Are you looking to pursue a career in veterinary medicine? If you love horses, then being an equine veterinarian is the career for you! Today’s guest is Stacey Cordivano, owner of Clay Creek Equine Veterinary Services, LLC and host of The Whole Veterinarian Podcast. She shares her journey to becoming an equine veterinarian and what it takes to succeed in your degree. Having her own practice, Stacey offers insights on what it’s like to be a veterinarian and a business owner at the same time. Challenges are bound to arise in any business, but Stacey shares the benefits of practicing equine medicine even while juggling her life as a mom of two. Tune in for more on how to pursue a career as an equine veterinarian, from college to private practice, right here on Health Careers With Dr. Marn!
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How To Pursue A Career As An Equine Veterinarian With Stacey Cordivano
In this episode, we’re going to talk with someone who loves horses. If you love horses, like them or are interested in the life of taking care of horses, then this episode and maybe this career may be of interest to you. We’re going to talk with a horse veterinarian or an equine veterinarian. We’re going to talk with Stacey Cordivano. She is a horse veterinarian in Pennsylvania.
In this episode, she highlights that it’s not all peaches and strawberries. She gives us an honest perspective of the ups and downs of being a horse veterinarian. I learned a bit about this career, seeing how I’m not even taking care of pets or in veterinary medicine or let alone, horses. This was very intriguing and interesting to me. She also has an informative website and a podcast geared for equine veterinarians and veterinarians in general. We’re going to talk about that towards the end of the episode.
Before we jump into this episode, if you are enjoying these episodes or you like the show, smash that like button, hit subscribe, leave a five-star review, or even a nice comment would be appreciated. It will help bring attention to other people looking for this resource and help them along in their quest to learn more about health careers and maybe find one that might be right for them. I appreciate your help and support. Let’s dive into this episode.
Thanks for having me. It’s nice to meet you.
It’s nice to meet you as well. Stacey, can you please give us a quick bio about yourself?
My name is Stacey Cordivano. I live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I’m an equine veterinarian. I have my own practice. I went to Penn State for undergraduate and Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Vet Med for vet school. I did a two-year internship after that with a practice in New Jersey. The first year was a general internship and the second year was focused on Sports Medicine. In 2010 is when I opened my practice, Clay Creek Equine. I’ve been a solo equine practitioner up until 2021, when I hired my first associate. I’m also a mom to two little boys.
What exactly do you do to help your patients?
My patients are all horses and I provide full-service care for them through their owners. The only thing I don’t do in my practice is reproductive work, which is certainly a huge part of some equine veterinarians’ life. I don’t get to see cute little baby foals, but I do the rest, emergency medicine and preventative healthcare like vaccines. I do focus on Sports Medicine and I also provide chiropractic services for horses.
What are the usual steps to achieve your professional degree? What do people usually have to do?What is unique about equine medicine is that we can make our days and our weeks pretty flexible to our needs. Click To Tweet
To become a veterinarian, you have to go to a four-year undergraduate degree. During that time, you need to get a fair amount of experience at animal clinics, research and things like that. You then would apply to vet school. You have to take GREs and have pretty good grades to get in. Vet school is four years after you finish your Bachelor’s and then you can decide to specialize if you would like to. Once you finish the four years of veterinary school, you are qualified to be a veterinarian.
Do you recommend a special or any particular type of degree to get during college?
It can be varied. I certainly had friends that came from non-traditional backgrounds, but I would say that the most common undergraduate degree would be something like Animal Science or Veterinary Science. At Penn State, they have a Veterinary Science Program. They also have an Animal Science Program, but that’s a little bit more focused on agriculture and people going into animal production. If you are at a school with a fairly large college of agriculture, there’s a likelihood that there are some pre-veterinary tracks.
What is the best part of your career?
I get to help my favorite animal, which is a horse. I especially like helping them in emergency crisis situations because you make a big difference in both their life and their owner’s lives.
What is the least favorite part of the career?
Probably my least favorite part is when I know we should do something and either time or finances don’t allow for it.
What are three highlights of your professional career that people should know?
