Dr. Caitlin DeWilde is the owner of The Social DVM, LLC, a small consulting firm specializing in veterinary-specific social media, digital marketing and online reputation. She also practices at a small animal practice in St. Louis.
Dr. DeWilde is a graduate of the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, she is currently serving as the President of the Greater St. Louis Veterinary Medical Association.
Idiopathic Issues: Describe your career path… the route you took from Graduation to what you are doing today.
After graduation, I worked for a corporate practice for three years in South City, St. Louis. Eventually, I decided to get back to my roots in a smaller, more rural practice and took a position at such a practice on the outskirts of St. Louis. When I first started there in 2012, I was floored that the clinic was able to get by without a computer in the building. But, within a relatively short period, the practice owner and I worked together to choose and implement computerized medical records and management software, and I started a Facebook page for the practice.
As part of the process, I also taught myself how to build a website for the practice. I really started to appreciate the value of our online communications and reputation. Before I knew it, we were earning referrals from Facebook, and fellow vets were asking me to help them get started. Helping them create a perfect blend of my interests in business management and technology.
I realized that this was a really great niche for me, and I launched The Social DVM. Three years later, I’m still loving it. In the meantime, I found another practice a little closer to home, which allows me to efficiently run my own company while staying up-to-date in practice.
II: What does your job entail?
Just like practicing in the clinic, I never know what a Social DVM day will bring. I partner with individual veterinarians, veterinary practices and industry groups to bring the content they value to their clients and fans on social media. For some, that means actually creating and posting that content in a way that benefits their practice and their goals. For others, they just need some one-on-one training and in short order they represent their practice online themselves.
Some days I’m working from home all day on the computer, making graphics, finding articles, building websites, creating branded material or coming up with an ad strategy. Other days, I head out and spend time in the clinic with a technician or practice manager to get a feel for their practice and to train them how to optimize their practice’s online presence. Some days I get to travel and speak to big groups about the hows and whys of social media.
It’s different for every veterinarian and practice- whatever they need, whatever their goals, whatever their budget— I make that work for them. It’s so much fun!
II: What are the best things about your job?
There are so many! The absolute best thing is that I get to meet veterinarians from around the country and help them! It’s amazing that we can all have the same DVM degree and yet our day-to-day jobs are so very different. I’ve met people across the country working in aspects of vet med I would have never have known about otherwise.
I also really like working with rescues and some of my other non-profit groups; it’s always a great feeling to be able to help pets get adopted! And of course, I can’t deny that I really like working for myself. With a young family and a busy household, I like that I have more flexibility in this role. While sometimes that means working at 11 pm, I can do that if I need to take care of other things outside of work.
II: What are some challenges you face in your position?
I’ll be honest, doing social media well does require some time and experience. It can be challenging to keep up with all the changes, especially on multiple platforms (Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, etc). Not being a classically trained in a computer/technology-related field, I’ve had to really work to build up my knowledge and stay on top of the latest updates and advances. It’s a continual process to stay informed to best serve the needs of my clients.
II: Looking back, what do you know now that you wish you would have known as a Vet Student?
If you had talked to me during my first few years of vet school, I would have told you I was going to be a large animal vet in central Illinois. If we had spoken during my fourth year, I would have been convinced that small animal practice and practice ownership were the absolute pinnacle I could reach with my career. If at any point you had told me I would be working nearly full time on veterinary social media, I would have laughed you out of the room.
The point is, this profession offers an INCREDIBLE number of opportunities- some of which you may not have even known about or thought of, or in my case didn’t even exist when I started vet school! Keep an open mind and be willing to explore some opportunities outside of what you assume your role will be. Make an effort to network and make connections with veterinarians and veterinary professionals in all walks, you never know when you might benefit from those relationships!
II: What are some challenges/changes you see for the veterinary profession?
There’s no denying that the debt load is a huge burden and challenge for most of us. I worry about how it will affect practice ownership and our profession’s leadership in the future. That’s one of the reasons I started working with the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, among others.
I want to use social media help get the word out about good causes that are working to improve things for future veterinarians and offer help and solutions for problems like these. I decided a few years ago that it was pointless for me to complain and worry about these issues but stand idly by.
Getting involved with groups working for change has helped me identify new tools and resources, in addition to helping their cause.
II: What is your most memorable patient or moment in veterinary medicine?
There are dozens of cases I’ll never forget and patient names and faces that will forever be in my heart. You grow and change with every patient and family. I’ll never forget my first spay, a barn cat named Willow, or my first patient who didn’t make it, a horse named Milagro. Milagro was a foal, named after the Spanish word for “miracle.” He wasn’t expected to make it, but I didn’t give up and neither did his owner. After he passed away, his owner wrote to me thanking me for the care I had given him, and even brought me a small horse head sculpture so I would never give up on other “miracle” patients. It’s still on my desk today.
II: What are some of your hobbies outside of veterinary medicine?
When I’m not working, I love spending time with my family and of course our pets. My husband and I both love to travel and are really into photography. Luckily I have a lot of really cute four-legged (and two-legged) “littles” that we can photograph. I spend a lot of my free time editing our photos or trying to catch up on our photo books.
II: Do you have a dream species that you would like to work with?
I have a major thing for wombats, but there aren’t too many hanging out here in the Midwest. They’re just such an interesting and adorable creature – you can’t see them and not want to smile. Plus, they’re the stuff of social media gold.
II: How would you like to see technology affect vet med?
Ahhhh…my favorite question so far! There are SO MANY ways that technology can help us improve. There are the obvious reasons, like better diagnostics and medicine, of course. We’re all pretty good about adopting those because we can easily see the value in helping pets. No brainer. However, using technology for marketing and patient communication is a little bit harder to quantify the results or return on investment.
Many practice owners have had to learn business management on the job, and marketing and communications may be a focus, since there are always urgent issues demanding attention. That said, it’s still extremely important.
As a profession, we have huge problems ahead of us as we struggle with debt load, declining veterinary visits, compassion fatigue and burnout. Using technology to help us connect to clients OUTSIDE of our clinics can ultimately lead to bringing more clients in the door, and helping our businesses thrive. We can build more loyal clients who are better educated about their pet’s health care.
It’s a win-win: better clients and healthier pets! We almost have to have a technology driven presence to compete with “Dr. Google” and the other non-veterinary outlets who are out there that spread medical advice from uneducated sources.
From a veterinarian’s perspective, I’m convinced that social media, online reputation and digital marketing are directly related to practice success. Ultimately, I’m hopeful that a successful practice can help lessen some of those financial- and, in turn, work-related stressors. I’m certainly not saying that posting adorable cat photos and pet health articles on Facebook is going to solve all of vet med’s problems, but I think there are ample opportunities that can benefit our profession.
II: Anything other words of advice about your specialty?
Social media can be a powerful tool, but it comes with its own caveats. Since most of your readers are likely students, I think it’s important to remember that what you post online has implications for your career and your business. Once it’s online, it’s there forever, in some form or another.
It rarely comes up, but when an offhand remark or a poorly chosen post goes viral, it can cause some serious problems. Anything you post can be public AND permanent, so just think before you post. You don’t want to scare off potential employers (or clients). Be professional, be courteous, and check your privacy settings!
II: Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m really passionate about this stuff, and love talking about it! I try to share as much of this info and knowledge that I can, and I love connecting with people online. Shoot me an email or follow me on social media @thesocialdvm!