Courtney Post: Welcome to Let’s Vet Together. Today, I am hanging out with my friend and colleague, Dr. Heather Loenser. I’m so excited. We’ve joked about podcasting together for some time now, and today it is really happening. We are podcasters, Heather.
Dr. Heather Loenser: We are legit podcasters, Courtney.
Courtney: We are legit podcasters. On the Let’s Vet Together podcast, we always kick off by you introducing yourself, but to make it fun and exciting, we ask you to share either a local favorite treat, what makes your area of New Jersey, spoiler alert, Dr. Heather Loenser is from New Jersey. Well not originally, but currently resides in, or just your fun go-to treat, which I have an inkling, I know what you’ve brought. Dr. Heather Loenser, can you introduce yourself to the Lets Vet Together community and share with us what you brought today?
Heather: Hi, Let’s Vet Together community. So, I’m, obviously a veterinarian. I went to Iowa State, go Cyclones. I’m from all over the place. I was born in Canada, and so if we were doing this in my hometown in Kingston, Ontario, I would be bringing maple syrup, real maple syrup.
Courtney: Not poutine. Heather? That’s my favorite Canadian treat.
Heather: You know what? It’s hard to find vegetarian poutine. It is. I converted to vegetarianism, like post-poutine, but yes, it’s the best. It’s out there, though. I’ve had it. I’ve had vegetarian poutine. I live in New Jersey, and New Jersey and New York have– and I live close to New York City. We have a fight over who has the best pizza. From a local snack standpoint, it’s Nicola’s Pizza. It’s what my kids have grown up on, and it’s super, super, super thin and you can fold it and it’s amazing in an air fryer the day after.
Courtney: Oh yes, I love the air fryer. Day two. Day two air fryer pizza is where it’s at.
Heather: When you have to sprinkle a little water on top of it. I don’t know if you know that. A little bit of water to keep the cheese moist. Then my other snack I have today, you can hear it, is fruit snacks because they are made with real fruit somewhere. I think it’s 4% real fruit.
Courtney: Those are from upstate New York, my friend. Mott’s is an Apple country upstate New York company.
Heather: There’s apple juice in here.
Courtney: You have a little bit of my roots that you enjoy. Fruit snacks, just for our Let’s Vet Together community, are a go-to guilty pleasure of a lot of folks on these Suveto team. When we are working together and someone is enjoying fruit snacks, they’re like, “Oh yes, let me go get my children’s fruit snacks upstairs.”
Heather: Exactly. Yes.
Courtney: If this is not part of your regular go-to snack. Make it one. They bring a lot of joy.
Heather: Goldfish. I have to say goldfish, too. Didn’t know about goldfish until I had kids. Goldfish are another good one. Definitely.
Courtney: For sure, yes. We will not frown upon any wrinkling happening during this podcast. If you want to enjoy those little crinkle wrinkle, dive into those fruit snacks whenever you feel the urge to during this.
Heather: I totally will.
Courtney: All right. Today, Heather and I decided we wanted to record a podcast that we would listen to. That was our–
Heather: That’s our goal.
Courtney: That was our foundation of deciding what we were going to talk about, because Frankly, Heather and I can talk about almost anything for an extensive amount of time.
Heather: That’s so true.
Courtney: Something we’re both really passionate about and feel like we’ve had just a wonderful foundation of is mentorship. What we learned from our mentors, and this is something that, obviously within our profession, we are talking about, we are addressing, Frankly, it’s all of Heather’s day-to-day time. It’s her passion. It’s what she is shaping for our Suveto community and beyond. But instead of us just talking about what we’re doing, we wanted to do a little bit of a reflection of, what have we learned from our mentors. When did that show up in our life?
I wanted to start a little bit of foundation with, what does mentorship mean to you, Heather? Not the definition of what the profession thinks it is, but what does it mean to you? Because I really think that we need to start there in order to understand what your mentors have taught you. Who have you identified as a mentor? First, I need to know what mentorship means to you.