Specifically, for horse vets, one highlight is that you get a lot of alone time in your car because we generally drive from farm to farm. I’m an introvert, so the downtime in my car is pretty necessary for me, whether it’s digesting or listening to music or podcast. I’m a big podcast junkie. That time is important for me as opposed to a small animal clinic where they’re just bringing patients in one after another and never get any downtime. It also affects how much money you can make in a day, but that’s a whole other topic.
Another highlight for equine veterinarians is that we see our patients so often throughout the year that we get to form close bonds with them and their owners. That’s special about equine medicine. I also think that the flexibility in our careers since we are in charge of our day and we’re going from farm to farm, I think that is unique about equine medicine that we can make our days and weeks pretty flexible to our needs.
That’s a great overall summary about being an equine veterinarian. Thanks for sharing that. I do have some questions that I want to dive into. I didn’t know that you traveled so much. What is your typical day like as an equine veterinarian?
On the one hand, the nice thing about my day is that it’s never typical. It’s always different. Ideally, I start my day with a little bit of time in the office to get back to people, go over blood work results, schedule anything that needs to be scheduled and then I spend the day on the road. I go from farm to farm. My day could include things like a horse that’s not performing well to one that’s not able to walk because he stepped on a nail, a vaccine appointment where we’re doing a general overall health check to a dental procedure.
It is across the board different. That is a huge part of why I love my job that you are never doing the same thing every day. At the end of the day, it’s always nice to have time to wrap up, place any ordering supplies that you need to do and return any other callbacks that have come in throughout the day. My situation is a little bit different since I’m a small practice. There’s no front desk staff. I do a lot of the administrative work myself, but it also keeps me close to my clients since I’m the one calling them back for pretty much everything.
What time does your day usually start? When do you usually start in a car and heading back home?
I’m a little atypical in this respect. We do have help with caretaking, but as far as getting them ready for school and things like that, I’m the primary person responsible for that. I have shifted my day to start around 9:30, which is pretty late for a typical equine vet, but that’s a perfect example of how our days are flexible. I have also shrunk my practice a little bit that I’m not working until 6:00 or 8:00 at night, which some equine vets do. I get done by 4:30, plus or minus emergencies. Every day, you have the risk of running late just because of add-ons throughout the day.
During that time, you’re traveling a lot in your work. Is that typical for most equine veterinarians?
Yes. Some veterinary clinics have hospitals set up for haul-in cases, but that is not the norm. It is maybe something that our industry is trending towards, but most horse owners expect you to come to them. I try to keep my driving radius to about a 45-minute circle around my house. When I didn’t have kids, it was longer. I would go up to an hour and a half away, but it becomes an issue of time.
If you have a client with an emergency at the completely opposite side of where you are, it becomes difficult. In a multi-doctor practice, you can split up your days and cover each side of the practice, but when I was solo only, then I had to keep in mind that I had to be able to get everywhere that I could possibly need to go within a reasonable amount of time.
Most horses are typically in a rural setting. Maybe suburban, but mostly rural. Does that mean most horse veterinarians are also living in rural settings?
I would say rural to suburban. Chester County is not rural. We have a very large horse population here, but there are places throughout the country, even in other parts of Pennsylvania, that would be considered rural and you can’t have a 45-minute radius. You are driving a couple of hundred miles. When you talk about the states out West, Montana and Colorado, they have to drive a long distance to get their practice range covered. Yes, it could be. I’m in a bit of a unique situation in that we’re pretty horse-dense around where I live, so it’s a little bit different.
I presume you are carrying everything in your truck. That is your shop.
We have an X-ray, ultrasound, some lab equipment and emergency supplies. Everything gets shoved in there.The nice thing about your day as an equine veterinarian is that it’s never typical. It’s always different. Click To Tweet
You are an ambulatory service for horses. What are some typical misconceptions people have about your profession?
I would say about veterinarians in general. People have the misconception that we charge too much money and we make a lot of money. People aren’t used to paying for their healthcare because of insurance. Even though our prices are far from the prices of human healthcare, they do add up and clients don’t always understand the underlying costs beneath those. Our medication costs go up all the time. Vaccines go up every six months. When they see us raising our prices, they think we’re gouging them.
