Dr. Russell Miller: I remember Googling, “Veterinary opportunities to donate time,” essentially, and this popped up. There’s like this Alaskan, The Last Great Race Alaskan sled dog race. It’s 1,000 miles. There are so many different checkpoints that run through there. Just the idea of going to a different location, including myself, as Rob Trimble says, becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.
Courtney Post: Hey everyone, I’m your host, Courtney Post, and this is Let’s Vet Together by Suveto, a show where we’ll be highlighting stories of growth, ownership, and well-being in the veterinary industry and having real conversations about how we can make veterinary medicine better for everyone. If this is your first time listening, welcome. We’re glad you’re here. If you’ve already been a part of our community, make sure to follow us on whatever platform you’re listening from and give us a review. We’d love to know how we’re doing. We really appreciate you for coming back.
Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome to Let’s Vet Together. Today, I’m super excited. My friend and colleague, Dr. Russell Miller is joining us. We are going to talk about a really amazing, life-changing, childhood dream trip that Dr. Russell Miller is about to embark on. Before we do that, you know how we kick off this time together. Russ, can you share with us a local treat that you’ve brought with you and then also introduce yourself a little bit? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Dr. Russell: Good morning. Thanks, Courtney, for letting me come on here. My name is Russell Miller, and I am one of the owners of VO Vets here in Fort Worth, Texas. Been with Suveto going on for four years. Had the opportunity to do their first startup.
Courtney: You embody all things about Suveto, and are supporting veterinary ownership. Dr. Russ Miller opening our first and flagship VO Vets, which stands for Veterinary Owned, and looking to expand. Russ is everything that Suveto is about. We’re excited to have you on the Let’s Vet Together podcast.
Dr. Russell: Appreciate it very much. Thank you. A little treat that I brought on the show today. When I grew up in the Midwest, which was just in southern Indiana and Kentucky area and bourbon is very classic. There’s a lot of distilleries in that area, but I came down to Texas or something and came across — and it was a bourbon with a name of course, who could not enjoy? It’s called TX.
Courtney: Woo, Texas Whiskey.
Dr. Russell: Texas Whiskey. It’s distilled out of here out in Fort Worth, and always drink responsibly and such, but I will say that occasionally, I will indulge in a little bit of TX Whiskey out of my customized VO Vet glass. Absolutely.
Courtney: Yes. Branded-up glasses, a little Texas Whiskey. Russ embodies all things Texas, which makes this conversation especially interesting. Although you do have that Midwest, southern Indiana blood running through your veins.
Dr. Russell: Sure.
Courtney: Russ is about to embark on an epic trip. Russ has been chosen and will be serving as one of the staff veterinarians for the Iditarod race, a sled dog race in Alaska. When we’re recording this podcast, Russ is leaving in a short five days, I believe it is, Russ?
Dr. Russell: That’s right.
Courtney: Tell us a little bit about where did this idea even come from? How long have you wanted to be a part of this race? Where has this been living in your brain through your whole professional journey of becoming a veterinarian and opening your own practice? Just fill us in.
Dr. Russell: I would say I personally live my life in a manner that I’m always interested in trying something new and seeing different things, and how can we help out in different areas. As much as like when I graduated from vet school, I was working at Woodland Animal Hospital out there in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d go to the local shelters and we would do spays and neuters, and help the local facilities. About a year ago, I was just looking for different ways to help in the community.
I remember Googling veterinary opportunities to donate time, essentially, and this popped up. This Alaskan, The Last Great Race, Alaskan sled dog race. It’s 1,000 miles. There are so many different checkpoints that run through there. Just the idea of going to a different location, including myself, as Rob Trimble says, becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.
Courtney: That is the Rob Trimble line, becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Dr. Russell: Then, the more I read about this race, and you could talk about when you’re in elementary and middle school and you’re reading books about the Balto and the unknown out there. Then I’m thinking of ways of volunteering and helping the community and it’s completely volunteer. You’re going up there for two weeks. They have 50 veterinarians that are looking at all these dogs that are getting amazing care from EKGs, routine blood work. Every checkpoint along the way, there’s a veterinarian there to just do thorough physical exam, look at the findings, documents and ensure that essentially these dogs, these animals, even pets, the mushers, who are so emotionally connected with these animals, are taken care of.
Courtney: Yes. They’re athletes, right? This is 100 miles a day, right? I did a little bit of Iditarod fact-finding, that it used to take, and this is like, we see in a lot of professional sports over the years. They’ve become faster, more efficient, stronger. Where this race used to take 20 days. This is the 51st anniversary of the Iditarod this year. I read that it’s a 10-day-long race where these animals are tackling about 100 miles a day. Is that right, Russ?
Dr. Russell: It’s phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.
Courtney: It’s so cool. Tell me about the process of applying for it. How do you even become and get chosen for this? I imagine a lot of people apply. It’s funny. I actually was speaking to someone somewhat recently about you and this journey. They’re like, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Another veterinarian. They’re like, “I have known about that and I’ve wanted to do it as well. That’s on my bucket list.” You are not alone in your interest in doing this. This is the holy grail for adventure-seeking, growth-minded veterinarians.
