Episode 50 – No Egos Allowed with Dr. David Stephens

Highlighting equine practices that are moving away from “traditional” equine veterinary norms is a way to bridge the gap that exists between younger and older veterinarians. We cannot hope to attract new talent to our pool of equine veterinarians if recent grads and students don’t know that there ARE progressive practices out there. I’m excited to highlight a few of these practice owners over the next couple of weeks.
To start off, please enjoy this discussion with Dr. David Stephens of Weems & Stephens Equine Hospital in Aubrey, Texas.

Dr. David Stephens, DABVP graduated from Texas A&M University in 1990, which was followed by a one-year internship at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. Upon completion of a surgery residency at Oklahoma State University in 1994, he became a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Equine) in 1995. Subsequently, he was a staff surgeon at Equine Veterinary Associates in Conroe, Texas for 1 year, and then partnered with Dr. Scott Weems to establish Weems and Stephens Equine Hospital in 1997.

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Stacey Cordivano 0:07 Hey there, it’s Dr. Stacey Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that we’ve created. On this podcast I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. Welcome to the whole veterinarian. Stacey Cordivano 0:34 Hey, everyone, my plan for this episode was to get a few sound bites from a group of Equine practitioners who lead larger practices but are doing things a bit differently. But then I chatted with a couple of them and just couldn’t leave anything out. I so much enjoyed the conversations that I’m going to just release them as individual episodes. So you get to hear every little gem that these guys dropped along the way. I really want people to realize that there are equine practices out there that are going against the norm and creating workplaces that are inclusive and employee focused. So this week, you get to hear from Dr. David Stephens, a practice owner from Texas and next week you’ll hear from Dr. Mike Pownall. I hope you enjoy the conversations as much as I did. And now let’s dig in. David Stephens 1:18 My name is David Stephens, senior partner at Weems and Stephens equine hospital. We’re in North Texas, more specifically, the Pilot Point, Aubrey area. We’re an equine exclusive practice eight veterinarians and 4-5 interns and then probably 15, technical staff, office staff and all that full service, equine facility medicine surgery, ambulatory, we also have a reproduction center and stallion collection, processing storage distribution. So we try and be a one stop shop. Stacey Cordivano 2:00 Yeah, there’s a lot going on. Well, thank you for sitting down to chat with me today really appreciate it. We got to know each other when we were on the intergenerational panel for AAEP, right. And I kind of wanted to continue some of the discussions we had during that and after that, because I think that it’s really important to try to bridge the gap between some of the younger practitioners and some of the older practitioners. And I think some of us, I’m not going to classify myself as totally younger, but some of us younger folks tend to feel like the older practitioners really aren’t receptive to new things or thinking outside the box. And I want to highlight some voices that I know are doing things differently. So that’s why I want to have you on today. I guess first, how long have you been in practice, actually? David Stephens 2:49 Oh, gosh. I graduated vet school in 1990. And I left Texas I interned at rood and riddle equine hospital, and then from there to surgery residency, and then from there, I needed to get back home and home to me was North Texas, and then came up and joined a one veterinarian practice named Scott wanes and we formed limbs and Stevens equine hospital. And so gosh, I don’t do math well in my head, but probably 25-30 years I’ve been in practice. Stacey Cordivano 3:30 Got it. So then you grew that from a two Doctor practice to one that’s, that’s amazing. David Stephens 3:36 Yeah, we had Scott and myself and Cincio Nunez who’s still with us. And Beth who was receptionist, bookkeeper, technician, anesthesiologist. So we went from practice a four to now practice of 34 people. Stacey Cordivano 3:58 So it sounds like Beth really got you where you had to go. David Stephens 4:02 Yeah, she kind of did it all. She could multitask. Stacey Cordivano 4:07 Okay, so before we kind of dig into some other stuff. When we had a follow up zoom, there was a comment made, I think from you that equine that medicine is a lifestyle. And I may have like disagreed with that slightly. And I think you felt a little maybe a little bad sort of describing it that way. But I truly believe that that is the truth for a lot of people. So I wanted to dig into that statement alittle bit like from your perspective. Yeah. David Stephens 4:39 Yeah, I mean, the way I look at it, what I do for a living, it’s not a job for me, it’s a lifestyle. It’s all about agriculture and horses, livestock. The people that our clients, you know, that’s for the love of the horse that I do Don’t go to work and have to sit in an office, we’re in a coat and tie, you know, and the only time I see sunshine is 730. In the morning, when I’m walking in at noon