After 12 years in the daily grind of practice ownership and being a solo veterinarian performing general medicine and surgery, I was burned out. If I had to have the flea life cycle discussion, look at an ear cytology, or discuss the puppy vaccine series one more time, I might just lose my mind.  I was ready to leave veterinary medicine all together and look for something new. The possibility of being a greeter at Walmart crossed my mind.

Thankfully, I decided to head to Las Vegas for a much needed “vacation” disguised as a veterinary conference. I perused the options of lectures to attend –  Internal Medicine, Critical Care, Dermatology – nothing jumped out me. Then I saw a lecture track on Rehabilitation for pets and thought to myself “hmm, that might be interesting – at least it’s something new”. What I didn’t know is that decision would change the trajectory of my career and quite frankly, my life.

Listening to the speakers, I discovered there was an entire method of evaluating and treating patients that I had never been exposed to in my veterinary medical training.  I learned about exciting therapeutics, pain management options, and incredible patient outcomes on pets that I honestly would have given up on.  I was intrigued and excited on one hand, but also felt a bit guilty as I was running through all the patients in my mind that could have benefitted from this therapy. I decided that if I was to stay in veterinary medicine, I must pursue this knowledge. As Maya Angelou once said “When you know better, you do better”.  I made it my goal to do better.

After completing my certification in rehabilitation through Canine Rehabilitation Institute, I set out to help as many of patients as I could. I slowly built my rehabilitation service within my general practice, first working out of an 8×10 room and focusing mainly on manual therapy and therapeutic exercises.  Then as the rehabilitation portion of my practice grew, I made the decision to hire additional associates to take over my general medicine duties which allowed me to focus my efforts on pain management and rehabilitation.  In 2014, I built a new hospital with a dedicated rehabilitation gym space, fully outfitted with all the bells and whistles. I now see patient referrals from as far as 2 hours away from my practice.

I have been pleasantly surprised over and over again at the level of care and dedication my rehabilitation clients provide for their pets.  I work with A+ clients, all day, every day.  They want to learn how to best care for their pets and are anxious to be a part of “the team”.  We all cheer on these patients and feel such a sense of accomplishment when we see them living a pain free and functional life.  What a joy this is!

Adding rehabilitation to my practice has provided a financial reward as well.  The vast majority of my patients are not a “one and done”. They come to my practice twice weekly for several weeks, and then taper down as they improve.  We provide complementary services such as Acupuncture, Regenerative Medicine, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, and Musculoskeletal Ultrasound that benefit the bottom line.   The income gained from rehabilitation allowed us to make the decision to eliminate boarding from our hospital, which freed up our staff, animal holding areas, not to mention our weekends!  As the economics of veterinary medicine shifts to the likes of online pharmacy, vaccine clinics, and low cost spay/neuter facilities, adding services only the Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist can provide makes total sense to improve your financial security.

Finally, and most importantly for my sanity, this journey has brought back my passion for veterinary medicine. I have to use the creative side of my brain on a daily basis to solve the challenges my patients face. I couple this with my knowledge of clinical anatomy, physiology, and general medicine to provide comfort to my patients and peace of mind to my owners.  I am enjoying practice again and I know that I am “doing better” for my patients, clients, practice, and myself.

Written by
Kara L. Amstutz, DVM, CCRT, CVPP
Resident –  American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Hometown Veterinary Hospital & River Canine Rehabilitation
Springfield, Missouri