Dr. Russell: I think it reflects back on just opportunities of life and how much you put yourself out there. Again, there’s approximately 50 veterinarians and they’re selected to be part of this program. The 45 of those are like veterinarians who’ve done it in the past, they’re experienced and they’ve been part of this program. They’re only bringing in five rookie veterinarians. The idea is also to keep in mind, when you go there for the first few days and you sit through countless hours of CE training, physical exam findings, different things that you’re going to expect to find from these athletes. If you’re there for a few days, you’re investing all this time in this training, the longer you can be there and donate your time, essentially it’s almost like an investment for them to know that, “Hey, this person’s coming for two weeks. They really want to be there,” versus if you show up, say, “Hey, I can only be there for three days.” It’s not that they’re going to say no to that. It’s how can we really maximize on those individuals? I went online, I Googled the Iditarod for Alaskan sled dog race. I’m looking and reading from blogs that people have written about their experiences.
I told myself, I was like, “All right, how do I become more involved in this?” because I could send an application. Everybody sends an application, right? When you want something really bad, what’s the thing you do? E-mails, phone calls-
Dr. Russell: -network. Yes. Sometimes, I’m not saying to bug somebody like crazy, but I was like, “Hey, my name is Russ Miller. Hope you’re doing well, I’d like to come join you. I think I would really be a good asset to this organization.”
Courtney: Yes. You went after your dream. It’s one thing to submit an application, and it’s another thing to really, really put yourself out there and follow through and really fight for this growth opportunity for yourself. Like you said, once the investment is made and once you have that experience, it could be a part of your life for a long time.
Dr. Russell: Exactly, but it also another big, I guess, hurdle that they have is you have to have been a practicing veterinarian for five years. Now, that’s five years of GP, ER, it’s just five years of experience, ensuring that you understand you’re not going to gain all the knowledge you need in the world within five years, but at least it has an initial framework. Then after that you grow upon it.
Courtney: Russ, aside from the application and obviously when you get there you’re going to have a lot of orientation, education, and training. You’re going to be back in being a newbie. You’re a phenomenal mentor and have extensive veterinary experience both in ER and GP. You love to develop people, but you’re going back into the rookie seat that you’re going to be one of the new guys; you’re going to be learning. Aside from the mental preparation of getting back into that learning mindset, how do you physically prepare for this trip?
You live in Texas, and not that my friends in Texas, I always check in on you all, when you get some ice and some snow, but you were about to leave to go to Alaska for two weeks. Before, we started recording, you were sharing with me being transported around in little prop planes from site to site, like just put me into the preparation of gear and packing. What do they tell you to bring?
Russ: The head veterinarian, his name’s Stu Nelson, and the head veterinarian actually sends out these periodic e-mails. Essentially with those e-mails they’re discussing, “These are the things that we recommend…” whether it’s the number of layers, the type of layers to wear, the type of shoes, his recommendations on what he prefers versus others. After that, I took all those recommendations and I literally pulled up Cabela’s website and was like, “What’s the best jacket you have? That looks like it’ll stay pretty warm. Okay. Next. What’s the best pair of boots that you guys have?”
One section was like, make sure you have a sleeping bag, and he was like, “Make sure you have a sleeping bag ideally that’s able to…it’s rated as negative 20,” so I was like, “Alright, perfect. Get a negative 40, we’re not tempting that line there.”
Courtney: Absolutely, so where will you be sleeping, Russ?
Russ: To my knowledge, it’s going to be outside.
Courtney: Oh my gosh guys, I’m promising the Let’s Vet Together community that Russ is going to take a lot of photo documentation of this. Hopefully some video, and we’re going to come back and we’re going to do another podcast that you walk us through your videos and your pictures. We’ll share them with everyone because this is just something that I can only really imagine in, as you said, that these images I’ve seen from reading a book or from watching a movie, and you’re going to be living this firsthand. It’s really exciting.
Russ: I really think it’s going to be just an eye-opening experience.
Russ: See a different world.
Courtney: Both professionally and personally. There’s a lot of personal growth here too. Not just professional.’
Russ: A hundred percent and putting your — it’s again, becoming comfortable being uncomfortable for the past two weeks, because on average, it takes your body about two weeks to adjust to cold temperature. It’s been in the seventies here, so I’ve got the dogs running around there in parkas and at night I’m slowly turning the AC down, just getting used to that temperature [crosstalk]
Courtney: Actually, that’s a great idea.
Russ: The neighbor looks at me and he is, “What is that guy doing?” I’m, “Hey neighbor, that’s my dog in the parkas on and it’s 70 degrees out.” They run outside where it’s warm, they come back in where the AC’s running. Let’s just get used to it and then asking myself, what’s the physical side of this? A lot of walking,a lot of standing outside. Making sure that I’m taking care of my own personal health, so went to the gym this past two months, going to the gym every single day.