I’m lucky that my group of clients are very well-educated and understand why I have to raise prices, but certainly, a lot of veterinarians are faced with the backlash of prices because people A) don’t have insurance for their pets or B) don’t understand how much it could possibly cost to buy a bottle of antibiotics and then all the costs that we have on top of it, like stocking and paying someone to help put it in the truck and X, Y, Z. That’s a big misconception.
Another one might be that euthanizing animals is a terrible part of the day. I’m not going to say that euthanizing animals is easy, but I do consider myself very lucky that I get to end suffering in certain instances. I know in human healthcare, that’s not the case and there are certainly times when it is much more humane to put an animal to sleep than to continue trying to save it or watching it suffer. It’s not always great, but I do have an aspect of my personality that appreciates that I’m able to do that for my patients.
Thanks for sharing that. For people to realize that there is a cost for what you do and the service you provide, breaking that misconception is challenging. Even in my profession, I can relate to that.
All the years of schooling that we paid for to get the knowledge that we have.
As someone mentioned to me, you’re getting compensated not because of what you’re bringing to the table, but what you’re bringing to the table from all the years of experience you put in so you can help make that best decision for the patient. How do you, as a working mom, balance this type of life for you and other people in your profession? How has that work-life balance, as some people say, how do you balance that all out?
It’s certainly not balanced. Work-life balance is probably, in my opinion, a myth. It’s a work-life integration or work-life juggling act. I’m lucky that I have a dual-income household. I’m not the primary breadwinner and that makes a big difference in my life. I was able to scale my practice back a bit and have more time for my children to be able to do the driving to school or do the activities with them in some afternoons.
I also rely heavily on help. Veterinarians, in general, are hard workers. We’re used to hustling and getting it all done. That’s how you make it through vet school, but having children, I’ve had to learn to ask for help and realize that I’m not going to be able to do it all. There are some weeks that I feel like I’m killing it at work and I’ve been efficient and gotten all these things done. Those might be the weeks that I have not seen my kids as much and then vice versa. There might be a week that I forgot a few things at work, but I had a great time with my kids every afternoon.
The biggest part that I’ve been working on is self-compassion. For working moms, working parents, or anyone juggling things, I think it’s self-compassion because there are going to be days that you do great and there are going to be other days that you don’t feel so great about it, but you know that you’re trying your best. Giving myself a little bit of grace has been a huge game-changer rather than being hard on myself and beating myself up about, whether it was balanced or not balanced. We should give ourselves a little slack because we’re working hard, especially in 2020.
Changing the topic a little bit, your overall profession, what does that look like? Does the future look pretty good for equine veterinary medicine?
It’s interesting that you asked me that right now. I have started digging a little bit into well-being for veterinarians as a side project for myself and especially equine veterinarians because that’s what I am. If you look at the research statistics, the future doesn’t look great for equine veterinarians. Only 2% of people graduating from vet school go into equine medicine. That’s not a large number. The studies show that within five years, about half of those people leave to go to either small animal medicine or something else.
Those numbers don’t look great for a large surplus of equine vets. Certainly, everyone right now is trying to hire more equine vets where all the practices across the country are strapped for help. If we don’t make some changes to the culture of equine medicine and the way we take care of ourselves and set boundaries, I don’t think it’s going to go well. That being said, I love being an equine vet. There are so many ways to be an equine vet that if we start prioritizing our well-being outside of work, we can make a positive change in our industry.
There seems to be a lot of burnout for people that enter the industry and maybe some limited resources to sustain that drive to be in that career.
It’s a little bit like, “Equine medicine has always been like this. You have to do it this way. You work 80 hours. You’re on call all the time.” People don’t want to do that anymore, especially when there are higher-paying small animal jobs that don’t require you to be on call. That being said, for those of us who absolutely love working on horses, we are making it work. Especially the younger generation, we are doing things differently. That has to be the way of the future for it to be sustainable.
We’re going to talk about that a little bit at the end about how you’re helping your fellow colleagues out. Before we do that, what type of students do you think the best fit in this profession?
