IndeVet Stories: Making time for family in Japan, and gaining a support system along the way
What do you do when you want to build a career authentic to who you are… but you also want to be there for the important people in your lives that are nowhere near you? That was the conundrum that eventually lead me to IndeVets.
I am currently a practicing small animal veterinarian living in New York City. But because I grew up in Tokyo and went to vet school in the United Kingdom, I have people I love scattered all over the world. Which also means that my inability to see my close friends and family have been a consistent emotional struggle.
Finding my way as a vet in a new city
When I moved to New York, homesickness was a daily dark cloud over my head. This eventually took a toll on my mental health, especially since I knew no one in New York and was in an intense, sink-or-swim internship. I did not take into consideration the importance of a support system, which is particularly crucial in your first year as a full-fledged doctor, and I suffered greatly.
In the fall of 2019, I was working as a full-time associate at a well-loved, private, small animal clinic in the Upper West Side when my cousin in Japan informed me that my mother was going through surgery.
This came as a huge surprise. I had heard nothing about my mom’s health. I immediately contacted her, and she begrudgingly told me that she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and was going through surgery to remove her thyroids, since the medications did not seem to help alleviate her symptoms.
She tried to brush it off as no big deal, and when I told her I want to fly home for her, she stubbornly resisted. She did not want me to take time off and ‘cause problems’ to my employers; a typical Japanese mentality of maintaining harmony, even to the detriment of your own personal wellbeing.
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Making time for family
This was my wakeup call. I am an only child, and my mom raised me singlehandedly to be the person I am today. The very thought that I am not by her side when she needs me the most, even if she does not admit to it, was not a situation I ever wanted to be in.
Thankfully the surgery went well, and she recovered with ease. But what about the next time she has a health issue? What if she gets into an accident? She’s 65 years old, still works full-time and she’s not getting any younger.
Other than her rescue cat, she lives on her own in the house I was raised. As much as this career is important to me, it is not worth sacrificing the limited time I have left with my mother who is my biggest advocate in the world.
Making the switch from Associate to Relief vet
It took the COVID-19 pandemic for me to finally get up the courage to quit my comfortable full-time job and start working per diem shifts in the summer of 2020. I realized that my ability to schedule my own shifts significantly improved my mental health.
While travel restrictions still applied internationally I started to wonder if per diem work was a niche I could get into full time so that once the travel restrictions lifted, I could fly around to see my loved ones — particularly my mom — more regularly.
It was freedom I didn’t realize I could have in this field. But I did not want to deal with the extra tax forms and I still did not understand the health insurance system in this country (spoiled by universal healthcare in Japan and the NHS in the UK!), and I wasn’t sure that I was fully convinced of going per diem independently.
And that was basically how I came across IndeVets. I knew about the company from a year prior and was secretly checking out their website before, but their claims seemed too good to be true and I didn’t feel experienced enough to apply.
But by the time I had quit, I was well into my 3rd year as a practicing veterinarian and I felt like I was capable enough to apply. The application and interview process were smooth, and in a matter of weeks I became one of their newest Associate IndeVet of the NYC Metro area.
More from Dr. Shapard: Puppies are not the new anti-depressant (or: Why you should never gift a puppy)
A new way to vet
It has been a little over a year since I started working as an IndeVet and I am shamelessly proud of being a part of this community that is growing every day. I have never been attracted to working in corporate, but IndeVets is run by veterinarians that understand firsthand the unique struggles we go through in this field.
Mental health is spoken openly, and taking time off is not only openly considered, but actively encouraged. There is no guilt-tripping, and no pressure to take on extra shifts beyond the minimum 25hr/week for part-time and 34hr/week for full-time (and you get rewarded with perks if you do!).
When my grandfather passed away in the beginning of this year, they sent me a care package and encouraged me to take bereavement leave.
When I became so homesick that I needed a month off to fly to Japan during the pandemic, they made it as easy as possible for me to do so. When they say we have autonomy on our schedule, they really meant it. It is completely up to me when I work, where I work, and for how long I work.
If I have a difficult case that I need help on, I have a network of intelligent and experienced veterinary colleagues that I can immediately access on my smartphone.
On top of that, they are constantly looking for ways to improve and build. They jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the AAVMP (Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals) where I am a board member, and they were keen to get into talking about sustainability issues in vet med, a topic I am deeply invested in.
While this work is all about independence, there is abundant support that exceeded all my expectations. I can honestly say that this has been the best career decision I have ever made since I left home to become a veterinarian 12 years ago, and I cannot imagine working any other way now.
More stories: How a cancer diagnosis led one doctor to re-evaluate her priorities (and join IndeVets!)
My story as an IndeVet
Everyone has a different story to tell about why they joined IndeVets. But one thing we have in common is this — the autonomy of our work schedule and the active encouragement to tend to our life was, and will continue to be, a life-saver.
It doesn’t feel like I am part of a company — I am part of a community that is a total game changer and I cannot wait to see how IndeVets will revolutionize this field for the better. And while she doesn’t openly admit to it, my mom is happier knowing I can come home whenever she needs me — or, I’ll confess — whenever I need her.
Dr. Yui Shapard is an Associate IndeVet practicing in New York City.
More from IndeVets:
How I balance vet life and mom life
Vet med in crisis: How Covid exacerbates issues veterinarians face daily
3 tips for becoming a successful relief veterinarian