I have two great passions: my family and veterinary medicine. With three children, ages 12, 10, seven and a small animal veterinary practice, life is a juggling act trying to balance my two greatest loves. Sometimes I slip away from the clinic for an hour or two to help at a classroom party. You may find me sitting in my car writing up records while my child is warming up for a soccer game. Trips usually revolve around a veterinary CE course at a nice hotel with things for my husband and kids to do while I am at meetings. I almost always have my cell phone with me and often find myself working even when I’m not at the clinic.

The Vet is Out

Last week, I took a few hours off to enjoy the sunshine with my kids at the pool – and received multiple texts from three different employees with questions. I took a trip to my niece’s graduation. No sooner than the plane had touched the ground, I was checking my Idexx app and texting the clinic with instructions on what to do with the test results. My family has my attention, but it’s shared with my career.

After years of practice, I think I have the balancing act down pretty well. I am there for my kids when they need me and rarely miss a big event, but I am also dedicated to my career striving to provide excellent patient care and to be there for my clients. However, once a year I drop the juggling act and focus only on my family: our annual trip to “Gramma and Grampa’s beach house”.

I grew up spending weeks of my summer at my grandparents’ cottage on Lake Winnipeg. It’s in a little community called Victoria Beach, set in the middle of the woods. There are miles of white sandy beaches along the pristine lake and the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. It’s not fancy, just a simple three-bedroom cottage on the lake front. Now that my grandparents have passed on, my parents have taken over the cottage and spend the summer at this little piece of heaven. Every July, my family and I pack up the car and head to Victoria Beach.

The cottage is located in Canada. Since I live in the U.S., using my cell phone at the cottage incurs a lot of international fees. The first time we went to Canada after I purchased the veterinary clinic, I looked into a cell phone plan that would allow international texts or calls. Of course, I need to keep up with my cases and what goes on at the clinic while I’m gone. I was talking to my team about the different plans when one of my techs looked at me and said “Why do you need a plan? Just turn your phone off for a week and have a real vacation!” At first I thought she was crazy, but the international plan did seem a little pricy so I decided I would take her advice and turn my phone off. I left the number to the cottage and told everyone I would check email regularly if they had any problems or questions. But guess what? They didn’t call or email me for an entire week. The clinic survived for an entire week without me.

Not only did I survive a week without work, I thrived! I was finally able to relax and truly focus on my family. I came back feeling happy and refreshed, ready to throw myself back into the balancing act. We have returned to the cottage every summer for the past five years. We stop for gas at a town about two miles from the border and I give the clinic a quick call telling them this is their last chance to talk to me before we cross the border. My call is usually met with encouragement that everything is fine, relax, and enjoy my time away. As soon as we cross into Canada, I turn my cell phone off and trust my associate and team will keep the place running with I’m gone.

I spend a week focusing only on myself and my family. We swim, build sand castles, go for walks on the beach, and have rock skipping contests. My dad and husband take the kids fishing while my mom and I enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset. We stay up late watching cheesy family movies and eating popcorn. I read books, lots and lots of books. I wake up early, and while the kids are still sleeping, I sneak down to the beach with my camera to photograph the pelicans in the early morning light. I do all the things I love but never have time to do. The one thing I don’t do is think about work.

I cherish every moment of this special week. I know these times won’t last forever. The kids are growing up faster than I want and soon won’t want to leave their friends or summer jobs. My parents are getting older and may not be healthy enough to spend their summers out in a cottage in the woods. But for now, I turn my cell phone off for a week and forget all about work. I focus only on myself and my family. The clinic will be there when I get back.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.


Dr. Jennifer Shepherd received her DVM from Colorado State University in 2000. She is currently the owner and head veterinarian at Cloquet Animal Hospital, a small animal practice in Cloquet, Minn.

When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, three children, and her dog Coal.