time when I go to launch, and then at 530, when I leave that there’s a lot of diversity to what I do and how I do it. And, and just those core values that people have, you know, that they honor the livestock that they’re entrusted to care for, they want to be good stewards of that. They value the honesty and integrity. Not all, but most people that are in agriculture have a code that they live by, and it’s tell the truth and do the right thing, whether anybody’s watching or not. And so for me, it’s a lifestyle, and I love that lifestyle. Yeah, there’s parts of the lifestyle that are not, I guess, appealing to all. And I think, unfortunately, we our vendor community has done it to ourselves that we kind of plugged in to, well, this is what you do. You know, you wake up early, you work all day, you quit when the the work is done. And then you do it day after day after day. And you’re a slave to your cell phone and your clients. And that ship has sailed. And we as practices, we as veterinarians have to figure out this whole work life balance, because when I was young in my career, you know, I worked long hours for low pay, not that I liked it, but I felt like I was getting something out of it. But I didn’t have the courage to say that didn’t right. You know that this this is unsustainable. So I just put my head down my rear up and just kept work and no one that is probably not right. Where’s today I I really respect voices, it can say, there’s a lot of things that I like about veterinary medicine, the equine industry, but it ain’t right. We got to change it. And I like that conversation. And I like that journey that we’re on. Okay, well, let’s change it and let’s make it better. Better for today. Better for tomorrow, better for 5-10 years from now. And so to me, it’s it’s not a problem. I think it’s a challenge. And the challenge is, let’s figure it out. It’s not me figuring it out. It’s not used at figuring out it’s us collectively figuring it out what’s best for all, you know, Stacey Cordivano 7:37 yeah. And it’s so interesting to hear you explain the lifestyle. So when I hear equine medicine as a lifestyle, my brain goes to, it’s what I do all day long. I don’t have any other hobbies. It’s not the values and you know stewardship. And so of course, I will 100% agree with you on it being an amazing lifestyle that we get to do. It’s just for me, and I think probably other younger practitioners, when we hear older practitioners say that we think oh, well, that means they work 90 hours a week. And that style doesn’t work for me, which when I first started, I was the same way. I didn’t have kids, I was building a practice from ground zero. So I did the same thing. But then I was forced to change when I’m the primary caretaker for my children and our family responsibilities. So that’s interesting to kind of dig into that. What have you learned in kind of your growth over the past few years as far as having new younger associates and what things have you guys changed? David Stephens 8:41 What I’ve learned and in the cool thing about a group practice is that me personally or any veterinarian or even person that works for us does not have to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. That a group practice has allowed us you know, what is my what is yours? What is someone else’s primary interest, and then cultivating that and nurturing that and push work to what they really is their passion, whether it be surgery, medicine, lameness, podiatry, ophthalmology, in providing the tools, and the infrastructure to allow that individual male or female, to cultivate their passion, because we all have a passion for the horse. We all have a passion for veterinary medicine, but take that big category and cut it down. What really actually is your path that you want to follow? And what I’ve learned over the years is that to make a practice sustainable, my goal has always been to hire people better and brighter than I mentor them where I can and learn to get the hell out of the way when they don’t need me anymore. And it’s you know, everyone We We have an office meeting that includes veterinarians, office staff, technical staff, interns, everybody, and we go through our value proposition, our mission statement and what we call our non negotiables. And in our non negotiables, no egos are allowed, in the sense that I might be the oldest guy in that room. But my opinion weighs no more, no less than the youngest person in that room. And given everybody a voice to express this is what I think this is what we’re doing well, this, what we’re not doing well, this is what I’d like to see changed. I’m not saying that we’re going to do that. But if if they articulate the case well enough, and it makes sense, you name we’re out, we’re going to do it. And so what I’ve learned from the younger generations younger people is just that enthusiasm, and that passion for what they do reinvigorates me on a daily basis. And what I’ve learned is, is they’re bright, they’re brighter students, and then what I was getting out, and they’ve had a lot more pressures placed on them than I had when I got out. And to honor that, and respect that and encourage that is probably what I’ve learned over the 30 some odd years, I’ve been doing it. Stacey Cordivano 11:24 Okay, so I feel like that is not the case in a lot of large practices. Is that an activity that