Dear Clients and Friends,
It seems like only yesterday that I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the construction dirt off the waiting-room floor tiles in anticipation of the grand opening of Animal Medical Center of Chicago. That day, however, was 30 years ago today. Unbelievable, how fast time flies when you love doing what you do – practicing veterinary medicine with an amazing group of people.
I was 29 years of age when I opened AMCOC. I had one receptionist, one assistant and just a handful of clients to start. Today, my practice has grown to include five veterinarians, six certified veterinary technicians, five veterinary assistants, six receptionists, one custodian and a hospital administrator. I believe if you want to achieve something spectacular, you can not do it alone. You need to surround yourself with great people who may be smarter than you. It is with this spirit that I’ve created this amazing staff and a spectacular place to take your pet to for veterinary care.
I thought it would be fun if I share with you the top 28 changes that I’ve noticed at my practice over the last 30 years (the order is random):
- From typewriter to computer. When I first opened, medical records, appointment scheduling and financial records were all done by hand. We had a typewriter in our pharmacy area where we would type our prescription labels. Let’s just say, now everything is computerized and just a single click away.
- Diagnostics. For years, we would send our blood samples out and would get the results in 1- 2 days via a telephone call from the laboratory. A receptionist would record each value of each test result in a pet’s medical record. On some days, this task would take 30- 60 minutes. Today, we have in-hospital diagnostic equipment that delivers comprehensive blood test results in 15 minutes recorded instantly in a patient’s record. Quick and accurate with no time delays – which is extraordinarily helpful when dealing with critically ill patients.
- Rapid radiography. In the early days of my practice, we would take images of your pet and hand develop them in a dark room. Over a period of ten minutes, we would hand dip the films in a vat-of-chemicals to process them. If the film was not of acceptable quality, we’d have to take another film and repeat the whole process again. Today, it is all digital. Our technicians take the image, and it is electronically captured on our computer screen in seconds. We can modify the contrast and darkness without retaking the image.
- Ultrasound and more advanced imaging, like CT-scans and MRIs. These advanced imaging options only existed at universities when I first opened. For the last 15-20 years, we are now able to perform ultrasounds at AMCOC. Nearby, speciality practices can do CT scans and MRIs on pets. This increased accessibility of advanced imagining options has greatly increased our diagnostic capabilities.
- Delivery of pain management. Wow, it was almost non-existent when I graduated veterinary school. Now, it’s one of the first things we assess and treat to increase the quality of our care in our patients.
- Massage and Laser Therapy– Thirty years ago, neither of these treatment modalities existed in my “tool box”. Now, we frequently recommend both laser and massage therapy for pain management and wound healing.
- 100% staff commitment to Fear-Free. It was only in the last 3-5 years that we’ve really acknowledged and appropriately addressed the stress and anxiety of our pets. We are one of the few certified Fear-Free Hospitals in Illinois. Honestly, this has revolutionized the way we approach our patient care. Pets are no longer labeled aggressive and dominant, but fearful and stressed. This is definitely a more humane approach to caring for our patients!
- Decline of Feline Leukemia (FELV) and Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV). It was in the mid ’80s when we routinely started testing our cats for FELV and FIV. Unfortunately, It would take days to weeks to get confirmatory results. A few decades ago, a week did not go by without a cat diagnosed and euthanized due to FELV. Today, it’s almost non-existent due to the early detection and isolation that Chicagoland shelters started doing in the ’90s.
- Safe and effective vaccinations. We have tremendously expanded our coverage of infectious diseases and prevention. I’ve not seen a Parvo puppy in over 10 years given our successful vaccination program. We now have vaccines that prevent Leptospirosis, Lyme and Canine Influenza. Our vaccines are safer and less reactive than older vaccines used over the course of 30 years.
- Expanded pharmacological options to treat our pets – especially those that suffer from arthritis, liver disease, cancer and gastrointestinal disease. Two of my favorite new drugs are an anti-vomiting drug called Cerenia and a long lasting antibiotic called Convenia. Our management of arthritis has greatly expanded to include not only numerous anti-infammatory drugs but also monoclonal antibody therapy.
- Recognizing Hyperthyroidism in Felines. I remember hearing a short lecture in veterinary school about this disease. At that time, we had no idea how common it was in our geriatric cats. In fact, I’m almost positive my childhood cat died from this now treatable disease. Now, almost every geriatric cat with a history of increased appetite and weight loss is tested for Hyperthyroidism, which usually is due to a benign tumor in the thyroid gland. Treatment can be as simple as applying a transdermal ointment to the inside of ear pinnae, eating an iodine restricted prescription food or treating once with radioactive iodine. It’s amazing what we now can do!
- Pet insurance. Well, that did not exist when I first opened. Now, many of my clients use this option to help them pay for their veterinary bills. I actually support the purchase of pet insurance by clients who do not have access to immediate cash if an emergency were to occur. Most insurance plans will pay out 80-90% of our veterinary bill once the deductible is met and its not a pre-exisiting illness.
- Advancement of veterinary dentistry. I believe this is one area that has vastly improved over the last 30 years. When I first opened, we manually had to extract teeth without any dental radiographs. Today, we use an ultrasonic scaler to clean teeth, take full mouth dental radiographs on almost all patients, make gingival flaps prior to extracting teeth and use high speed dental drills to section each root prior to extracting. It is unimaginable to me today that we did not perform regional nerve blocks prior to extractions.
- Anesthesia and anesthesia monitoring has greatly improved over the last 30 years. I remember using an injectable sedative (called Surital) and using gas anesthesia (called Halothane), which both had narrow safety margins. Today, we use extraordinarily safe products, like the sedative Alfaxan and gas anesthesia called Isoflurane. Monitoring today has expanded from the basic ECG to include monitoring oxygen saturation, carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure and using ventilators to insure proper depth and frequency of every breath.
