Dr. Leann Kuebelbeck is the incoming President of NAVC’s Board of Directors. She is a Board Certified Surgeon, received her veterinary degree from Kansas State University and completed her internship and surgical residency at Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital in Ocala, Florida. She then came to Brandon, Florida, to co-found Brandon Equine Medical Center, then known as Surgi-Care Center for Horses, in 1995.
Dr. Kuebelbeck’s professional interests include both orthopedic and soft tissue surgery. She was the 2009 President of the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners (FAEP) and served on the Resident Credentialing Committee and the Symposium Committee for the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). In December of 2016, Dr. Kuebelbeck was presented with Kansas State University’s Alumni Recognition Award “in recognition of her time and effort devoted to advancing veterinary medicine and for being an exemplary role model for future alumni in a professional and community setting.”
Dr. Kuebelbeck is a self-professed “equine geek” who knew by the age of 5 that she wanted to become a horse veterinarian and she never wavered from that goal. She grew up riding in Kansas so, of course, she rode Western and quickly fell in love with barrel racing and pole bending. She competed locally as often as possible and 4-H was an important part of her formative years.
Dr. Kuebelbeck enjoys spending time with her family and participating in outdoor sports.
NAVC: We are so pleased to welcome you to the important role of President of NAVC’s Board of Directors. As NAVC has grown and diversified, the Board has also evolved into an even stronger and more effective governance body. What’s impressed you most about that evolution and the Board’s desire to change along with the organization?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: My colleagues on the Board are an amazing group. We have been fortunate to work with such a progressive staff, led by our CEO, Tom Bohn. It is a priority for the NAVC staff to continually learn, progress, collaborate, and strive to be the best. This philosophy is inspiring and contagious. The staff has provided the Board with many different opportunities for professional development, both during our face-to-face board meetings as well as print and online resources. This board has responded admirably to these opportunities and is dedicated to serving the North American Veterinary Community.
We want to continue to raise the bar with regard to our direction and opportunities for the entire veterinary health care team. The incredibly strong NAVC staff makes our job easy; although we have become a bit cautious, as we have learned that when we ask, we will receive! When the Board throws out an idea for a new direction, we have learned that within a reasonable time frame the staff will have fleshed this idea out into a tangible, workable and executable action plan. This is sometimes more than we bargained for or could have imagined possible, but in a good way!
NAVC: One epic change for NAVC was going from our annual conference in multiple locations to now hosting VMX in one location. What were the considerations that went into this evolution? What would you like for VMX attendees to know?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: From the time I joined the Board, there had been discussions of what it would look like if we had the entire conference under one roof. We understood the challenges of attending a conference located in three different venues with two trade shows and an intricate bus system used to shuttle attendees about. When the staff was challenged to fully investigate the possibility of a move where our conference could be fully housed in one location, they responded with a solution that counted every physical step that would have to be taken and every extra paper clip it would require. When the analysis was complete, it was obvious to the entire board (and the staff via independent review) that the move to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) was in the NAVC’s best interest. We were all sad to leave old friends behind at our historical venues, but we put trust into the fact that the soul of the conference was based on its people/attendees and not on a physical location.
Our first year at the OCCC in 2017 was a great success and we learned much to help and make this current year even better. In similar fashion, the name change to the Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) was an intuitive change to fully encompass what the NAVC has become. We are no longer just a “once a year conference”, but have evolved into year round continual learning opportunities for the entire veterinary health care team via our four conferences (VMX, Institute, Live, and Discovery), 24 hour online learning with Vet Folio, and our four online and print publications – Today’s Veterinary Practice, Today’s Veterinary Nurse, Today’s Veterinary Business, and Vet Advantage.
Customer Satisfaction is a number one priority for the entire NAVC staff. I think that VMX attendees will find that if there is a part of their experience that is less than satisfactory, our staff will work diligently to correct the situation.
NAVC: It’s quite a commitment of time and talent to serve on the board. You’ve served since 2010. What is it about NAVC that has kept you intrigued and involved?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: I have always believed in giving back to the profession that has given me so much. Volunteering on the NAVC Board of Directors (BOD) has been a very enjoyable and truly inspiring way to give back. Prior to joining the NAVC BOD, my vision of veterinary medicine was limited to equine clinical practice. The amazing veterinarians that I’ve met during my tenure on the board have truly opened my eyes to all of the countless opportunities that our DVM degree affords us. There is much more to veterinary medicine than just clinical practice as I’ve learned, yet, in every instance, the integrity and honor of what I have come to know as the moral code of the veterinarian is still present even when clinical practice is not the landscape under which the veterinarian is working. I find this refreshing and makes me proud of the career choice we have all made.
