Editor’s note: I can remember in my career when young women were an unwanted class in veterinary practice because they were of child-bearing years and might need maternity leave. Fortunately, that time has changed as the vast majority of veterinary graduates today are women. And the understanding that they probably want a balanced life that includes families—thus will be out on maternity leave at some point—has become more accepted.
In this episode of The Business of Practice Podcast, we speak with Kelly Zeytooonian, DVM, MBA, CERP, about maternity and family policies in equine veterinary practice. Zeytoonian is the owner of Starwood Equine Veterinary Service and Starwood Veterinary Consulting in California. She recently returned to practice from being on maternity leave. We’ve asked her to share some of her insights and experiences in this podcast.
Practice Owners Prepare for Maternity Leave
“Like many other practices out there we sort of fell into it [maternity leave policies], I am ashamed to say,” noted Zeytoonian. “My associate was the first we needed a policy for, and we worked together to develop a plan that honored the time away she wanted while also respecting the additional workload it would mean for the veterinarians who would be filling in.”
Then it was Zeytoonian who was out on maternity leave.
In describing what maternity leave looks like for her practice, Zeytoonian said, “We are lucky in the state of California to have generous disability coverage for pregnancy and additional paid family leave that offers support for around 3 months, so this became our policy. Leave is unpaid for 3 months (knowing that there is support still for the doctor who is out), and it enables Starwood to hire relief (if needed) or supply additional tech hours.”.
Leading Up to Maternity Leave
Pregnant women need to be careful around specific chemicals, and their center of gravity and changing shape mean some tasks will become untenable as the pregnancy advances.
In Zeytoonian’s practice, they “front-load” emergency coverage early in the pregnancy. This is due to knowing that it will be harder to handle emergencies late in pregnancy and that maternity leave will require someone else to handle that doctor’s emergency duties for a period of time.
She said it is “doctor-driven” what changes in the veterinarian’s provided services. Zeytoonian said dentals were easier for her to do because she could remain standing.
“I remember bending over for coffin joint injections at one point and wondering if i could get back up or out of the way quickly,” she recalled. “That’s when I knew it was time to turn those appointments over to someone else.”
Maternity Leave Before Delivery
How long a veterinarian takes off before actual delivery is an individual decision, said Zeytoonian.
“This is doctor-driven,” she said. “Dr. (Kristy) Moding was treating a difficult choke two days before her daughter arrived, and I took call the Friday before my scheduled C section. Our latest veterinarian took off two weeks before her baby was due to have a bit more time to prepare and to be out of the 100+ degree heat toward the end [of her pregnancy].”
We asked Zeytoonian how her practice’s maternity leave policy worked for her.
“It was great!” she said. “I felt very supported by the team and comfortable pivoting away from what I couldn’t physically do or didn’t feel safe. We, of course, have a strong technical support group that allowed me to continue seeing a majority of cases with the help of two assistants. They did everything from flexing horses and pulling shoes, to acquiring X-rays or handling medications. I am confident I was able to work safely as long as I did because of them.”
Developing Your Own Maternity Policies
When asked to make suggestions for other practices to develop their own maternity and family leave policies, Zeytoonian said, “Consider the financial burden on the practice of course, but also that of your loyal workers who given the opportunity to comfortably get away will come back healthier and more ready to jump back into practice life.
“Educate employees on short-term disability options and those options for coverage offered by the state in which you live,” she advised.
“Don’t forget paternity leave!” she added. “It’s super important for fathers to also have the time to bond with their child and support their partner. ”
Returning After Maternity Leave
Zeytoonian said returning to work can be difficult. “It’s important to remain open to alternative work schedules, more flexible hours and more frequent days off needed,” she said. “Be prepared for that and prepare other team members for the unpredictable nature of parenthood because it impacts everyone.”
About Dr. Kelly Zeytoonian
Kelly Zeytoonian, DVM, MBA, CERP, is the owner of Starwood Equine Veterinary Service and Starwood Veterinary Consulting. She earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Zeytoonian is a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and is also on the Board of Directors of The Northern California Association of Equine Practitioners. She also obtained her Equine Rehabilitation Certificate Program (CERP) certification.
In 2013, Zeytoonian established Starwood Equine, an ambulatory practice, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has since grown the business to include five doctors and two locations. As a veterinarian and practice owner, Zeytoonian experiences the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of both veterinary medicine and business ownership. In addition, as faculty at Foothill Community College, she contributes to the future of the veterinary field by educating RVT candidates.
In an effort to support her practice’s growth without compromising the culture of work-life balance that was its cornerstone, Zeytoonian earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business in 2020. Now, she uses her combined experience in veterinary medicine and business administration to empower veterinarians to create and maintain a career and practice culture tailored to their individual needs. She has been privileged to collaborate with industry partners and veterinary thought leaders to advance the business acumen of veterinarians.
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