Veterinary Burnout Cured by Discovering Integrative Care

Frustrated by her limited conventional veterinary tool box, and on the brink of changing careers, Dr. Deirdre Farr made a discovery that would dramatically alter her life. Even though she retired from veterinary care in 2019, her passion to help animals won't allow her to leave.

acupuncture: integrative care

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Dr. Deirdre Farr has spent decades improving animals’ lives using alternative and complementary care
  • After experiencing burnout and frustration at the tool given to her by conventional veterinary care, Dr. Farr was about to change career paths, until she discovered acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and chiropractic care
  • Initially, Dr. Farr’s colleagues didn’t believe in the alternative tools she was offering, but when she was able to help their “dead-end cases,” their minds changed
  • When Dr. Farr works with a patient, she sees them as a whole being — one that’s not only physical but also emotional and spiritual in nature; this is key to supporting their wellness
  • Dr. Farr retired from veterinary care in 2019, but her passion to help animals brought her back into practice; she can now be found working one afternoon a week at Iowa Veterinary Wellness Center in Des Moines
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Dr. Deirdre Farr retired from veterinary care in 2019, but her passion to help animals brought her back into practice. She can now be found working one afternoon a week at Iowa Veterinary Wellness Center in Des Moines.

Nominated for a Healthy Pets Game Changer Award by Ronnie, Dr. Farr originally wanted to go into journalism, but her journey took her to veterinary school instead. Unfortunately, especially decades ago, conventional veterinary education doesn’t always equip you to help the animals that come into your practice.

And, according to Dr. Farr, she was burned out by the time she finished veterinary school. "The ‘80s, at an agricultural veterinary school, was a terrible time to be a veterinary student if you loved animals."

Several of her friends who were in veterinary school around that time also burned out, with one leaving the field entirely to become a physical therapist. Dr. Farr persevered, however, and opened a small animal practice that she owned for 13 years.

In addition to the challenges of running a small business, she says, she again became frustrated enough to sell the practice. "I just felt like I didn’t have enough tools … the tools I had were primitive, actually, and especially to treat chronic disease."

Burnout Cured With the Discovery of Integrative Care

Dr. Farr was about to change career paths, until she discovered acupuncture. She completed training through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, then moved on to exploring Chinese herbal medicine and chiropractic. It drove her to open a small practice offering only complementary therapies — filling in the gaps that conventional veterinary medicine left behind.

"I didn’t throw away my Western tools, because they were important. I just didn’t do them. I integrated and would work with their primary veterinarian or specialist to give what … was best for them." Dr. Farr operated that practice for about 15 years and retired in 2019. "But I couldn’t give it up altogether," she said. She had the opportunity to spend one afternoon a week at a colleague’s practice — Iowa Veterinary Wellness Center — and took it.

"The nice thing about working just that brief amount of time is I have to continue to do continuing education … the opportunity to always be adding to the information is just endless."

Working as a Team Instead of Against Each Other

While alternative modalities are becoming increasingly integrated into mainstream veterinary care, it’s still an uphill road for those seeking to spread their worth. Dr. Farr has seen a lot through her career, starting out at an agricultural veterinary school and then focusing her practice based on her passion to help her patients the best way possible, which for her necessitated the use of integrative modalities.

Over the years, Dr. Farr said, "I was careful not to step on anyone’s toes. So if they needed lab work, I would send them back to their primary veterinarian. I consulted with their primary veterinarian so that we were working as a team rather than against each other."

Dr. Farr tells her clients that she brings one point of view to veterinary care and others may bring another. "And everyone is doing the best they can. So I developed a really good working relationship with my colleagues."

Initially, she said, her colleagues didn’t believe in the alternative tools she was offering. But then they started sending her "cases where they dead-ended," such as terminal cancer cases. "And the thing is, I could do something with them. I had something I could offer them that couldn’t be offered through what they did."

A number of practitioners Dr. Farr has worked with who didn’t believe in alternative tools at first are now taking complementary courses themselves. By not alienating her colleagues and instead working together, it served as a catalyst for others to expand their own toolboxes to better serve their animal patients.

A Word About Kindness

When Dr. Farr works with a patient, she sees them as a whole being — one that’s not only physical but also emotional and spiritual in nature. This is key to supporting their wellness:

"The thing I love most is, doing this kind of medicine I learned what I didn’t learn as a Western medicine practitioner, that this holistic track … you’re looking at the whole patient. Not only physically but also, honestly, emotionally and spiritually."

"Dogs in particular are just emotional sponges," she added, so she loves learning about what the animals’ lives are like at home to help guide their care. She works as a team with not only pet guardians but also the animals, "working for that patient’s well-being, whatever that looks like." Dr. Farr also believes that simply being kind can have a great impact on the world, and she wants to share this message:

"Just be nice. That is true in my professional life as well as in the rest of my life, my nonprofessional life. I have clients tell me all the time … they’ll remind me of something I did and I don’t even remember doing it … you just never know what kind of impact being kind is going to have … My one takeaway, both in personal and professional life, is be nice."

We are in a kindness deficit, so these are important words. If you’d like to get in touch with Dr. Farr, reach out to Iowa Veterinary Wellness Center in Des Moines.