Shannon Coyne

Shannon Coyne Interview

“Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to.” ~ Joe Gores

DIEDERIK: I’m here today with Shannon Coyne from Queensland. Hi Shannon.

SHANNON: Hello. How are you?

DIEDERIK: Excellent thanks. How are you?

SHANNON: Good. Good.

DIEDERIK: I’d like to ask you what ignited your passion to become a vet, and at what age did that occur?

SHANNON: Probably early high school. I got a pretty typical…’left high school, love the idea of being a vet, went to Uni, graduated, so no sort of mature age kind of study or anything like that. Most of our year were pretty much along those lines.

My brother is a vet. He graduated and he was working hard, and even though he told me not to do it, I loved the idea. I loved science at school, loved animals; and I realized we had plenty around during that time. I loved sort of, I guess, problem solving in my school work, and it just seemed a great career where you got to use your brain, use your hands and it all sort of gelled together. That was sort of what excited me and what sort of kept me going. So it was great.

DIEDERIK: Cool, thank you.

What didn’t they teach you at vet school, and you’re now in a mixed—can I call it a country practice?

SHANNON: Yeah, country, rural—regional probably. Regional more than country.

DIEDERIK: So, you see a lot of things in a broader perspective than maybe people in a small animal city practice. So, what didn’t they teach you at Uni that you now know is crucial to your success as a veterinarian?

SHANNON: I think the main thing about that is the clients don’t necessarily want a definitive diagnosis. You know, as vets, we love it. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning; getting to the bottom and getting the answer. Whereas, the clients really just want a plan, a problem solved, and if you can put fancy name on it that’s fantastic for them, but they just want to know “I’m going to take this medication, you expect things to improve in two days, and if they don’t come back and we’ll change tack and we’ll get it better.” That’s, I guess, what I sort of try and tell our recent grads, that the client doesn’t’ need a definitive diagnosis, that’s for you, they just want the problem solved.

DIEDERIK: Thank you. That’s a very interesting perspective.

The other side of that coin, what did they teach you at Uni which you now know to be incorrect in the real world of veterinary medicine?

SHANNON: Let me think. I guess similar. Really, that’s probably the main thing I would say is incorrect, that clients, particularly our clients, but all clients are very money driven and you’ve rarely ever got enough behind you to run every test that’s recommended. Apart from, perhaps, some insured dogs, you really have just got the—what they call—the basics, bloods, survey x-rays are usually pretty expensive for most clients. Most don’t want to go there, so you have to really use your brain to nut things out. So, yeah, I think that’s where…don’t rely on those tests.

DIEDERIK: So, the same as the first one. Thank you.

SHANNON: Pretty much the same.

DIEDERIK: You alluded to new graduates a minute ago. If you had one sitting here in front of us right now, what are two or three things that you’d suggest he or she do immediately in order to turbo charge their career?

SHANNON: I guess no. 1 is find a practice that’s going to allow you to do the things that you think that you’d like to do, in the area that you’d like to work in. Go there for a couple of years, and then move, get a different perspective. Different perspectives are great, don’t get bogged down in one practice.

I think the second main thing would be every chance you get, do the things that you don’t particularly like. I know what I found was I hated dentistry, and I was rubbish at it. So, I went and did—every conference that I went to, I started on the dental lectures. Same with yes, I was rubbish with it, and I did a post-grad foundation course. Because they’re the things that… I still don’t like them but they’re just part of the job now, and I’m not scared of them, so I think that’s the key.

DIEDERIK: Tony Robin says, “If I can’t I must.” So, I love that attitude.

Again, the flip side of that coin, same new graduate, what are two or three things they’ve really got to avoid or avoid doing to turbo charge their career?

SHANNON: Definitely, I think, don’t get locked into that—on the new grads— “Oh, I’m just going to vaccinate dogs”. You’ve got to be taking your cases and running with them. Don’t get locked into that “It’s a fractured bone so I’ve got to hand it over”. If it’s a fractured bone, you’ve got to be scrubbing in with the surgeon. Really, really grab your cases and run with them, communicate with the clients.

DIEDERIK: Awesome. Thank you.

If you were starting—not necessarily your life or career—but if you were starting all over again, would you in fact be a vet?