Heather: That is such a good question, and I’ve already decided I’m going to probably cry like 45 times in this because I think of who my mentors are and were, and how they shape my life. Just like, it’s like tears out of gratitude, is really what it is. What mentorship means to me is, it is the ability to see a future me in another person. Their skills and a way they move around the world, and a way they problem solve, and way they communicate that I don’t have yet, that current me is thinking future me would really benefit from taking those skills and growing them inside of my body so that future me can better serve those that I care about.
Courtney: I love the idea of future you, and my mentorship, kind of visual, is I recognize folks that have– and people, I should not say folks, really impactful people that have been my Sherpa, that have been my guide that I don’t even know I’m moving towards future me. They are helping me guide through a path that they have extreme comfort with and command because they have navigated it before. I actually really did think about this a lot prior to us talking today. I was blown away by how clear the path each one of them took me on. What was the different objectives of those paths, what summit I was climbing? That is, in my opinion, vastly different than us talking about educational support.
Courtney: Like a set formal mentorship program. That’s where I’ve always wanted to challenge that phrase a little bit because that assumes that there is this set program path that is a, “I’m going to connect you to a mentorship program that is going to then take you on this journey,” which frankly, everyone is at a different path in their life. Everyone’s future self looks very different, right? This is not a one size fits all. That’s where identifying who mentors are, it doesn’t always have to be a formal process. Agree, disagree?
Heather: I totally do.
Courtney: How have you found those mentors in your life? Have they been assigned to you? Has it been a cosmic medium? Has it been–?
Heather: Also, did they know they were mentors? Because I think about my very first one, did you actually know that I looked up to you and I was watching how you moved around the world and what skills you had so I could put them into my body and have that be show up in my future life? Definitely the universe. I would say my first formal mentor– are we naming names or do you not want to name names? I’m just curious what you want to do.
Courtney: It’s up to you, if you’re–
Heather: Are you going to name names? Because I’m only going to name names if you’re going to name names.
Courtney: No, I’m going to name some names or I will change their names to protect their identity. Frankly, there’s probably not many people in this veterinary community that will know these folks, but you can name names, whatever you’re comfortable with.
Heather: It makes me misty. It really does. I would say my first mentor, her name’s Mary Ann Nieves.
Courtney: Shout out to Mary Ann.
Heather: She’ll always be Dr. Nieves to me, because you know when you’re a student-
Courtney: Dr. Nieves, yes, of course.
Heather: -everyone never even has first names. She was a surgery professor at Iowa State and she’s from Oklahoma. I guess I don’t know her cultural background. She was a beautiful– is a beautiful brown woman and in Iowa, there were not many of them. That was just before I even paid any attention to representation. Honestly, this is in the early ’90s. I just think about what it must have been like for her. We never talked about that because she just always just showed up.
Orthopedic surgeon man. You guys all know who are on the call or on this podcast, orthopedic surgeons are tough and she was tough. She was a mom and she was the first mom that I ever met in a clinical setting who had a really, really, really solid, beautiful career. This is in the late ’90s. The veterinary school had already become mostly female, but we didn’t have mostly female leaders or professors yet. 75% of my class was women, but 20% of my professors were women. I didn’t know what it looked like to be a career woman. Oh, mom too. I don’t even want to know how old her daughter is now, because in my mind she’s still in kindergarten, but she’s probably not. She had a really sweet, supportive husband. I just remember thinking, how does she balance being a mom to this incredible little girl at the time, orthopedic surgery at a university, and she also ran our wildlife hospital. Court knows this, but I was going to be a zoo veterinarian, like so many people thought they were, but I really, really, really was.
Courtney: She was really like a goddess to you.
Heather: She was, she totally was, to the point where I would do my studying in her office at night. She let me study in her office, and so what– I think she didn’t know she was my mentor. Dr. Nieves, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “I didn’t even know that I was a mentor–” I was Heather Buchanan at the time, you were, because I watched how you balanced mothering. You had a beautiful support system and I didn’t know how to build that. I got to watch how she built that, and then how you showed up every day doing your best, and also taking care of your family. I just thought that was the coolest, most unattainable thing in the world.
