Talking F-1 racing, exotic surgery, and the importance of teams with Dermot Jevens, MVB, DACVS
Dermot Jevens, MVB, DACVS, originally hails from northeast Ireland, about halfway between Dublin and Belfast, where his small village childhood inspired a love of animals and curiosity about medicine.
He graduated from the University College Dublin in 1987 and then came to the United States where he completed his specialty training at North Carolina State University and Michigan State University. He then went on to found Upstate Veterinary Specialists with locations in Greenville, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina. It was named the AAHA Referral Practice of the Year in 2011 and Jevens has served as secretary/treasurer of the AAHA Board of Directors since 2017.
In speaking with NEWStat about his Irish roots, how he came to vet med, and even acting as pit crew for his sons’ go-kart races when they were growing up, Jevens always returns to the themes of friendship and connection.
Read on to hear which AAHA initiatives he’s most excited about in 2023 and the most bizarre surgeries he’s ever been asked to do.
NEWStat: When did you first know you wanted to be a veterinarian?
Dermot Jevens: I had a classmate in elementary school who, coincidentally, was born on the same day as me. Our parent were friends, and his dad was a veterinarian. Through watching his dad in action it dawned on me that I wanted to be a veterinarian too. I’ve always loved being around dogs and I’ve always been intrigued with surgery. However, at that time in Ireland, veterinary medicine was primarily a large-animal profession with a small-animal clinic in the evening—think James Herriott. It was actually in vet school that I realized I could pursue my dream of small-animal surgery and I came to the states to specialize.
NEWStat: Do you get trained to do surgery on all kinds of small animals?
DJ: During our training towards board certification, we typically focus on one area, such as small-animal or equine. However, surgical principles and physiology are pretty uniform across all species, so as veterinary surgeons, we occasionally get to work outside of our lane. Some of my most fun surgical experiences have involved teaming up with zoo vets and human surgeons. Whether working on large cats or primates, snakes, or fish, being part of a team where you get to see others utilize their skillsets and knowledge in conjunction with yours to save a life and accomplish something unique is exhilarating.
NEWStat: Are there innovations happening in veterinary surgery?
DJ: All the time! To succeed in surgery does require a certain level of curiosity and drive to find a “fix” for a problem, and those traits drive innovation. Much of our innovation parallels innovation in human surgery, as there is so much funding and technological development there that we can apply in our species. The role of veterinary surgical research in advances in human healthcare also cannot be understated. One of my concerns, however, is that we have seen somewhat of a "brain drain” from academic surgery to private practice over the past decade, and this is a trend that I hope we can find a solution for as it will impact the pace of innovation long term.
NEWStat: In terms of how the whole vet team contributes to the job of a surgeon, obviously anesthesia is one big part. Are there other areas ripe for better training or CE that people would really benefit from learning more about to improve the overall process?
DJ: I’d love to answer that question by talking about one of the things I love to watch: Formula 1 racing. While no race team can win without a phenomenal driver, no driver can win without a phenomenal team of engineers, pit crew, and strategists. If you stop for a second and look around inside our profession, the teams that are successful truly understand this fundamental principle.
The teams working at their best are those that understand, respect, utilize, and grow the skill sets of each and every player on their team. It’s something we still have a lot to learn about in vet medicine. And it is why I am excited about some work we have in the pipeline at AAHA on veterinary technician utilization in the workplace. The better we can get at understanding these concepts, the more enjoyable and fulfilling our work is going to be for every member of that team.
NEWStat: What's the best nonveterinary team you've ever been on?
DJ: Hands down it was racing with my kids. My two sons grew up racing go-karts, and I was their mechanic. A friend of mine who is a professional driver and whose nephew raced with us, was the driver coach. We developed friendships with a lot of very skilled people in the sport who I think enjoyed watching our “rag-tag” team out there having fun while lots of others might have been taking it too seriously. On any given day, one of us might be changing an axle, while another was texting a friend in Europe or South America with a question, while young drivers were comparing their runs to see how they could help each other improve. To me, a great team is one that works hard towards accomplishing their goals, never loses sight of having fun along the way, respects the unique skills of each member, and always looks out for each other. Additionally, there are a lot of similarities between racing or any sport and veterinary medicine in that it is as much about managing your physical skillsets as it is about managing your mental wellbeing.
