The COVID-19 pandemic has placed new stresses on many professions. Careers in the medical, hospitality, and hospitality sectors have all been transformed. But another industry also experienced a change: veterinary medicine.
“We have been busier than ever,” said Dr. Jimmy Coker, veterinarian at Kingstree Animal Hospital. “Humans spend a lot more time with their animals, and when you spend more time with them, you notice more things.”
Many customers are also first-time pet owners, he added, with a surge in adoptions sparked by pandemic lockdowns.
Coker, Lexington-based veterinarian Dr. Ginger Macaulay and Mount-Pleasant Veterinary Hospital Office Director Laura Phillips were all named the Best Vets in the Country of the Year. The recognition given by the SC Association of Veterinarians was a welcome celebration after a year full of new obstacles.
“Everyone is so stressed out and they instantly release what it triggers, so they just happen to take it out on the front office staff,” said Phillips. “We saw a lot of turnover.”
The pandemic has put many veterinarians to the test, with more staff having to balance virtual learning for children and new COVID-19 safety protocols that make visits longer.
Years before the COVID-19 outbreak, Macaulay formed a grief support group for pet owners who she noticed were struggling with the loss of their pets. As a member of its local and state veterinary associations and a delegate to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Macaulay is dedicated to the welfare of animals, owners, and veterinarians.
The advocacy put Macaulay, co-owner of Cherokee Trail Veterinary Hospital and Lake Murray Animal Hospital, on the top animal list this year.
“The job has changed a lot, but at its core it’s still about having that trust in your customers and making sure they have their little furry friend for as long as possible,” said Macaulay.
Office manager Laura Phillips (left) cuts the nails of Scout, an 8-month-old lab mix, as veterinary technician BreAnna Perry held her in the offices of Tidewater Animal Hospital in Mount Pleasant on Monday, November 15, 2021. Gavin McIntyre / Staff
Phillips, who works at Tidewater Veterinary Hospital, was nominated for the award by a former colleague who she thought knew she was getting a boost after an already difficult year that began with the death of the clinic’s owner, Cara Daniels needed.
“I love all of our girls here. In the last nine months in particular, we’ve gotten pretty close, with all our ups and downs, ”she said, adding that many customers also showed their sympathy.
Coker’s bond with colleagues and customers has kept him going this year, he said.
He was touched by his former classmates’ decision to nominate him. James Holden, Al Segars, and David Mann, who became his lifelong friends, graduated from the University of Georgia Veterinary Program with him in 1983.
“It was a humbling experience,” said Coker. “You’ve all written very flattering letters. We’ve all been very good friends since vet school, and we’ve all ended up back in South Carolina.”
Even without the upheaval in 2020, the field has evolved over time, said Coker. When he first started, training in handling large animals used for agriculture and ranching was much more common. Meanwhile, pets and pet care have become an important industry.
“Pets are part of the family now,” said Macaulay.
Reach Emma Whalen at 843-708-5837. Follow her on Twitter @_emma_whalen.