Courtney: Here you are doing the same things, Heather.
Courtney: Your future self really has grown into all of that, which is unbelievable for us to think about back in our baby college years.
Heather: Totally, completely. Absolutely was.
Courtney: My first mentor, identified mentor, I thought about this, and I think for those of us lucky enough to have really present parents and grandparents that we were lucky enough to be reared by, of course, our parents and aunts and grandparents were probably our earliest mentors. It was never a formal program to tell you how to be a good human being and also how to live life in your future self. The first person I really identify as a mentor in my life also showed up for me in my college years. Definitely, during those times he had no idea that he was my mentor, but he was someone that I wanted to have help me navigate the path that I was on.
He was my Islamic mysticism professor. I was a religion major in college, although pre-med. I declared religion and was able to navigate both pre-med studies, and also this world religion exploration. Very interesting for both of our mentors, Dr. Omid Safi, who probably will never listen to this podcast, is now a dear friend of mine. He is from Iran. I went to a northeast small liberal arts school, which there was not a lot of representation either. Interestingly enough, I was at school during 9-11 and his ability to navigate the unknown and to connect with people and to lead with love and knowledge, and wanting to hear everyone’s perspective all the time, like was just profound to me. I had been raised in, of course, like this educational world that there is like right and wrong, and black and white, and these are the things you learn and you know, and yet the world is just so much bigger than that. It is, who are you? How do you show up together? How do you intimately get to know someone, and what leads them? I wanted to understand how to walk that road. I took every class I could find with him. I watched him also be an amazing father. When you said you can’t imagine how grown your mentor’s child is now.
I actually remember, I see Omid every now and then when I realized that the daughter he had when I was in school, is now in college, and like a grown woman, I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” He was able to do all the things, be a world leader in his area of expertise, be a very present, loving father, and also navigate a community of people that didn’t know how to love and honor and respect each other. I had that moment that I wanted to learn how to do that, so, pretty awesome.
Heather: Can I just say, Court, because we work together, and I see how you move around the world now, and I see how you gather people’s– how you gather everyone’s opinion and their perspective. He would be so proud of you.
Courtney: I hope so, because he’s one of the greatest human beings I know.
Heather: You really do that.
Courtney: Profoundly changed my life, profoundly changed my life, really. Profoundly.
Courtney: Who’s next? Who’s up next for you? Okay, so you have your like, excuse my language, Let’s Vet Together community badass woman that-
Heather: She totally was.
Courtney: -you have become, Heather. I can attest to you’ve become.
Heather: Thanks, Court.
Courtney: Who was next for you?
Heather: It makes me cry thinking about her. She’s still alive. She’s still alive. Her name’s Jan Trumpeter.
Courtney: I know Jan. She’s amazing!
Heather: She was my boss at AAHA. She’s a veterinarian. She’s a deputy CEO and I don’t know what she thought of me when I first joined, because I just showed up, honestly. She was not part of the interview process and I didn’t report to her right off the bat, but I eventually did. I wasn’t sure what she thought of me. She’s very reserved, and I am not very reserved. I am very extroverted and chatty. If I have a thought, I probably should let everyone know what that thought is, which gets me in trouble all the time.
Actually, Court, one of the reasons I probably don’t do that as much as I want to, it’s because of Jan, because I started going to board meetings with her and I watched how she was always watching everybody and thinking. She is one of those people that when she opens her mouth, I don’t care how many people are in the room, everybody is quiet, because they want to hear, well what does Jan think? I admired that so much in her because she had so much, she still does, so much wisdom and so much humility, and she would choose– she just always knew when to talk. She always knew when to share her feelings.
As we grew closer and closer, it was just an honor to have her share even more of her actual feelings about things, as opposed to just her ideas and her tactics and her strategy. Being let into the inner circle of her mind and her heart was one of my greatest honors.
Courtney: Heather, did you meet Jan prior to your Frank communication training?
Heather: I met her after, yes, because I’ve been Frank forever.