you learned somewhere? Or like the belief that every opinion is equal? I mean, that is, I’m going to generalize here. And I’m gonna say it’s rare. And I think it’s a really big deal. It’s actually like, there’s a term for it called psychological safety. And I feel like it’s the key to fixing a lot of Equine medicine. And I’m just curious if that’s inherent in you, or David Stephens 11:54 maybe, um, that’s a great question. And honestly, I really haven’t put tremendous thought into other than, you know, my background, I went to school at a&m, I was in the Corps Cadets, I took a commission upon graduation, I was in the military, and from their veterinary school and all that. And so, learning to be a leader is always, you know, you don’t lead from the back, you lead from the front. And it’s, I think it was George S. Patton said, some, you know, it’s not the skills of the general that leads the troops, its inherent courage and valor that wins the war of the troops. And so I’ve always believed, it’s not us, an individual that maybe is at the front of the bus, driving truly the success, that commonality, that goal that we’re all trying to achieve is accomplished by those behind us, not in front of us. And so, for me, I’ve always placed a tremendous value in those around me, and a tremendous loyalty to them. Because in I’ve expressed this on many occasion in our office meetings, yes, we have been very successful. And I reinforce, to our associates and technical staff, guys, it’s not we have four partners. Now. It’s not me, Cole, Pat, Kevin, that has led to the success of this practice that y’all and I believe that on my heart, because we are only as good as those that we surround ourselves with. And so for me, maybe it is just how I’m hardwired but giving those people that allow us to achieve our goals, a voice, a position of respect, a sense of authority is intrinsic to how we operate. Stacey Cordivano 13:59 So interesting and inspiring, honestly, I mean, that exercise should be done everywhere for sure. Okay, so my last question is, what is something that you wish either younger vets or maybe some of your colleagues knew about you or about your thoughts on our profession as it stands? David Stephens 14:19 You know, as I sit here today, I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my life as it relates to the practice and you know, veterinary medicine and I will never be critical of an individual for making a mistake, or I will be critical as you don’t learn from your mistakes, you know, like they talk about the the art and the practice of veterinary medicine. You don’t magically walk out of veterinary school, I don’t care where you go and become, you know, if you’re a surgeon, Larry bramlage, or Dean Richardson or Wayne McIlroy, it takes time and it takes learning and in that learning, you’re going to make mistakes just be smart enough To recognize where you, you made a mistake or a misstep, and just learn from that and say, Don’t ever do that again, and grow from that experience. And I think we gain more out of adverse times, as far as growth, personal growth than you ever do. And great times, because adverse times force you to look deep to challenge what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and make changes where changes need to be made. And so looking back in my life, those times that I wished I would have, I could have done I didn’t do, I don’t look at them as regrets. I look at them as formative times that kind of put me where I am today. And probably the last thing that it took me a long time to learn because, you know, when I got out of school and trying to develop a practice, you know, my mindset was just do or build this and that. And over the years, I’ve learned really what’s important in life is your faith, your family and your friends, work is not in the top three. And I’m at a point in my life, that my faith, my family, and my friends are really my goalpost and my compass that I live by. And yes, works important. But it’s not one of my top three priorities. And so, sometimes reflecting back, where do you want to be in five years? What really matters the most to you? What are your drivers, personal drivers follow those passions. And what I’d suggest to people is look hard and deep and your faith, your family and your friends need to be your top priorities, because if they are the work stuff, the you know, other stuff, personal stuff, it all falls into place. Just be true to yourself. So I guess that’s kind of me in a nutshell. Stacey Cordivano 17:04 Yeah. It’s a great, great advice. And then one more thing I know you have a saying about parachutes. And I feel like it really applies to equine Vet Med and what we need to be doing as far as keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box. So tell me that and your thoughts David Stephens 17:22 And I heard this a long time ago, I might have heard it actually at an AAEP, somebody was talking about unconventional stuff. The slide was, the mind is like a parachute, it works better when it’s open. And so in essence, I’ve always tried to live by that, that, you know, just recently, half of our honestly more of our workforce is female versus male. And we’ve got a young lady, that is a rockstar, an absolute Rockstar, veterinarian, and she had a baby back in September. And, you know, talking to her, Well, what is what is life? What