Interview with Amanda Kuster

Tell us a bit about yourself!

By profession I’m a veterinary practice management professional, recently working as a director of a large, mixed animal hospital. I grew up in a small town on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. I now reside in Calgary, Alberta. I have always been involved with animals; I grew up competing horses in show jumping, western pleasure, and barrel racing. I don’t ride as much anymore, and if I do it’s just for pleasure. Animals have made my life better, and I can’t imagine a life without them in it. So even if I wasn’t interviewing with you right now, if someone were to ask me about myself I can guarantee I would chat their ear off about all my animal journeys! 

I do however have a life outside of work and animals! Kind of. I’m a big sports fan – I definitely got more into sports when I lived in College Station Texas, working at the veterinary teaching hospital. I also love camping, hiking, music, and traveling. Every country I’ve ever been to is in regards to animal welfare work and veterinary medicine. I am currently writing a novel, so that takes up a lot of my free time these days! I am also teaching myself a new instrument, and a new language. I like to keep busy and challenge myself. I also volunteer with the Children’s Hospital and therapy programs, helping disabled children connect through animals. I am extremely passionate about this and volunteer as much as I can.

Interview with Amanda Kuster - I Love Veterinary

What does your role as a VPM (Veterinary Practice Manager) and Director entail? What is your opinion about your role in the Veterinary profession in Canada?

I oversee business objectives, I ensure the business is running successfully, and I provide leadership to the staff. I monitor the environment while strategizing and implementing plans for effective work practices, revenue growth, and a healthy working capital. I organize and delegate plans to my direct reports which are other managers in the facility. My job is to make sure that the hospital is running efficiently and that my staff are happy and performing to the best of their ability, resulting in happy clients and patients. My role requires excellent communication skills, compassion, and high emotional intelligence as I’m providing support to a large number of staff every day. 

The need for a VPM or director is starting to become increasingly recognized across Canada. While these jobs are quite easy to find in the States, they can be difficult to find in Canada; and the competition is tough. I started my journey about six years ago to get to where I am and the roles are a lot easier to come by these days. Salary for my position also ranges depending on the size of the hospital, but you can make anywhere from $50,000 starting and up to $200,000 a year as a director which is comparable with the United States salaries.

What is your educational background?

I did two years of animal science, as well as a two year certificate in equine sports therapy. I owned my own company for a year performing chiropractic and massage for large animals. At the time I was working at a large equine surgical hospital and had the opportunity to manage the practice. After I fell in love with the business aspect of veterinary hospitals, I decided to pursue more school. I came to realize that veterinary hospitals need business savvy managers, so I obtained a Degree in Professional Business Communications from Royal Roads University. I also took Project Management, and I am currently completing my CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager) designation. I was probably in school for a total of eight years! I didn’t think I’d ever be done.

What are your favorite aspects of running a hospital?

Being on a team with people who value the same things I do. I have cherished every team I have ever worked with, and the morale of the hospitals. I am so lucky to work with compassionate people who care so much about the well-being of animals. I am an extremely passionate person, so providing my team support is something I love being able to do for them. The hospitals I have worked for would not function without the support of the team, so making sure that my staff are happy is most important to me – and that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of my job. That, and making sure the doctors are able to focus on medicine and caring for our sick patients. Of course – the furry patients are the reason behind my desire to run a hospital so that’s another favorite of mine when they come through the doors. I love so much about my job!

Interview with Amanda Kuster - I Love Veterinary

How did you get involved in the veterinary industry?

Animals have always been in my life, however, I started working with animals when I was right out of high-school. I worked for multiple veterinary clinics in Canada, as well as oversees, in between semesters in University. I would find opportunity quite easily and reach out to owners of the practices or organizations in other countries. I traveled in regards to animal welfare and veterinary medicine, so I got to oversee practices and how they ran in other countries. It really intrigued me. It wasn’t until I started managing a large surgical hospital that it clicked with me what I wanted to pursue. So I went back to school to work on my credentials and obtained my Degrees.

Why Veterinary Medicine?

As cliché as it sounds, I grew up with animals and I have always had compassion for them. I was always nursing injured animals back to health. I was so young when I brought my first injured animal home! Animals have without a doubt made my life better, and I want to surround myself with people who have the same values when it comes to caring for them. I also have a background in science, so medicine always intrigued me. Veterinary medicine just made sense to me. 