NAVC: Leadership within a practice and a community is by its nature different than leadership of a volunteer body of board members. How would you describe your leadership style? Did you have to adapt it to fit your role as NAVC’s President?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: I think my leadership style is constantly evolving but that it is deeply rooted in my core belief that I can achieve anything if I work hard enough. This belief is undoubtedly what drives me. In my younger practice years, I believed everyone should share that belief. There was much trial and error in realizing that not all people are wired the same and that I must adjust my expectations of coworkers and employees to avoid unnecessary annihilation of those that surrounded me. I have come to realize that I can, and should, still have very high expectations for what the final outcome of a task/situation should be, however, there are many ways to achieve that ultimate outcome. It seems elementary, but I also had to grasp that not everyone will reach the goal at the same time or in the same manner.
For much of my practice life I had a co-worker, Mrs. Rosemary Pitt, who became my moral compass in the management of our veterinary team. She taught me that it was okay to expect peak performance, but that I needed to be open to ways other than my own to achieve it. We developed a code word – “apple” – and when she said it, I knew I needed to close my mouth, walk away and give that particular situation a break and/or find a different and better way to deal with it. Thankfully, before Rosemary retired, my leadership had advanced beyond our code word. If I ever get too confident in my ability to lead those around me, I can take a brief trip down memory lane and to the many lessons I learned from a co-worker who became much more like a second mother than an employee.
NAVC: We read on your website about your practice’s core values of Patient and Client Care First, Integrity and Professionalism, Affordable Excellence and Value for the Client, and Teamwork. It struck us that those values mirror NAVC’s and being guided by those principles is core to your and our success. What’s your observation about the importance of integrating those values into staff training?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: I believe that any goal is most easily achieved by a group of like-minded people. When you have the right people in the right seats on your bus, then the bus can glide forward instead of stopping and starting constantly. It can take years and much angst to get the seats filled with like-minded individuals, but, once you do, then it suddenly becomes much easier to reach the outcomes you are striving for.
When the entire team works off of a similar belief system, as an issue develops or a team member is not behaving in accordance with the team culture, then any member of the team can make corrections and either solve the issue or bring an errant behavior back into line. To keep this culture flowing, there has to be a clear direction and goal that is constantly discussed. There is a saying “what gets measured gets done.” I believe it’s important to consistently talk about your business’s core values and to find a way to measure your successes whenever possible. I firmly believe that the most important step in choosing team members is first and foremost to ensure they have similar core values to your own. If that first step is accomplished, then the remainder of the training to become a successful team member is significantly easier. That new team member has a greater chance of being a strong contributor to an already healthy culture.
NAVC: It took our breath away learning about the scope of Brandon Equine Medical Center’s facilities. We’re listing them here because it’s so impressive and will help our readers visualize your practice. We want to know what are the most challenging parts of managing your practice and how do you address them?
• 10 stall primary barn that allows intensive personal care of patients
• Stand-alone isolation barn equipped with video for constant monitoring of patients
• Three stall barn that can be utilized by outpatients and houses our digital scale for obtaining accurate weights on patients
• On-site lab for immediate testing needs
• Stall equipped with hoist to accommodate neurological horses requiring a sling
• Surgery suite, Induction room, Recovery room
• Sports Medicine Center opened in May of 2016 and features air-conditioned diagnostic imaging and treatment rooms, image viewing and consultation room, day stalls, farrier workstation, lameness pad, and a riding ring for observing movement under saddle.
• A fleet of fully stocked ambulatory vehicles for seeing patients in the field, including a Dental Division’s custom built 28 foot trailer that serves as a walk-on mobile veterinary clinic.
Dr. Kuebelbeck: Undoubtedly the biggest challenge in my practice is staff management, followed by inventory management. There are so many parts of veterinary business that are predictable and fairly controllable, but you can’t control people which, again, is why loading the bus with the right people is so important.