Courtney: You were an excellent listener and-
Courtney: -I feel like through your communication training, obviously, but what you’ve learned from Jan of listening, and choosing when to weigh in, you do an incredible job of that. Let’s Vet Together community, I could use some Jan in my life.
Heather: I could use more Jan, I really could.
Courtney: I recognize that. Again, one of my mentors also taught me your greatest strengths also, when misused, are your biggest weaknesses or areas of opportunity. I am very outgoing and I love to talk to folks and get to know people and want to weigh in and always have an idea or an opinion, but sometimes you just need to limit when you decide to talk to make it the most impactful.
Heather: Totally. All right. Who’s yours?
Courtney: Actually, this is really flowing. Gary Helak, also probably not going to listen to this podcast, he was my first– I was in pharmaceutical sales for a very brief stint of my life. I didn’t fit in that mold either, but, Gary was my first, I’d say, my first ‘boss’ that probably showed distributive leadership before I knew what distributive leadership was. He did that in the most artful, beautiful way by creating a team that rose and fell together. It was never about our individual accomplishments. It was what we did as a team and how we celebrated that as a team. One of his most brilliant perspectives was how much you had to play at work. Again, I always go back to– do you know the Seattle Fish Market, the play at work?
Courtney: As an early career woman in my early 20s, to think about not being so focused on what I needed to do to be the most successful person I could be and what that outcome was, but the journey of having fun doing it and being more successful the more you played and connected with the people around you, he was brilliant at it. He created this team mentality that we wanted to do well for each other, we wanted to support each other. We uplifted each other when we needed to in a role that can be highly competitive and individual. He mastered the idea of teamwork and playing as a team. I have always tried to carry that through.
Heather: You do!
Courtney: I do. I really–
Heather: You totally do!
Courtney: I try, because it should be fun. When you have fun, there’s joy in your work and you can support each other. That was all shout-out to Gary Helak. I watched him from afar. Again, he would’ve never known that he bestowed that knowledge in me at that time, but I was just in awe of him. I’m like, “How? Wow. I can’t believe he thinks of it that way.” He was the first, again, boss that I had that I felt was a partner in it and that surrounded me with people that were invested in my success, not just us being competitive with each other.
Heather: Hey, Gary. Courtney has learned that, and thank you. As someone who works with her every day, thank you for helping her know that because wow. It’s so fun.
Courtney: This is the random Gary knowledge, is that in the pharmaceutical world, your team had a call signal to it. I mean, we were basically like Top Gun and ours was K00. Why? Have absolutely no idea. It’s probably by what state you live in and what region you live in. K00. Gary called us Koo & the Gang instead of Kool & the Gang. Our theme songs were all Kool & the Gang songs. He would start every call blasting Kool & the Gang. He would bring costumes to meetings we had, and it was just like, gosh, we’re all trying to work and make a living here, but this is– he made it so much fun.
Heather: I love that.
Courtney: It was great.
Heather: All right. Do I have time for one more because I need to make sure–?
Courtney: We each have time for one more.
Heather: Okay. I probably have 15 mentors, so I could do this for hours. Half of them don’t know that they’re my mentor.
Courtney: Maybe will have an extended podcast-
Courtney: -to hear the lineage of Courtney and Heather’s mentors.
Heather: I’d say, so you touched on Frank Communication, which I’ve been doing since basically since its inception. I’m so grateful that I have, but since about 2008, 2009. Dr. Jane Shaw is the mother of Frank. She is a grandmother and she has offspring, which I think is funny. I consider myself a second cousin to Frank. I’m so honored to have been in it that long.
Jane has a beautiful ability to teach something really, really complicated and really, really ethereal and break it down into skills that, Court, you see show up in me every day. It’s like she can break it down to have it be as technical as this is how you spay a cat. This is how you tie off the pedicle. This is how you do a skin closure. Only by the way, it’s reflective listening and not how to spay a cat.
Her ability to really– she’s changed the profession, the way we learn, the way we talk to each other. At the time that I was a Frank coach, there weren’t a lot of people like me that it was set aside to have a pharmaceutical company who had sponsored the initial content to be the coaches. She saw something in me to come back and be a coach. That is something that I will always be grateful for because it literally changed the trajectory of my life. Having her in my life.