Whether that’s running on a treadmill or doing 20, 30 minutes on a bicycle all the way to lifting and stretching. What I found is indirectly planning for this program there in Alaska is that it’s positively impacting my own personal life here at the clinic.
Courtney: That’s great. I also see that you have chosen the cold-weather winter beard. For those of you that are listening to us on audio, Russ is rocking a ready-for-Alaska beard, which any way you can warm yourself is important.
Russ: I agree. Which is interesting, because when I walk into the exam rooms now with clients, I’ve never had a beard that to this extent by any means, and I walk in, they’re like, “Oh, Dr. Miller, that’s a little different.”
Courtney: You say, “I’m preparing for the Alaskan Tundra?”
Russ: Yes, that’s exactly it. I say, “Hey, I’m volunteering hours with the Alaskan Sled Dog Organization in about two weeks.” Then they’re like, “Wow, that’s amazing,” and I was like, “That’s completely an opportunity to give back to the community,” and they’re like, “Okay, beard looks great, Dr. Miller.”
Courtney: Two weeks. Tell me what, you have at least been communicated. Obviously, until you’re there, you don’t know, but what will your typical day be like? How many dogs are there in a whole that run the race? Do they split you up and will you be taking care of the same group of dogs? Will you be spreading out and taking care of different dogs that need different needs? Or are you assigned like so many teams of dogs that then become your patients? How does that work, Russ?
Russ: That’s a great question. I know we’re split up into individual groups and when we get there, we’ll find out more. We’re asked to be very fluid. That even if we have a specific group and we’re at a certain checkpoint initially, they instruct us that there could be variability on where we’ll be going and such. Beyond that, I really don’t know.
Courtney: Where do you fly into on Monday?
Courtney: Then from Anchorage, that’s where it kicks off. It kicks off in Anchorage. Correct? Then where does it end? Where’s the stopping point?
Russ: Pause, please.
Courtney: This is how comfortable Russ is with the uncomfortable, he doesn’t know where the endpoint is and that’s great because sometimes you don’t in life, right? It is, you are there for the experience and you’re going to be on the journey and you’re going on this race and where you end up is where you end up. You’re going to follow the dogs.
Russ: Pretty much. I just know that it’s going to Nome, [AK], but I’m pretty open with just going with the flow of it, we’ll see what happens.
Courtney: It’s really exciting. All right, so before we wrap up, Russ, and again, we’re promising to come back together and talk about this incredible experience after the fact, but what are your plans for personally documenting this? Like from a growth perspective, from a spiritual perspective? Are you bringing a journal? Are you bringing a camera? I know your gear is very limited to what you can bring, but what are you bringing with yourself to make sure that you experience this and bring it home with you?
Russ: A big part of it for me in our current everyday life, it’s the phone’s always on e-mail, text messages. It’s easy to just get bogged down by that, and I’m hoping to use this time period of, yes, helping out a community and organization and just donating the time and the skills. I’m hoping to use this as, communication is very minimal in that area as a whole, so I’m hoping to just use this to reconnect with what’s important to myself. As well as like my family. Essentially, what are the goals that I’d like to accomplish?
Are they pesronal? Personal, like working out, or is it like family-wise, or just like if I do another clinic and such one day? Just identify those and what are the big things that mean the most? I think there was a conversation that we had before this that was just discussing the other day, I like blinked and was like, “Holy cow, 32, turning 33. Is this the right path? Am I helping enough people?”
Courtney: Connecting with nature and disconnecting from technology and the day-to-day has an amazing ability to spark this introspective time and fresh air. It stimulates the mind and the soul, so I am so excited to talk to you when you come back. I’m so excited to hear how this experience impacted you. I cannot wait to see these pictures and videos. Please take some. Don’t be attached to it. Take them in your mind, but capture some of it. Let us all feel a little bit of it because this is a really exciting time.
When I was a kid, one of my fourth-grade goals was to be in the Iditarod. I’m pretty sure I wrote a book about it at some point and maybe I’ll try to have my mom find that before our next chat. When you told me this months ago, it’s just been on my mind that you’re honoring your commitment to serving and volunteering, but you’re also living out a dream and putting yourself out there. Really going to experience something unknown and I’m so excited for you, Russ. It’s really exciting.
Russ: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Courtney: I did wear my cold weather gear today for you in preparing for this. I’m like, let me put on my North Face vest because this is at least some fashion that you could bring to Alaska. Hopefully, a vest underneath a jacket from a Buffalo girl to a now Texas boy, don’t ever underestimate the power of layers on your core.
Russ: Hundred perecent. Thank you, Courtney.
Courtney: Thanks so much, Russ. It was awesome chatting with you today. Hopefully, pack some of that TX whiskey with you so you can experience that in Alaska too.Share with your fellow vets.
Russ: Yes. Like, “Hey guys, this is a gift from Texas to you guys.”
Courtney: You’ll become the popular friend of the veterinary group when everyone’s 20 below zero at night with that whiskey. Thanks, Russ. This was so fun. Good luck.
Russ: Thanks, Courtney. Appreciate it.