March 2023

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT talks about something most people don’t talk… menopause, aging and how our mentality changes as we age. Why do you care? As our field is majority women, and some of us are “aging” out!

By Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT
Director of Medicine / CEO, VETgirl

The veterinary Diary: Menopause, aging, and ZFG…

In a previous blog about menopause, I disclosed how I’m approaching menopause and how getting old sucks. (Don’t worry! In a future blog, I’ll talk about treatment options for menopause, since researching them are on my huge “to do” list.) Today, let’s talk about getting old – and as we age – some key things you need to know about… regardless of what age you are.

In full disclosure, I just hit a big generational milestone (Agh! 50 years old! How did this happen so fast!). Well, let me fill you in on an amazing change I’ve noticed with aging…. And I’m not talking about the bodily changes of menopause in this blog.

Time flies by
First, know that time flies by. I remember meeting veterinarians when I was a younger vet, and when they told me they had been practicing for 20+ years, I remember thinking that they were old fogies. Sadly, I’m that “old fogie” now. So, my first word of advice is to be aware of how fast your time flies by. While your first 3-5 years of veterinary practice may seem to go really, really slowly, the rest flies by quickly… and before you know it, you’re in the mentoring stage, then the small business owner stage, then the retirement stage. So, enjoy the ride, as I promise your veterinary career goes really fast.

Respect your elders
Now that I’m an elder, I’ll say it out loud. Respect your elders. Believe it or not, while some of your elders may not be on social media or social media influencers and may still be using fax machines, they still have a whole lot of wisdom to offer younger generations of veterinary professionals.

Where did I learn this? While volunteering as a veterinarian at the Iditarod Sled Dog Trail Race for over a decade. I would work with semi-retired to retired, 60-70 year old veterinarians (read, old white male vets). While I was volunteering, I was at the peak of my residency in emergency critical care (ECC) at UPENN/Penn Vet. I was used to all the bells and whistles – ventilators, pulse oximeters, end-tidal CO2s, fluoroscopy, ultrasound, blood gases, and all the latest equipment. When I got to bush Alaska, I didn’t have any of my “toys…” just my stethoscope (sometimes with frozen tubing), my physical examination skills, my mercury thermometer, and maybe a POC glucometer. One of the pivotal moments was when I was examining a sled dog team with a fellow retired veterinarian. He looked over at one of those dogs and said “Can you grab a temp on that dog? He looks really hot.” Neither of us had even laid hands on this dog yet. And low and behold, the dog’s temperature was 106F/41.1C. As an ECC resident, I was shocked. This “old white vet” was so good, he could tell the dog was hyperthermic without even touching the dog. And that’s when I was schooled into respecting my elders over all the toys in your toolbox.

Next, ZFG. I’m a huge fan of work-life balance and quality of life (QOL). That’s why a lot of our VETgirl CE is focused on wellness. That’s why one of our first hires at VG was the position of our Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga. Having struggled with suicide ideation during my ECC residency, having married “late” (at 40), having battled infertility and multiple miscarriages, having had to balance the difficulty of being a working parent (OMG, it’s so much harder than it looks) and having struggled through the stress of small business ownership, I’ve battled a lot and hence truly prioritize QOL.

Two of my “secrets” of QOL? Learning to let go (Insert me singing in your ear “Let it go!” from Frozen) and paying off your student loan debt as soon as possible to get that “boulder” off your shoulder. Well, as I summit over 50-years-of-age, I’ve also realized that part of my QOL is dramatically improved now that I’m in the ZFG zone… Zero F*cks Given (ZFG) zone. [I learned this phase from a dear friend of mine (who will stay anonymous to be safe, since she’s in the veterinary space).]

As you age, you realize that you no longer need to sweat the small stuff. You have already spent 2/3 of your life building your veterinary career, and you (hopefully) already have mastered it all – the client communication, the procedures, the efficiency of veterinary medicine. You’re at the top of your game. If you have a family, you’ve (kind of) figured out how to manage being a working parent and your veterinary career. And that’s when you realize, it’s ok to have the mentality of ZFG at this stage, because sweating the small stuff isn’t worth it anymore. You realize you don’t have to please everybody. You realize that client’s email can wait until tomorrow. You realize that you can prioritize going to your kid’s t-ball game after all instead of seeing that 4pm emergency (which can go to the emergency clinic down the street). You realize your work-life balance is key.

So, for all you veterinarians, veterinary technicians and support staff approaching your 50’s or hitting menopause, I’m there for you. Let’s age with grace, while having ZFG for some of the pedantic “small stuff.” For you younger veterinary professionals, enjoy the rest of the ride as it’ll go fast, respect your colleagues in the process, and let’s support each other in this game of veterinary medicine.

  1. Justine-

    You literally took the words right out of my mouth!
    Thanks for writing this. It is so very true.


  2. Best menopause book…The Next Level by Dr. Stacy Sims and The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter…great blog today!!
    Thanks (1989 grad)

  3. As a 65 yr old woman who graduated an LVT in 1977and recently retired after 30 plus years at my last practice, I definitely feel that I aged out.
    I remember when it took hold.. and I became “ not relevant “anymore.
    First when menopause hit in my 50’s , I unfortunately developed menopausal anxiety, and my confidence with surgery and anesthesia became real and I had to take myself off that rotation. Took me awhile to figure this out and admit this was a real thing happening to me. So got myself back with clients , office visits etc. but went from “ teaching “ to feel like the respect was failing and the younger generation ,dvm’s and staff “ knew it all”.
    A lot of “old jokes” going around fun stuff I could take , until covid hit….. then the world of veterinary medicine change for me . I didn’t fit the mold anymore, and I was tired. While I was respected by the older staff and dvms the new regime not so much.. But when they get older it will be their turn. “We may have done it differently but we eventually all come to the same outcome”

  4. At 65, I am happy to hear there are some others my age out there! I am somewhat glad to be a sole practitioner: no ‘old jokes’ in my office! Half of the 8 staff are senior citizens. And am SO glad to have– thank you for the acronym for my state of mind, ZFG! I enjoy being able to select my clients; and refer stressful cases like orthopedics. But the best part is learning and having wonder at the ‘new’ technologies. Grateful for my health and degree… As Vet Med gets more fascinating, I’ll probably work some, forever… (but looking forward to working a little less, doing more yoga as I sometimes search for that elusive sleep!)

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