NEWStat: Managing your head is something we hear a lot about in vet practices.
DJ: We were discussing that today on this current team that I'm working with. We feel it’s critical that all of us look out for other members on the team. Helping your teammates manage the mental challenges we face in any project is just as critical, if not more critical, than helping them manage through the list of tasks or skills that need to be completed. Being receptive to that help is also critical.
If one of us is not feeling healthy in that project, then the absolute priority must be to support that colleague and help them get back to feeling healthy. We’ve all seen athletes and teams lose the competition not because of their physical skillsets, but because of their mental mindset. Veterinary medicine is no different, and it is critical for us to recognize when we need to help and when to welcome the help coming our way.
NEWStat: What’s your favorite team celebration food?
DJ: A potluck where all the team comes together to share whatever their favorite food is.
NEWStat: So, you joined the AAHA Board in 2017. How would you describe what it’s like behind the scenes?
DJ: Lots of respectful, healthy debate along with lots of listening. I've gone in to so many discussions having one opinion and then ended up understanding why my opinion should change … or why we need to move in a direction that I would not have gone in had I been making that decision by myself. I see that everywhere on the board, with our CEO and the entire team at AAHA. We are constantly looking to evolve, constantly looking to be the organization our members want and need, and it has been an exciting couple of years as we recently refined and clarified our purpose to “simplifying the journey towards excellence for veterinary practices.”
NEWStat: AAHA has a lot of big initiatives in the works. Is there anything you're excited about?
DJ: I'm excited about the fact that AAHA is exploring lots of new projects while also keeping a clear focus on the “bread and butter” of AAHA, our standards and guidelines. Expanding the number of guidelines, adding certificate training programs, group thinking on problems impacting our industry, and cohort accreditation are just some of the projects I am truly excited about.
One example we touched on earlier is the work we are preparing to undertake on technician utilization. It really excites me to see the expansion of the guidelines because, for all of us in practice, at the end of the day, we need a solid, thoughtful foundation on which to base how we operate. A second is cohort accreditation, where we bring together [a group of] five, six, eight practices, who will accredit together as a team. Accreditation can be a little intimidating, but when you're doing it as a team, there’s a tremendous opportunity to have similarly situated professionals by your side to help problem solve and build camaraderie outside your own hospital, hopefully building a group of colleagues that may become a network for life.
NEWStat: What are the biggest challenges facing vet med right now and what are your dreams for the future?
DJ: In the field overall, vet medicine is facing a lot of challenges: Whether it’s truly appreciating and understanding the importance of psychological safety in the workplace … or the challenge and struggle to find the best model to provide vet care to the pet parent of the future, we have some challenges ahead.
My crazy wish would be that everybody in vet medicine aligns around the same ‘why’ for the provision of vet care. To me, that ‘why’ incorporates caring for pets, caring for the pet owner, caring for our team, and caring for the health of the business. My wild dream would be that medicine is being provided in a manner where there's alignment in all those goals. I’m not sure we are there right now.
NEWStat: Who was the first animal you ever loved?
DJ: A dog called Skippy. I was out walking with my dad one night when I was four years old, and we tripped across him walking along the street. He was a little black, hairy mutt with a white spot on his chest. Although I better not talk too loudly, as our current two dogs, Guinness and Murphy, might get jealous!
NEWStat: Maybe AAHA should think about accrediting some practices in Ireland.
DJ: We actually are getting ready to do some more international work with AAHA, having accredited our first practice in Japan recently. Talking about Ireland, I have been tapping my Irish culture on a project we are working on right now called AcharaVet. “Achara” in Gaelic means “Hey friend!”— and that summarizes the purpose for our team. Our focus is balancing people, purpose, and profitability as we grow. As long as we look out for the needs of each of our “friends” in every decision we make, hopefully we shouldn't go too far off track.
Learn more about the AAHA Board of Directors in this recent interview with Garth Jordan, MBA, CSM, CSPO.
Meet AAHA Board President Margot Vahrenwald, DVM, in this NEWStat article.
Meet new 2022-23 AAHA Board director Lynn Happel, DVM, in this NEWStat article.
Meet AAHA Board President-Elect Mark Thompson, DVM, MBA, CCRP, in this NEWStat article.