SHANNON: I think I would. I’ve certainly never come across anything else that would take its place. I probably would try something different. I had the option, I’d probably say, “Well, I’ve gone this far, maybe I’d be an academic or research or something completely different,” but I think the veterinary industry is where I’d still be.

DIEDERIK: What were three significant challenges that you’ve faced in your career?

SHANNON: I guess initially, the first things that made me want to probably chuck the life would be that point that most new grads where you’re one or two years out, you’re physically and mentally exhausted and you’re sole charge, and you’ve got grumpy clients. That’s the thing that…I guess, we all get to it, and we just want to chuck it in, and that weighed pretty heavily on me, probably for, easily, the first ten years of my career. It was just that “Uh… I’m coming back on-call, I’m sole charge, I’ve got…in 150k radius, I’m the only vet in the whole place…”, and that’s, I think, a big stress.

Other than that, challenge, it’s learning on your feet. That’s the biggest challenge I think.

DIEDERIK: That’s interesting that you mentioned that 150k sole charge. I come from a mixed practice background and I had similar 24/7 on call and what not. So, how did you balanced your family, your career and fatherhood?

SHANNON: I have a very understanding wife and family, so that helped a lot. They know that, look, there’s going to be problems when you’re not going to be seeing me for a week, and we’re working on that; currently still. It’s just a bad part of life. Every practice I’ve worked for, I guess, knows that that’s terrible, certainly we do. So, we try to aim for big breaks, clear your head and big breaks with the family. The only part of it is just understanding that that’s the career and that there’s going to be ups and downs.

That’s pretty much it. It’s still a work in progress, but my wife’s fantastic and she puts up with it.

DIEDERIK: Thank you. That’s a really good answer.

What does success look like to you?

SHANNON: So, my personal success, I guess, would be, life-wise, is having a happy family and having time to enjoy my family and being able to go and do sort of leisure activities. The work component, success is just having and being confident and happy with the service I can provide, having that really happy work place. We keep saying to each other here that I spend more waking hours with my colleagues at work than I do with my family at home, so we’ve got to be a good team and we’ve got to be able to provide a great service and be proud of what we provide.

So, yeah, I think that’s what I care about as my success.

DIEDERIK: What have been the keys to those successes?

SHANNON: Certainly, I think the keys here have been, really, my colleagues. I’m the one being interviewed, but the partners that we’ve have in Gympie here for our career, we’ve all worked together, we know we have our ups and own like every partnership, but they’ve been the key, I guess. We’ve all had a similar goal, and we’ve all worked hard and expanded, and no one has sort of really dragged the chain. When I joined the practice, the practice fundamentally was very good. The rules in place when I joined are still the rules in place now as far as the partners go, and it’s worked really well. I think that was quite good.

Definitely family. That’s the other things, would be that I have got that good family support in all sort of matters, for sure.

And I guess, realistically, it’s the location as well. We have a town that’s been—I came into the practice in a growth phase, and the town’s in a growth phase. It was kind of, I guess, seeing early that “Look, this place is going to grow. We’ve just got to hang on and go for the ride because there is going to be a career here”, and spotting that and sitting tight, I think.

DIEDERIK: Thank you.

Keeping yourself motivated, what are the best methods that you found?

SHANNON: One is when we get that fatigue, you know, everyone in the practice goes through it, we just have a big long holiday block, and just getting that fresh air when you get that fatigue. If you’re starting to get a little bit, I guess, bored, or in a rut, then CPD, whether it’s just a conference, whether it’s going and doing an external course, or even sometimes going to visit another practice for a week. I really enjoy that, going and seeing how other people do it, and you come back and think “We can do this, this, and this better”, and that sort of really I think, works. Just clear the head and get a different perspective and go again.

DIEDERIK: Very interesting.

If you had the chance to do it again, and we talked earlier about ‘would you do the vet career again’, if you were getting the chance to do it again, what would you do differently if anything?

SHANNON: As far our practice goes?

DIEDERIK: Your career, or the practice, and or the practice.

SHANNON: I guess, my career, if I wasn’t lucky enough to find this place, and a great practice, I probably would have travelled a bit more and perhaps done a little bit more—perhaps gotten memberships, if we’re close to the city, maybe fellowship, because I really enjoy my surgery.

Certainly, we probably would have gotten our practice manager in earlier. Someone who can do the stuff that we’re not very good at, I think that would have been a better choice, and that would have taken a lot of the early stress off and actually grown the practice a lot quicker. We’ve got those things in place now so that’s great.