While understanding that people have free will so there are never guarantees, you can truly minimize your staffing issues if you have like-minded people on your bus. When I say like-minded, I am referring to people with similar ethics, morals and values. When you have those things in common with your leadership team, and hopefully, most of your entire team, then the issues that arise seem to be much more manageable. There will always be issues that are out of anyone’s control such as illness, injury, family tragedies, etc. In those situations we have to bow to the issue. All other issues, however, can be effectively managed when a like-minded team is working together.
NAVC: Helping to keep horses healthy must be a unique, unrelenting and demanding service. Your team is “on call” 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. It’s got to be more difficult to recruit young professionals. If you had a magic wand and if money and time were not an issue, what do you think could transform equine practices to operate with less stress on staff?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: This very question has been the bane of my professional existence my entire career. The “on call” is what burns the equine veterinarians out and makes this career path less attractive. What I currently believe is that the equine sector is going to have to follow in the path of our human and small animal counterparts. There was a time when the family physician made house calls, but over the years it transitioned to a situation where the patient almost always goes to the physician.
By and large the same thing has occurred with our small animal colleagues. When I first got out of veterinary school, it was still commonplace for many small animal practices to offer emergency services themselves. Today that is the exception rather than the rule in the small animal sector. Nearly all small animal practices utilize a central emergency facility for after hours care.
Equine practitioners are still in the dark ages on this topic. We routinely make excuses as to why we MUST go to our patients instead of them coming to us. For some reason we are scared to tell our clients, “no” and to band together as our small animal colleagues have done and set up regional emergency centers where the client hauls their horse to us. This would allow one veterinarian at a time to serve a very large area and take the burden off of every single equine practitioner in the region.
I firmly believe something must change in the coming decade in order for the equine veterinary profession to thrive. Today’s graduates simply will NOT be willing to participate in the on call schedules that are still routine in equine practice. We have watched the physicians and our small animal colleagues achieve an improved quality of life and my hope is that the equine veterinary community will wake up and demand the same. I am currently trying to develop this emergency model in our local region for all equine practitioners.
NAVC: What excites you most about the future of your profession?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: The doors that are opening with technological advancements are mind blowing. I think it is a great time to be a veterinarian as the ability to diagnose and treat becomes more streamlined with all of the technology toys at our fingertips. At the same time, veterinarians have to be willing to embrace and accept change to take advantage of the many opportunities currently available to us. The savvy, bright practitioner today will embrace rather than fight technology and will see the benefits in improved patient care and finding ways to do things easier and more quickly.
NAVC: Is there a quotation, poem or song that personifies your passion for your work/your life?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: “Find A Way” has always been my motto. If one door closes, you just have to find a window or a crack that you can see through and find a different way to accomplish your goal. My work colleagues and my family/friends have heard me say this phrase countless times over the years.
NAVC: Because we know you well, we know your role as mother to Grace and as wife of Deb (Hunseder) is of paramount importance to you. What is your philosophy about balancing work and home?
Dr. Kuebelbeck: Deb and I have a fairytale story where we met in the mid-90’s and fell madly in love. Our careers were just getting started, mine as an equine surgeon and hers as a touring singer/songwriter. Despite being the love of each others lives, the demands of our jobs pulled us in different directions as I was on call 24/7 and she was traveling the country following her musical career. As our relationship disintegrated all I wanted to do was work and the 80-100 hour weeks were normal and welcomed. I think I found my self-worth at that time by working to excel as an equine practitioner.
Over the years, the always-present drive to have a family became greater and undoubtedly the most life changing experience for me was the adoption of my daughter, Grace, from Guatemala. The adoption was an arduous and challenging process but worth every second. Grace has taught me patience that I didn’t know I could have. I quickly realized that there was much more to life than just work. I began working to live instead of living to work. As luck would have it, Deb finally stopped touring with her band, Halcyon, about the time that I had my epiphany with regard to work/life balance. We were able to reunite and now have an amazing family and a blessed life. Grace’s presence in my life continually reminds me to slow down and enjoy the moment. Deb makes me stop and smell the roses along the way.
Life has a way of working out just the way it should. As I reflect on my career and my life, I know that it all worked just as it should. I was able to devote endless hours in my younger days to my career, honing my diagnostic and therapeutic skills, and have been blessed with a beautiful family at this stage. I don’t take either of these things for granted. I feel like I have been truly blessed to have such an amazing career and also an amazing family. I wouldn’t change a single thing as every challenge has made me a better person and who I am today.