Many moons ago, I attended an AVMA Convention in Washington DC. The details are a little fuzzy right now, but there is one detail that was definitely different this time around. Rather than a casual attendee, I was now invited as a speaker.

WHAT?!?

Never did I imagine myself as someone standing behind the lectern, speaking in front of my colleagues. But there I was, with fellow DVM Dr. Meredith Jones (admin of the Debt Free Vets Facebook group), giving a couple of talks about budgeting and student debt. And I didn’t pass out or die.

Also, no one threw anything on stage or left en masse during the talks, so there’s that.

In all seriousness, I was incredibly honored to have had the opportunity to speak. The AVMA is 93,000+ members strong, and there were nearly 8,000 attendees this year. I was craving a face-to-face interaction with my colleagues, and this was the place to do it.

Here’s what it was like a first-time conference speaker- enjoy!

THURSDAY

I arrived in DC and was greeted by this sign:

A good omen, right?

I enjoyed a quick Uber trip, which I shared with a college student who was visiting her friend. I had a feeling her time in DC was going to look VERY different from my own. For example, just the thought of not worrying about grocery shopping and meal planning was supremely exciting. What a difference a couple of decades make!

After settling in, I went to the convention center in order to get my speaker badge. When I saw the vastness of the convention space, there was a split second where I wanted to hop right back into that Uber and head home. This place seemed HUGE, and the thought of speaking to even a handful of people made me feel slightly nauseous. Here’s the view of the atrium from the top of the escalator:

This is just one of the two buildings that were used for the convention.

Thankfully, that feeling passed quickly. I remembered that there was a perfectly good reason that I was there, and even if a small number of people showed up, they were going to get the best of what I had to offer.

I met with Dr. Jones, and we spent pretty much the rest of the day preparing for our two talks. This was the first time we were meeting in person to practice. And of course, technology didn’t want to cooperate and we had to spend quite a bit of time fixing some formatting issues.

After going through this journey, I have a ton of respect for presenters. When you’re on the receiving end of a talk, it’s very easy to overlook the amount of time and effort that was necessary for that talk to even exist. There is the process of putting together the slides in a way that will (hopefully!) keep the audience engaged. There is also the invisible work of using your voice and body language to translate those slides into a presentation that can connect more deeply with the audience. A seasoned teacher/professor/speaker makes this look effortless, but I can tell you from my own personal experience that this is a skill that needs to be learned and honed over time.

I think I stayed up past 1 am that night in order to send out the August monthly newsletter for my blog e-mail subscribers. I justified this by saying that it was just past midnight central standard time, so it was no big deal. I had a nagging feeling that I was going to pay for this one way or another down the line.

FRIDAY

After a little more practicing in the morning, it was show time.

The next two hours went by quickly. Yes, I felt nervous, but I was ready to finally get my actual voice out there, to speak on these topics that I’ve been writing about for the past year.

The audience was wonderful. I loved the questions they posed during and after the talks. If someone was ready to take action with cash flow planning or student loan repayment options, we provided useful information and helpful resources to get them on their way.

This was the last slide for the budgeting/cash flow planning talk.

After the talks, I had a very odd feeling that I couldn’t quite place. After thinking about it a bit more, I realized that I had put so much time and energy into these presentations that I felt a little lost afterwards. As a person who much prefers the known versus the unknown, I kept asking myself “Now what?” With blogging, there is no specific destination or endpoint. It’s just a continuous journey, which can be a bit terrifying.

The Vetitude, Dr. Lauren Smith, seemed to read my mind with her own AVMA recap blog post: click here to read her blog! I love the positive spin she puts at the end of her piece.

Some of this could have been due to the lack of sleep and proper nutrition. Up to this point, I had subsisted on some coffee, water, and some trail mix. It was now 3 pm, and I figured it was time to eat some actual food.

Later that evening, I went to the AVMA Mix and Mingle. It was an event where employers and potential employees could meet. I wanted to ask these employers if student loan debt and the state of veterinarian personal finance was impacting hiring and the workplace in general. As far as I could tell, Banfield is the only company that is directly addressing student loans through their Student Debt Relief program. Other companies didn’t have any similar programs in place, but they all acknowledged that student loan debt is a growing issue that needs to be addressed.

As a quick aside, job candidates always need to take into account the FULL benefits package when applying for a job. You can read more about benefits here.

To round out my night, I went back to my hotel room and started coming down with a massive headache (I rarely get headaches; I don’t know how you migraine sufferers deal with this on a regular basis!), followed by a case of the chills. This was NOT a good way to end the day, and as I huddled under the covers, I was crossing my fingers that this would pass quickly.

SATURDAY

I woke up on Saturday feeling tired, but my headache was mostly gone and I no longer had the chills (thank goodness!!). I even made it to the Jazzercise class that was being led by Dr. Jananne O’Connell, who I’m proud to have worked with during my short time in North Carolina.

The AVMA keynote address was an amazing event this year. There was a catchy musical opening act that I desperately wanted to start dancing to, but that would have been incredibly awkward in a room full of seated individuals.

We were all treated to a short speech by the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams. He opened his talk by recounting the story of his own dog that had suddenly collapsed one day and was subsequently diagnosed with IMHA. Thankfully, she’s as spry as ever, thanks to the lifesaving work of her veterinarian!

He also made a point to highlight what we can all do to combat opioid addiction, strongly encouraging everyone to carry naloxone as a quick, life-saving measure. He shared this digital postcard as an education piece:

The keynote speaker was Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, who spoke about what we can learn from adolescence in the human and animal world. She is a cardiologist (MD), and her crossover into the animal world started with a single phone call from a Los Angeles Zoo veterinarian. She is the author of “Zoobiquity” and a soon to be released book called “Wildhood,” both of which I can’t wait to dive into. I love the fact that she’s such a proponent of One Health in order to advance the improvement of health for people AND animals.