DIEDERIK: There’s a very definite statistical relationship between dedicated—not necessarily full time—but dedicated practice managers and practice profitability and growth rates and stuff like that.

SHANNON: Yeah. We’ve certainly seen that.

DIEDERIK: You mentioned luck a little bit earlier, so you obviously think that luck has played a big part in how you sort of fell into Gympie as it were. Any other luck or tragedy that has played a part?

SHANNON: No, not really. I mean, certainly it’s good to have a brother who’s a vet, who can sort of say, “Look, that’s a good. That’s good, that’s not good.” Having that advice from someone a bit older is a great help. Other than that, it really is just sort of stumbling into a town, which was a complete mistake. My wife and I just came back from the UK working over there. I was definitely going for a job two hours north of Brisbane, and I said to her, “That’s Noosa, we’ll take that. I’d love to work at Noosa.” We were looking for a place to settle, and then we got this reply from employment agency, “Gympie wants to interview you.” And I said, “I never applied for Gympie.” And she said, “Actually, you did.” And yeah, we came in, and I said to my wife, “Look, six to twelve months. We’ll just sit tight for six to twelve months, get our feet and then we’ll go somewhere else”. Yeah, it suited us down to the ground so we’re still here. It was great.

DIEDERIK: Maybe import some beach sand for the backyard or something.

SHANNON: Yeah, that’s about it.

DIEDERIK: You’ve achieved a heck of a lot in your career, and obviously are going to do a lot more. What do you think holds most vets back from achieving their goals?

SHANNON: I think part of it is…it is a stressful job and it is a fatiguing job, and I think a lot of the day-to-day business grinds people down. And I think that people tend to get trapped in that rut and not look at the long-term career just because they’re bogged down and they’re not prepared, or they’re too tired then to make time.

I guess the other thing is, I mean it’s certainly an industry where the financial rewards aren’t particularly there, compared to that first ten years out where you realize that the people who went off to do teaching are getting paid better than you. And I think a lot of people then get depressed and a little bit down on the industry, and then get out before really sort of settling in. I think if you can get through that, and remind yourself you’re doing what you like and take advantage of some of that CPD out there, and like I said, find a niche. You’ve just got to get through that rough time and find the spot that you like.

DIEDERIK: Have you ever thought of what pitfalls you’d point out, not necessarily to a new graduate but just to people in general, what pitfalls should they avoid when they go into practice?

SHANNON: Pitfalls to avoid. I think you really have to have a look at the lifestyle or the practice in general. The practice has to have a good vibe. It has to be a happy place, because you’re spending so long there. And also, I guess the hours, you know, does that suite your lifestyle. If you can’t put the hours in, or it’s going to disrupt your lifestyle, you probably shouldn’t be there. you need to have a really good look at that.

That would be the main pitfall I guess.

And actually burnout. Like I said, I think burnout is a big issue. There’s a fine line between working hard and learning, and working too hard and burning and burning yourself.

DIEDERIK: So, earlier, you said you love your surgery. What else are you passionate about in practice?

SHANNON: Actually, my first time, just probably the first ten years, I really enjoyed my surgery. Now, since I’ve been settled in for a while, the bond that I’ve got with some clients. I’ve got a really great bunch of clients that I’ve known for quite a long time and they make life so easy. So, I’m really enjoying that. I like when I’ve got those people booked in. We know each other well enough that they know that I’m not trying to rip them off, and the front of house staff say “I’ll do an estimate,” “No, Shannon just does what he needs to. It’s fine. He’ll just get my dog better.” Those people I love. We’ve just got a great bond and I really enjoy those people.

So, at the moment, that’s where my passion is.

DIEDERIK: That’s an awesome answer and I agree with you whole heartedly.

When did you make a distinction that there is a clinical side of vet and a business side?

SHANNON: I guess, initially, I’ve probably been here for a couple of years, and the offer came, “Do you want a piece of the practice? Would you like to buy in?” And obviously, the answer is yes, and I bought in. That was probably 15 years ago. But certainly, at that stage, as a young person and with some good established partners on the ground, I really didn’t understand much about the business, and so I was along for the ride and I made decisions, but certainly since the GFC the last five years have been a really big eye opener and forced me to be a lot more involved in strategic planning and budgeting and all that sort of the business side of it. So, I would say, when the growth stopped and hard decisions had to be made, that really made an impact.

