Who knew? When Goodnewsforpets publisher Lea-Ann Germinder met Cat Friendly Practice Co-chair and AAFP Board Member Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, DABVP-Feline Medicine, over two decades ago, feline medicine was just coming into its own. Germinder and her team at the time created a campaign, “The Seven Subtle Signs of Sickness” on behalf of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). Through the years Germinder has collaborated with Colleran and her AAFP board colleagues on a number of award-winning projects and campaigns.
As for Colleran’s Friendly Roar? This AAFP Past-President, Tuft’s University Veterinary School grad’s quiet leadership demeanor belies her impressive achievements both in the veterinary profession and in her own life. She not only presently serves on the AAFP board, she speaks regularly at veterinary conferences, has served on numerous veterinary task forces and committees, has been awarded the SBA Small Business Person of the Year and has successfully run two feline veterinary practices, including her current practice, the Chico Hospital for Cats. It is with that in mind that Germinder chose Colleran as the next Germinder 20th Anniversary Power of Pink Honoree.
Can you tell us the story of how you decided to focus on cats after graduating veterinary school?
I actually got fired from my first job in veterinary medicine after doing an internship. I thought I had made a terrible decision going into small animal private practice. I received my Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy in an attempt to use my degree elsewhere. I wrote my Thesis on the California Mountain Lion controversy in 1996, and in the process I learned about the amazing nature of felines in general. Their differences from dogs were stunning and yet little of their special anatomy, physiology, or behavior were covered in veterinary school. From there, I decided to go into feline medicine exclusively. This would give me a depth of knowledge of a single species that I craved. Even now, the longer I study them the more remarkable they become for me.
How do you feel the profession has changed over the years, particularly for women veterinarians?
Now there are places to go for help. This is a time of heart-stopping debt among young doctors who then feel trapped by circumstances in awful jobs with nowhere to go. There are big efforts underway to provide help and support. I maintain that, were there fewer women veterinarians now, these efforts would not be as robust as they are today.
I belong to a group of over 15,000 individuals in a private Facebook group called Not One More Vet (NOMV). It started after some high profile suicides in our profession. It is terrifyingly easy for someone to do great harm on social media, today. A reality we cannot escape so we must energetically address. Every day I read of ways young veterinarians are being bullied. As a young veterinarian, a boss bullied me but there was no one from whom I could seek advice. I sucked it up until he fired me. It drove me out of the profession for a time and to the master’s program.
People in the group have stepped up with advice, offers of safe haven, jobs and companionship. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot more to do, just that there are significant ways and efforts to understand and address the challenges of being a veterinarian in the current climate. Many organizations are working on providing help in many forms.
Another group I belong to is Veterinary Study Groups, Inc. Within that, there is a group of 22 feline practice owners. There are more women than men in the group. Every one of the members is successfully balancing running a healthy financial establishment and a healthy, supportive work environment. We are a team-based profession. We can’t go it alone so we need to be constantly vigilant about the physical, mental, and emotional well being of the entire team. It’s groups like these that make a difference today.
You have been involved in so many major initiatives in feline medicine. Can you point to your favorite initiatives?
I LOVE teaching feline medicine, behavior and how to successfully interact with cats in the veterinary setting. Being able to travel around the country and the world educating veterinarians and support staff is so gratifying. We are changing how cats are treated and thought about in very fundamental ways at a time when cats are the most popular companion animals in North America.
You are a Co-chair for the Cat Friendly Practice Program. Tell us about the program.
This worldwide initiative includes a completely online, self-paced program that is a comprehensive toolbox with every resource required to train and assist veterinary practices to improve the experience that cats and their owners have in the veterinary setting. We all have great intentions but are also very busy, so creating an online space where everything from pictures, educational content, and videos to marketing materials and staff meeting educational content is available is a powerful way to affect change. Practices are experiencing increases in feline patients and the quality of feline medicine they can practice which means better health outcomes and quality of life for this most beloved species. We’ve had ongoing, high-level of positive feedback for those that have gone through the program (check out the survey results – they are amazing!).
What are the most recent developments for the Cat Friendly Practice?
The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sol in Brazil recently became a Cat Friendly Practice – the first university in South America to become a Cat Friendly Practice. Our new Cat Friendly Practice poster won two awards recently at the VMX conference. It won Best in Show, non-profit and a Gold Vetty Award.
We are constantly adding new content and resources to the program. We just launched an updated online marketing toolkit that contains so many resources to promote the clinic and engage clients such as video, social media photos and content, continuing education, customizable press releases, ads, and more!. Finally, we just launched a Cat Caregiver newsletter to cat owners who have signed up to learn more about cats through AAFP’s consumer website, catfriendly.com. One of the best parts about this program is there are continually new resources to help expand our knowledge, and assist practices with communicating with cat owners.