After the keynote speech, there was a mad dash for the Exhibit Hall. I’ve always been a fan of wandering the exhibit hall; each booth is so unique, and of course, the big sponsors always get pretty creative with their spaces. I especially enjoyed Central Bark, modeled after that iconic Central Perk coffee shop from the TV show “Friends.” Instead of coffee, visitors were treated to some hardworking service dogs that were ready for cuddles and love. ?

Of course, I attended a ton of informative, fun sessions. I am an introvert by nature, so I did force myself to approach people, introduce myself, and even (gasp!) hand out my business card. Let me tell you, this is completely out of my comfort zone. But I truly feel like this blog and the Richer Life DVM Facebook community is doing a lot of good for veterinarians, so I shouldn’t be so hesitant to share this resource with others.

I decided to explore and walked to Chinatown for dinner. My big bowl of pho and a couple of scoops of gelato was the perfect way to end the day:

SUNDAY

There were actually two other student debt talks during the conference, and I made sure to attend both of them. The first one was by Paul Garrard, a consultant who has had decades of experience in higher education and financial aid services. The second one was presented by Michael Gergye, another consultant who happens to be married to a veterinarian, so he has faced this issue personally.

If anything, these talks underscored the importance of borrowers becoming their own experts when it comes to student loans. The student loan landscape is complex and ever-changing, so it’s imperative that if you are in the process of paying back your loans, you need to stay vigilant and have a PLAN that gets you to your financial goals. All of us who spoke on student debt outlined the pros and cons of paying off the debt completely versus going for forgiveness. Everyone’s situation is different and unique, especially as life circumstances change and your plan to paying off your debt may no longer be the best fit for you- there is no one size fits all plan! If you need more information and resources regarding student loan advice, you can browse my Student Loan Advice page and get started.

I had a chance to go to a panel discussion featuring those involved with the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Quincy Hawley (founder of Get MotiVETed, you can read his story here) was a guest panelist, and it was wonderful to meet him in person. His enthusiasm and positivity are contagious, and I look forward to seeing what he continues to accomplish in the future. It was also fun catching up with Dr. Lisa Greenhill, whom I had originally met at the AVMA Economic Summit. Her work with the AAVMC, which focuses on research and diversity in the veterinary community, is so important to the profession as it’s an issue that can easily go unnoticed.

Dr. Donna Harris-Kober was instrumental in creating a space for personal finance topics at the AVMA Convention this year. She gave her own talk on Sunday, which focused on the importance of insurance and protecting your assets. It’s so easy to get caught up with all the debt talk, but we also need to be paying close attention to our assets and ability to earn income.

Before leaving the convention center, I decided to stop by the AVMA Center for Wellbeing, which had a huge map of the USA. Attendees were encouraged to leave notes of kindness. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that kindness does exist out there.

What would YOU have written?

MONDAY

This was my last day at the conference, and I only had a couple of hours to spare in the morning since my husband and children had made it to DC and it was time to start transitioning to tourist mode. I finally had a chance to meet with Dr. Cindy Trice (founder of Relief Rover, you can read her story here), who was as sweet and awesome in person as she appears to be online.

Throughout the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting other veterinarians who are working tirelessly to improve the profession in their own unique way: Dr. Andy Roark, Dr. Cherie Buisson (A Happy Vet), Dr. Caitlin DeWilde (The Social DVM), Dr. Jessica Vogelsgang (Pawcurious), Dr. Caroline Cantner with the AVMA, Dr. Kim Farina (AAVMC Veterinary Debt Initiative), Dr. Cindy Barnes (Shepherd), Dr. Kimberly-Ann Therrien (president-elect of WVLDI), and many more! It is uplifting to see how everyone is playing a part in moving the profession forward.

CONCLUSION

Veterinary medicine is a fast-changing field. In order to thrive, there needs to be an abundance of innovative thinking AND execution of those ideas. Change is never easy, but it is inevitable. For those that feel called to push for change, it will be up to that individual to find out how they can be a part of that journey. With the increasing use of technology to form connections, this process has become easier than ever.

I will continue to focus on the financial well-being of all veterinarians. This is an issue that touches every single veterinarian, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, net worth, job title, etc. This convention has also inspired me to look into other ways that I may be able to contribute back to the profession. Not knowing what the future holds may be terrifying, but it’s a pretty exciting ride, too.

Did you attend the AVMA Convention? What do you enjoy the most when you attend conferences? Have you ever had a life-changing moment at a conference? Comment below!

4 Comments

  1. The Vetducator on August 14, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    That is fantastic you had this opportunity! Do you think you will apply to go again as a speaker or expand your speaking opportunities? What sorts of questions did you get?

    • RLDVM on August 14, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      I enjoyed speaking, so we’ll see!

      As I expected, we had quite a number of questions during and after the student loan talk. Questions ranged from how to pay back student loan debt when married to questions about forgiveness. A tough subject that can get complicated in a hurry, unfortunately.

  2. Xrayvsn on August 15, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    That is quite an honor to be asked to speak to large group like that and I can only imagine the anxiety and nervous feeling I would have felt right before stepping on stage.

    I am sure you killed it and glad you were able to spread your message. Very cool that the push for financial literacy is growing

    • RLDVM on August 15, 2019 at 11:11 pm

      Thank you! It’s amazing what you’ll put yourself through when you feel very passionately about a subject!

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