Anybody that is hardworking and willing to be compassionate is able to be a veterinarian. It does take a lot of learning and you do have to have good grades to get in. That being said, the best veterinarians that I know didn’t have the highest grades. They’re the ones that can relate to people and talk to the clients because, as much as we get into this because we love animals, you have to deal with owners. You have to be able to relate to people and deal with them. If you’re willing to work hard and if you can handle the blood and guts, then you should probably figure that out before you go to vet school. If you can handle that, then anyone can do this.
Let’s change gears a little bit here. Let’s talk about you. How did you even consider Veterinary Medicine? Was this something that you want to do when you were a kid?
My mom says it was when I was three. I said, “I was going to be an equine vet.” My cousin was an equine vet, so I did see that in my family. I rode horses ever since I was little. There has never been any other option for me. What I did was I started working in small animal clinics in high school and getting experience and then I made sure to choose a big agricultural school. Penn State was six hours away, but I chose that one because they had a great Pre-Vet Program. I knew they got lots of people into vet school, so they had experience with that.
When I was an undergrad, I continued to work at a small animal clinic. I did 3 or 4 different research projects in the Dairy Science Lab because that’s who had an opening. Honestly, that research did help my resume when I was applying because I did not have a 4.0. I had good grades, but as an out-of-state student, they were on the low-end of things. They looked at my overall resume and I had decent GREs. I have been gunning for this my whole life. That’s how I got here. I got into Virginia-Maryland by the skin of my teeth, but it worked out okay.
I’m not to say you were last, but the person that graduates last in medical school, they call them doctor. As a kid, you even want to be not just a veterinarian. You wanted to be an equine veterinarian, even when you were in high school.Anybody that is hardworking and compassionate can be a veterinarian. Click To Tweet
I wanted to work outside. I didn’t want to be locked inside all the time.
Were you thinking about any other careers once you got into veterinary school or not really?
You were focused very early on what you want to do.
Some veterinary schools do what we call tracking. It’s a bit like picking a major and some don’t. Virginia-Maryland did allow me to track equine medicine. When you pick your electives, you pick all the horse ones and you’re not required to do quite as many small animal medicine electives as other people. Not every vet school does that.
That is something to consider when you’re applying to vet school if you know you want to do one thing. Some allow you to do that. I wouldn’t say that’s the only reason to pick a vet school because you’re going to get a good education no matter what vet school you go to. Mine did allow me to track that. I’m not even sure I would be very qualified to be any other kind of veterinarian.
Reflecting back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have started prioritizing my well-being in vet school because I do feel like a lot of the bad habits that I had early on in my career started in vet school. That was skipping exercising to get a few more minutes of studying and not caring about my nutrition and sleep. That snowballs and then becomes the norm when you’re a new graduate. Especially for me, I was hustling to build a business and I would say yes to everything. I probably also would have taken a few more business classes in undergrad. I didn’t take any. Who knew that I was going to be a business owner three years out of vet school? I didn’t predict that.
When we’re in school, we study hard and work a lot of hours, but you also work hard, especially when you enter the business of medicine and stuff they don’t teach you a lot. You try to scramble and learn as much as you can and put on hours on the weekends or late into the night so you can understand this aspect of your career that you don’t learn about, which is business and medicine. A lot of people don’t understand that aspect as well. As a business owner too, you had to learn that much more quickly than maybe other veterinarians who worked for other people because you went straight to solo, I presume.
I did a full internship and then I did a Sports Medicine internship. It was around the crisis of 2008 and so not many people were hiring. I had gotten married and we lived in a specific area and so it was, “I guess I better open my own practice,” which turned out to be the best thing ever. There was a huge learning curve associated with that. I always assumed I would become an owner one day but more of a buy-in situation, which is common in group practices, but that wasn’t how it worked out for me. I’m thankful for that now. There was a huge learning curve and lots of late nights figuring out how to use QuickBooks and what a profit and loss statement meant.
I like to go to a little bit more lighthearted and fun part, which is my rapid-fire questions. What is your most favorite time of the day?