DIEDERIK: You alluded a little bit earlier to burnout and what not, and our industry, being what it is, does have a ‘reputation’, what’s kept you sane?

SHANNON: Family, no.1, going home and just seeing the family and being able to switch off. It’s a really hard industry to switch off from because obviously, you have to be emotionally… if you’re not emotionally attached, you’re not going to be putting…it’s hard to devote to your clients and hard to get that bond.

The other thing I guess is we’ve always, as a practice, had a rule that four weeks holiday a year is not enough. You need to be able to take some decent blocks of breaks; two weeks, three weeks here and there just to absolutely clear your mind. That’s why I’ve taken up scuba diving in the last few years, and I love it. It’s just something where vet work, you can’t think about it. It’s everything switched off. I think that’s the key, it’s just being able to go away and refresh and come back.

DIEDERIK: I agree with you on the scuba diving. I was lucky enough that the water was just an hour and quarter from our practice. On many occasions in summer, we’d lock up at six o’clock, high tide was at 7:30, take an hour and quarter to get there. The phone would go to an answering service saying ring this number, and we’d get back at nine o’clock at night or whatever, but it really blew the cobwebs out of the day.

SHANNON: Yeah. It’s a great recharged. One day I dive and it keeps me going for about three weeks after. Just a happy place.

DIEDERIK: 100% in agreement.

What do you think you’ve given back to your community?

SHANNON: As a practice, as a whole, our goal has always been… you know, we are a small town, a regional town, and we’ve always tried to provide gold standard metropolitan service. Even though we’re a small town, they understand that we’re not a high socio-economic area, but we try to offer that service. A service that they wouldn’t normally get in a regional area. That’s been the main thing, we just try to be consistent and offer gold standard. I’d like to think we have; I’d like to think that’s what we’ve done.

DIEDERIK: Excellent.

What do you consider to be three key attributes or three key drivers to success in someone or for someone?

SHANNON: I think there is no real shortcut. You have to work hard. You’ve got to work hard. Number two would probably be to play the long game. It’s got to be playing sort of for the next five ten or years, and it’s not going to come in twelve months or two years, it’s going to be work hard. And then have that support in place, know where you want to be, but also have your support behind you.

DIEDERIK: There’s two more questions to go. What’s your vision for the future of the veterinary industry?

SHANNON: I think from where we are, I think consolidation is a good thing. Not necessarily corporate, although there’s certainly a place for that, but I think that a good private practice is difficult for, I think, one or two-man practices to deliver. The amount of equipment you’ve got to have and the pressure is on vets with time, I think larger practices can deliver lifestyle and a better service to their clients. I think that’s what I’d like to see.

And, I guess, in Australia, I think pet insurance has a huge role to play as well, in giving people those high standards of care. I think I’d like to see that develop a bit further as well.

DIEDERIK: Great. And the last question, a lot of people have a smooth veterinary career, and others have a turning point or a snap point or a line in the sand, a defining moment. Which one of the two did you have? Did you ever had one of these defining moments?

SHANNON: Probably not. Mine has been pretty smooth. No one real defining moment. Probably just more…there’s probably lots of little snap choices I guess, or lots of little choices. Overall, it’s been a pretty smooth career. No real big changes, and I guess that’s one thing that people have to recognize, is that any career, or in a particular practice, is you can’t get everything set. There’s just when you think we’ve got the perfect personnel, and everything’s perfect, there’s a new competitor, someone leaves, you just keep going, you have to…. you just expect change to happen, so roll with it and deal with it and move on.

DIEDERIK: So, thank you. That was a very good point on which to finish I think. So, Shannon, thank you very, very much for that interview. I really appreciate your time.

SHANNON: No problems at all. Thank you.

Key Take-Aways

  • Choose a practice where you’ll get to do the things that you really like doing
  • Force yourself to do the things that you don’t like and are not good at, this is the way to learn
  • Success is having and being confident and happy with the service I can provide, having that really happy work place and a balanced family life
  • When you get fatigued, take a (big, long) break, clear your head and go again
  • There’s a fine line between working hard and learning, and working too hard and burning yourself.

“Veterinarian! You need to learn to value yourself and your expertise”.

Diederik Gelderman