Dr. Katherine Donahue, a graduate of the DVM Class of 1994, is a telehealth expert, and also works in small animal practice.
Tell us about your current job, and what led you to your current career path?
I have two separate roles for two different companies. I’m the Veterinary Medical Director (and partner) at GuardianVets, a leading veterinary telehealth, remote workforce, and communications company. I also am an associate veterinarian at a small animal practice in Okemos, Michigan. I do a lot of canine reproductive work and really enjoy preventative medicine and behavior. I love the practice that I’m at and have been in my current role since graduating from MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. I was truly that tiny kid that grew up always wanting to be a veterinarian.
The path that led to GuardianVets was a little different. I was ready for a bit of a stretch after almost 25 years of private practice and connected online with my now-business partner as he was assembling the leadership team for GuardianVets. We had shared values and a strong desire to serve the profession. That relationship has led to a remote workforce of over 100 veterinary professionals working across the country and serving hundreds of hospitals.
Can you tell us about your passion for telehealth, and how that came about?
My passion for telehealth, teletriage, and veterinary communications stems exclusively from personal experience. As a young doctor, I spent many nights on call. Also, throughout my career, I’ve had lots of situations where client boundaries got really blurry, and I’d get asked about non-emergent things at night and during the weekend. As a telehealth platform, GuardianVets helps on-call doctors filter calls and makes their after-hours work so much more efficient. Removing the non-emergent calls better equips on-call doctors to handle the true emergencies. The ability to offer telehealth services to clients (and friends) allows DVMs to monetize their time and can really reduce burnout and compassion fatigue. It was really important to me to both help the profession right now and leave the profession that I care so much about better than where I found it.
What lessons can the veterinary community learn from telehealth?
Veterinary telehealth is here to stay! The pandemic has helped us embrace telehealth and now veterinary teams need to make it work for us and for our clients and patients. Honor the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). It’s the safest approach for our non-verbal patients. Telemedicine is best delivered within a valid VCPR. Teletriage and telemedicine can make your practice better and can help you have better work-life balance.
What advice would you give to current veterinary students or students interested in veterinary school?
Veterinary students should try absolutely everything during vet school: small animal, large animal, exotics, zoo/wildlife, research, really anything that seems interesting. You just don’t know what will resonate and become a career path or passion. Use technology and incorporate it into your daily practice life — let it work for you and help you practice better medicine. Never stop learning. Your ears and your hands are your best tools. Take careful, complete histories every single time, and do your physical exam the same way every single time.
Advice I’d give to preveterinary students: volunteer everywhere, get lots of experience handling different animals, and become really familiar with the different types of work that veterinarians do. Make sure that you love the field, because it’s expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to get that DVM degree.
What are your hobbies outside of veterinary medicine?
I love to read. I run or walk every day and did my first (and only) marathon during the pandemic. I have a rescue terrier cross (BEST dog in the world!) from a high-kill shelter in Texas, a Frenchie with a heart murmur, and a tripod cat that one of my coworkers scooped up from the road after she was hit by a car. I love to hang out with and travel with my kids and friends.