Courtney: She saw something in you, those skills come to life.
Heather: Yes. You get to see it.
Courtney: I do. Hopefully, many people in our community, our Let’s Vet Together community, get to see it as Heather is our Chief Veterinary Officer of Suveto, as well as still a Frank communicator, communication coach in the real world. Also, just an incredible human being, like I said, to listen and to teach skills. There has been a couple recent incidences of Heather being like, “Courtney. How could you reshape that question?” Thank you, Heather for being in my life. It’s so impactful. It’s really important for us to be conscious of how we communicate with each other and what the outcomes of that good healthy communication can be. Thank you, Jane, for seeing that in Heather,
Heather: Thanks, Jane.
Courtney: Thanks, Jane. My last and final mentor, and it’s amazing how ours have been somewhat parallel, is I’ll go unnamed on this one. Someone I worked with in my pre-Suveto, pre-Calico days while I was at Patterson Veterinary Health. I was actually in a formal mentorship program. I was in a leadership development program that was really wonderful and fantastic education, but also I think I needed someone that could help me digest and navigate the passions I had and how to tactically bring that to success.
When we talk about these more broad humans we wanted to be, and the way we wanted to show up to our team, we also need people to help us be successful in our day-to-day job.
Like you said, where Jane can break down the steps of spaying a cat, this human being could teach me how to, so simply, effectively read a profit and loss statement, effectively create a sales strategy, how to measure that, how to motivate it, how to position it, how to find exclusivity, that I felt like there was this veil that was pushed back that I was like, “Wow.”
There is just such knowledge that could be shared if you ask. He was not part of my formal program. Actually, I was not formally his direct report, but I saw the knowledge he had and the way that he was able to strategize that I just kept asking. I just kept scheduling time. When I would go to a meeting, I would reach out beforehand and say, “Can we sit down for an hour beforehand?”
I would bring my work and say, “Help me see what I’m not seeing here.” He really, I believe, changed my ability to see my business world in the most simple ways. It’s not always as complicated as everyone thinks it is. There is just knowledge and the experience if you ask people to explain it to you. I was so grateful he was always available. As a mentor, I’m big on informal mentorship.
You have to find someone that has the knowledge to help you get down that path, whatever path you’re on, and seek it out and ask the questions, because as human beings, we naturally want to share our knowledge.
Heather: We do. We actually really, really do.
Courtney: Especially veterinarians, all my veterinarians on the call, that is what you do every day. You share your knowledge. People love to be seen for the knowledge that they have. You just have to ask.
Heather: You do. I totally agree. I’m going to second that one. I think community, Let’s Vet Together community, what you’ve heard Courtney and I say, too, just to summarize as well, even though that’s your job as a podcaster, Court, but it’s one of the theme I’m seeing.
Courtney: You could be a podcaster with me, Heather.
Heather: We’ll podcast together, is that Courtney and I went out and sought out relationships with people that didn’t even know they were our mentors.
Courtney: No idea.
Heather: I think all three of them. Jan knows I consider a mentor are now. I think you can have, you can learn from people and absorb their information and absorb the specialness about them without having to have them sign a form and have a stipend and make sure you have objectives and all that.
Heather: I think it’s really important.
Courtney: They show up all the time and places of your life. Never be afraid to ask someone to share their experience and knowledge with you.
Heather: I agree.
Courtney: Heather, this was fun. Let’s do it again. Let’s record podcasts that we’d listen to.
Heather: I like that. I love that, Court. Thanks to all of Courtney’s mentors who’ve made Court such a wonderful teammate to work with. I just love working with you, Courtney. I love it.
Courtney: Well, as I’m sure everyone can hear, Heather and I have a lot of fun together.
Heather: We do.
Courtney: We have a lot of respect for each other and for the mentors that have shaped us into who we are. Shout out to mentorship and to fruit snacks.
Heather: Fruit snacks.
Courtney: Go have your fruit snacks, Heather.
Heather: Bye, everybody. Thanks.