- Addressing allergies in pet. It was either steroids (which have the potential to aggravate the kidneys, liver or trigger diabetes) or anti-histamines (that are barely effective in 50% of our patients). Today, we have exceptionally safe drugs, like Apoquel and Cytopoint, that modify the release of mediators of the itch cycle that have revolutionized how we symptomatically treat our allergy patients. In addition, immunotherapy is available for desensitization.
- Diets. Another, wow! Diets have changed dramatically over the years. When I was young, I remember feeding my dog Gaines Burgers – which were red to orange colored, highly processed food patties of unrecognizable ingredients . Now, we have dozens of prescription quality diets that are composed of single unique or hydrolyzed proteins. We have human-grade diets made just for your pet. We have diets that can dissolve crystals and kidney diets that can extend your pet’s life by years. We’ve recognized the importance of taurine in our pet food to avoid heart disease. Raw diets and grain-free diets are now not recommended by most veterinarians.
- Heartworm prevention. In the ’80s, we used to recommend daily Filarabits to prevent heartworm disease in our canine pets. I honestly don’t remember an alternative. Now, we have dozens of products on the market ranging from once monthly oral tablets to monthly topicals to an injection given once every 6 months. Not only has the frequency been reduced, but the safety margins and efficacy of these drugs has improved dramatically.
- Emergency care. When I first opened, the single local emergency practice was only open when we were closed. In addition, only one existed in a 10-mile radius, and it had no specialist. First thing in the morning, every patient was discharged and returned to their referring veterinarian. Now, we have multiple 24/7 emergency practices with dozens of specialist to care for your pets.
- Specialists. For the first 10-15 years, I cannot remember a single specialist located within the borders of Chicago. We used to send them to the suburbs to see a specialist. Now, just a few miles from my practice, there are dozens of specialists available from Cardiology to Ophthamology to Surgery.
- More women veterinarians and owners. When I opened AMCOC, women made up the minority of veterinarians in Chicago, and I can’t remember the existence of a female practice owner. Today, most veterinarians are female and many hospitals are owned by women.
- Access to information has expanded greatly over the last 30 years. For veterinarians, we have Veterinary Internet Network – which is an active internet site composed of over 10,000 veterinarians that share current information about pet health issues. For clients, you now have Dr. Google on the internet to help navigate your pet’s health issues.
- Availability of drugs. Just until the last 5-10 years, most clients bought their pharmaceutical products at the veterinary clinic. Now, internet sales have become the norm.
- Flea and tick control. Thank goodness we have stopped using flea powders, flea collars and flea dips – all potentially hazardous to your pet’s health. Today, we have many options that are safe and easy to use. Our favorites are the oral monthly product NexGard, the every three month oral product Bravecto or the new Simparica Trio which is a monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventative. These newer products are tasty, safer and action of onset is hours, not days.
- The evolving recognition of the importance of the human – animal bond. I’ve always loved pets and recognized the healing power of pets… but I believe over the past 30 years, through education and personal experience, our community does too! People now openly express their love of their pet, how important they are in their lives, and in the end, express their sorrow over their loss. I am now NOT in the minority when in comes to public recognition of the importance of pets in our lives.
- Expansion and renovations – approximately fifteen years ago I expanded the original 1600 square foot Victorian building by an additional 3000 square feet. This minimalist addition included a state-of-the art surgery and dental suite, 4 additional examinations rooms, and an elevator for handicap accessibility and pet’s with mobility issues. Five years ago, I converted my previous surgery room into a Comfort room for clients to say goodbye to their pets in a peaceful spot. A few years ago, we designated and re-designed one examination to be a Feline-only examination room. And lastly, last year I renovated the surgery and dental suite to make it more efficient and enjoyable to work in.
- Ownership of veterinary practices has changed over the last 10 years from individual owners to corporate ownership. Unfortunately, I am disappointed with this trend and feel that this may adversely effect the quality of veterinary medicine delivered to our pets elsewhere. I’m concerned that corporate ownership places a higher emphasis on profit over quality of care and client-doctor relationships. Don’t worry, I’m not planning to retire for many years. My father, my role model, stopped working at 88 years of age!
- On a personal note, a little over thirty years ago, I had just married my husband Brad Ginn and was living on Roscoe street, in Chicago. Fast forward thirty years, I live in Oak Park with Brad and have two grown children. My oldest son, Jacob, a few days ago received his master’s degree from University of Wisconsin–Madison. My younger son, Sam, graduated from Stanford University last year and created a veterinary software company. I have 2 seventeen-year-old cats, named Lemon and Oreo, whom I love dearly. I have a crazy, two and one-half year old Bernedoodle, named Clara, who challenges me daily by her antics but still melts my heart.
- Today, May 12, 2020 – our COVID-19 protocol. Who would have thought I’d have to divide my staff in half to maximize the chance of continual delivery of veterinary care during the pandemic? Who would have thought that I would not be allowing clients into my practice? I suspect that this is probably the most dramatic event/change that has happened since I opened AMCOC. Hopefully, this is a temporary change that will end shortly.
What has not changed …. is my love of veterinary medicine and caring for pets.
I’d also like to take this time to thank and recognize how fortunate I am to have a clientele that appreciates what it is that we do – delivering compassionate care to pets in a stress-free and respectful environment. I am indebted to you, my clients, for allowing me to live my dream of owning a veterinary practice and delivering veterinary care to dogs and cats in Chicago. I’m a very lucky person!
I wish everyone good health and look forward to celebrating my 30th anniversary with you all later.
Donna Solomon, DVM
Owner of Animal Medical Center of Chicago