterinarians never achieve their true potential.”

Diederik Gelderman