Early morning because it’s quiet and I get a little time to myself.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
I usually eat yogurt with a little bit of maple syrup on it.
Favorite type of music to listen to?
I love all music. I can’t pick one. I’m a big country and alternative rock fan.
What would be an ideal and well-deserved vacation look like for you? I presume you haven’t taken one in a while.
We do try to take family ones, but a purely relaxing vacation for me would be a beach with lots of childcare so that I got some time to layout on the beach myself and maybe get a massage.
Besides horses, what is the next-best animal you would like to treat and take care of?
I don’t do any other than a little bit of chiropractic for dogs. I’ll pick dogs.
What comes easily for you that is more difficult for other people?The best veterinarians didn’t have the highest grades. They’re the ones who can relate to people and talk to clients. Click To Tweet
I’m good at reading situations, whether it’s the room or how a situation is going to play out. I have a good ability to step back and see the big picture.
It’s like in a social setting. Is that what you mean?
Yes. My dad used to always say that I was good at reading the basketball court when I was playing basketball in high school. Yes, sort of playing off of the bat, I think.
Finally, if you could start your career over again, what would you do differently, if any?
I probably wouldn’t do it differently. There have been some ups and downs and good parts and bad parts, but it has certainly brought me to where I am and I can only be grateful for where I’m at.
That’s it for my rapid-fire questions. Hopefully, it wasn’t too difficult but a little bit thought-provoking.
Those were fun. I like it.
Where can the readers go to reach you and learn more about you?
There are a couple of places. My practice has a website, ClayCreekEquine.com. We also have an Instagram account where we do some educational posts on horses. Also, my side project is called The Whole Veterinarian. I’m working to try to help the well-being of other veterinarians. It would also be pretty helpful to pre-vet students or veterinary students thinking about getting into it. That is at TheWholeVeterinarian.com or @TheWholeVeterinarian on Instagram.
Do you also have a separate website separate from the podcast?
I also have a podcast which is also called The Whole Veterinarian. The podcast and The Whole Veterinarian resources are all on TheWholeVeterinarian.com.
They get ahold of you through TheWholeVeterinarian.com.
Yes, there’s a contact. There are links to my email. They can DM me on Instagram. I’m most active on Instagram, as far as the social media platforms.
Do you only have one website or do you have two different websites? Like one for your business and one for the podcast?
What about your Instagram handle for your business? Is that separate from your podcast?
I love your podcast. There’s a lot of great information there, especially for veterinarians. I listened to some of it. I also like your Instagram. Especially, I can tell veterinarians who are struggling and need some perspective that they’re not the only ones going through what you’re going through that it can be very helpful.
I love your podcast too. It’s great for students. This format is such an easy way for people to get a wide variety of information and you are definitely providing that. I appreciate that. Thanks for having me.
Thank you for joining us.
- Stacey Cordivano
- @TheWholeVeterinarian – Instagram
- @ClayCreekEquine – Instagram
About Stacey Cordivano, DVM
Stacey, a graduate of Penn State University and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, completed a one-year internship at B.W. Furlong and Associates in New Jersey. Her training focused on sports medicine, internal medicine and general ambulatory practice. She subsequently spent an intensive six months in Ocala, Florida expanding her experience in the lameness field as an associate with Furlong and Associates.
Dr. Cordivano has performed the duties of treating veterinarian at numerous three day events and horse shows. She also served as a state veterinarian at a Standardbred harness racing track in Chester, Pennsylvania for three years. In 2011, Dr. Cordivano completed an intense course focusing on animal chiropractic techniques at the Options for Animals Chiropractic School in Kansas. She has been excited to see the excellent results of adding the chiropractic knowledge into the rest of the practice. Her interests include performance issues in the sport horse, alternative medicine and emergency medicine. On a personal note, Stacey enjoys spending time with her husband, Ben and their sons, Carter and Asher! Sharing in the farm fun is their dog, Gigi, the farm cat, Cami, their two goats and a few OTTB rehab project horses. Dr. Stacey also enjoys hiking and trail riding; you will generally find her listening to podcasts on her way to her next appointment!