The first movie I ever remember watching was “Born Free”, about the lion cubs in Africa. Honestly – I just can’t think of a time where animals have not been a part of my success. They have made me feel so much better in hard times. I owe so much to them and if that’s by efficiently running a hospital than that’s what I want to do.

You mention nursing animals back to health, why didn’t you become a veterinarian?

I get asked this all the time actually! I love science, I’m quite a book nerd and I’m always reading up on ecology, and animal biology. I take courses as much as I can in these areas. But veterinary school is an extremely hard path to take, and I feel that you need to have an immense amount of support; whether that be emotionally, mentally, or financially and I never had that kind of support in my life. It can be done I’m sure, but at the time I didn’t have the stamina to take on veterinary school. I connect well with people, not just animals, so when I started managing a practice I just knew right away that was what I was supposed to do for a career. All throughout high-school my friends always told me I’d make a phenomenal business professional – So here I am. Trying anyways!

You mentioned traveling in regards to veterinary medicine, what did that entail?

I actually did an article on my travels! My travels abroad are all based on animal welfare and veterinary medicine. I went to Europe to ride and work with horses, practicing my equine sports therapy. While I was in Europe I had the opportunity to work at a veterinary facility in Billund, Denmark. In 2017 I traveled to South East Asia and I got to work with injured elephants, water buffalo, monkeys, and dogs. I overseen the hospital and also designed rehabilitation schedules. In 2018 before I left for Texas I traveled to Central America to work with more animals. Each organization I worked with gave me the opportunity to oversee how they ran their practices. I’ve had that amazing opportunity in every country I’ve visited and I’m extremely grateful for this.

Amanda Kuster and elephant - I Love Veterinary

What do you find most difficult in your role?

The days we have an emergency that doesn’t have a positive outcome, or a day with an absurd amount of euthanasia’s are always the most difficult days, as it takes a toll on the staff. We are all compassionate people so the emotions hit the team pretty hard. People always expect me to say conflict or drama, but that’s part of my job and a lot can be learned from dealing with conflict effectively, but there’s no manual on how to handle difficult days where you see a lot of sadness, and that’s because every individual handles their emotions differently.

Biggest achievements?

I have a few, but I also have a lot I’m still working towards. I’m still quite fresh in this role as a director, but one of my biggest achievements was probably working beside the Director and Assistant Dean at the world-renowned Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I was so proud of myself for reaching this goal as it had been a dream of mine since I was young. I’ve always been drawn to Texas, and College Station had the only veterinary school in the state of Texas. Every day I got to work beside incredible people who were so innovative and passionate about providing quality care within their teaching hospital, and providing the best learning experience for our future veterinarians and researchers. It was an extremely memorable experience, and I walked away with so much knowledge and confidence that I have been able to implement in my career. 

Interview with Amanda Kuster 2 - I Love Veterinary

Another achievement has been the hospitals I have had the opportunity to monitor in other countries – which I have mentioned. I have also had multiple hospitals reach out to me regarding director positions and public speaking opportunities in the United States including Texas, Florida, and California, as well as Canada and Europe. I’m very passionate about what I do, and I network as much as I can because I learn so much from others – so people remember that when they meet me. The University I had attended in the past actually had me back to speak to students about my experiences which was so heart-warming – Giving students motivation is another passion of mine so I’m happy I got to do that.

Future goals?

I want to inspire others to work towards their goals and dreams, regardless if they are in veterinary medicine or not. I want to educate children and teach them what I have learned through animals. I didn’t come from much support growing up, I paved my own path and worked extremely hard for everything I have and for my career. If I can do it, surely anyone can. Animals helped me pave this path – I think a lot of people can learn from them and the experiences I have gone through to get here. 

I also want to work towards consulting, providing practices all around the world my knowledge, skills, and experience on how to run a successful hospital. I hope to write a few books on management and leadership, too! I want to make a difference and give others hope. I’d like to do that through my passion and work. I hope that all my tribulations will lead me to owning my own facility one day, and having a large farm with an abundance of animals to come home to, that I can use to help others get better.

Lastly, do you have any pets of your own?

I have plants if that counts…? (haha) I don’t have any animals right now.  Not even a fish! I lost my puppy a couple years ago and it broke my heart, so I’m not ready for another one yet. I have a few horses that I borrow when I need to go for a ride, and I get enough love from all my friend’s animals when I go to visit. But eventually I see myself on a farm with more than enough animals! That’s a dream of mine.