How many practices are designated Cat Friendly Practices? What distinguishes the program from other similar programs?
The Cat Friendly Practice Program is a worldwide collaboration of feline experts who provide guidelines and education with recommendations specifically for cats. The program was launched in 2012 and because it centers on a single species, the information, education, techniques, and recommendations can be more focused.
We are close to having over 1200 designated Cat Friendly Practices in North and South America, and we have over 3000 Cat Advocates working to make the world a healthier and better place for cats.
One big distinction is that this powerful program is very affordable. We don’t want cost to be a barrier. In fact, it requires only one veterinarian in a practice be a member of AAFP to take advantage of this comprehensive program and with the membership many other benefits, including the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, the best source of feline research and clinical practice guidance in the world. That means one cannot only improve the experience of veterinary care but also practice better medicine, all for one membership. We ask members to re-designate every three years because we are continually adding content that we want members to know about and continue to learn. The program does not require remodeling of your practice, but provides creative solutions for you to help decrease stress during feline-care visits. The most important step is to recognize that there is a need to make these adaptations in order to provide a better experience for cats, their caregivers, and your team.
What kind of communications materials are available to Cat Friendly Practices that you have helped develop?
We have three bi-monthly newsletters; one for Cat Friendly Practices, another for those going through the process, and one for non-members who are interested in learning more (sign up here). Each contain articles relevant to feline care, tips and techniques, and at least one educational PowerPoint to use for staff training or during meetings. Within the Cat Friendly Practice Modules are marketing materials, both print and electronic to talk to cat caregivers about the benefits they will experience when they visit a Cat Friendly Practice. We have also developed educational sessions that can be presented at veterinary meetings, and content on The Cat Community (catfriendly.com), AAFP’s social channels (facebook.com/Catvets; twitter.com/catvets; and Instagram.com/thecatcommunity), and a newsletter to educate cat owners about the importance of regular check-ups and how Cat Friendly Practices can benefit them and their cat.
Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve understood the importance of communications and public relations. Why do you feel that is so important?
We need to define who we are and what we believe. If we don’t convey our core values we risk having others do so for us. We are a relationship-based profession. Every day I tell my staff and doctors the single biggest assets we have are the relationships we create and nurture with our clients. It is they who give us permission, based upon these trusting relationships, to practice the best possible medicine for that client, that cat and that family.
You participated in the first edition of GNFP Digital, to help practices learn more about social media. Why was that important to you?
We need to translate what we know about the feline species into forms that can be inviting, educational and useful to caregivers. The flood of poor information, misguided judgment, personal opinion and just plain fantasy available for consumption on the Internet about cats, and about everything else for that matter, cannot be stopped. What we can do is be the conduit for good advice, good information and valuable guidance but it has to be created in a way that draws in the target audience.
In the case of GNFP Digital, you and your team took three very important topics about pets, including feline pain, and created fun, attractive and informative materials. I hope this is the beginning of a long and successful effort to bring good information to the social media platforms everyone lives on these days in a form that will be eagerly consumed. (Editors Note: Veterinarians interested in these materials please visit www.gnfp.com to register.)
Anything else you would like to add?
There are countless examples of consumers wasting their time and money on at best and at worst risking their pets’ health, well-being and quality of life on misinformation and products that don’t work.
People seek advice from sources whose only interest may be to sell them on their idea. It enrages me when someone tells me they are feeding a certain food because their feed store “guy” told them gluten-free was the way to feed their cats, for example. What is the basis for that recommendation? While it’s the new “thing” for people to eat that way,it bears no relationship to nutrition science. In fact it just means the maker substituted one kind of carbohydrate (wheat, etc.) for another (rice, potatoes).
One of the most valuable characteristics of the veterinary profession is collaboration and through bringing together business, marketing, social media, management expertise we can forge a powerful foundation on which to build educational tools to help pet owners and our patients. That’s what programs like the Cat Friendly Practice are all about.
Dr. Elizabeth Colleran’s upcoming book for veterinarians, “The Senior Cat: Medicine and Management in the Golden Years” (working title) will be published in early 2019. She is a frequent contributor to several peer-reviewed veterinary publications. She is the content coordinator and speaker for the Feline track at the upcoming AVMA conference in Denver and will be speaking this year in Leon, Mexico, New York City, Tampa Florida and other veterinary conferences.
Visit catfriendly.com to find a Cat Friendly Practice near you.
For more information about the #GerminderPowerofPink 20th Anniversary & Honoree program, contact Lea-Ann Germinder at firstname.lastname@example.org.