does work? You know, what does this look like to you. And so we had to retool stuff and gave her three months of maternity leave. And then she came back this past month, working one day, a week, kind of a half day. And we’ve had to kind of shuffle some things to make it work. But I wanted to work for her. Because she’s just such a good person, I want her to be a good mother, a good veterinarian and a good wife. And I want us to provide an environment that allows her to do those things. Because at some point in her life, she’s probably going to want to come back and work more as her child gets older or whatever. And I want to keep her on our team versus losing her, because she’s just such an exceptional individual. And so it’s forced us to look how we do things, okay, to allow latitude for our team members to be engaged in being a good wife, a good husband, you know, a good mother or father and a good person and figuring out how do we do that. And it might be extremely unconventional, for most practices flow, but if we can figure that out, and if we can accomplish that this whole problem of practices that I just don’t have enough people I’m having to turn work away, I don’t think that will be an issue for us in the future, if we can figure this out. And that’s what I’m really kind of excited about trying to figure out is how do we do this and make this happen? Because I think we can do it. Stacey Cordivano 19:46 1,000% agree. I think that’s awesome. And thank you for doing that for your associate. Knowing that a lot of us don’t get that. David Stephens 19:55 Well thanks for saying that. But one of these days I’d love for you to meet her and all our associates, honestly, there’s not a person that works for me that I don’t consider family. And it’s not the family that you go home to at night and have dinner with. It’s the family that you work with. And I think it’s incumbent upon us as practice owners, and let’s just say you’re either the mother or the father now of that work family, you got to do right by your your kids. And I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. They’re just younger than me. And I’m the old guy. So I’ll just say and, you know, that that you got to do right by. And I think when you do that, there’s a tremendous amount of internal satisfaction for the business to do that. But also, I think it there’s a tremendous amount of internal satisfaction by the employee that if we can figure this thing out, you know, you’re not just the Hired Gun out there slaying the dragon every day, you know, that you’re doing it for the betterment of the horse, the betterment of yourself as a veterinarian, the betterment of the community, the betterment of the practice, and everybody lands, you know, there’s not a loser. Stacey Cordivano 21:12 Yeah, well, I’m going to come down and come to one of your staff meetings because they sound like fun, so don’t threaten me with a good time. David Stephens 21:21 Love to have you. Stacey Cordivano 21:22 Okay, so very last question. I asked all of my guests what is one small thing that has brought you joy in the past week? David Stephens 21:29 Ah, the trip, my wife and I just took to a wedding down in the hill country, family friend that has their last child got married. And I remember Natalie, when she was just probably three, four years old, standing in the surgery room, on her tippy toes looking up. I was doing surgery at the time, and she was saying, like, Steven, what are you doing? I can’t see what are you doing? What are you doing us? Well, Natalie, go get a stole, and stand up. And you can see what I’m doing and to watch her grow up into this beautiful woman that she is, and get married and just to be a part of that process of the joy of them going into this, you know, relationship and their new life. That gave me a tremendous satisfaction to see her take that next step. So that happened this past week. Stacey Cordivano 22:23 Perfect. I love it. Thank you so much for your time and insight. reciate it David Stephens 22:28 You’re welcome. Bye bye. Stacey Cordivano 22:30 Don’t forget next week, I’ll be releasing my interview on similar topic – progressive practice changes with Dr. Mike Pownall of McKee Pownall in Canada. Talk to you soon. Thanks again for listening today. I still very much appreciate the time you spend with me. I know it is so valuable. For more information or to sign up for our monthly newsletter. Please check out the newly revamped website at the whole veterinarian.com You can also connect with me on Instagram at the whole veterinarian. And lastly, if you have a spare moment, please leave a review on Apple podcasts if you’re enjoying the show, or share it with a friend. Thanks so much and I will talk to you again soon.

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I’m Stacey

I want veterinarians to become happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for this life that we’ve created.

I understand the struggles of a stretched-too-thin veterinarian. I have also learned that with some individual work, there is a brighter side to veterinary medicine. Personal and financial development strategies have helped me find a happier place in my life and in my work. I hope to share resources that will resonate with my fellow veterinarian to allow you to become a more whole person.

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