Dr. Tony Johnson, DVM, DACVECC, is a 1996 Washington State University grad and obtained board certification in emergency medicine and critical care in 2003. He is currently the Minister of Happiness for VIN, the Veterinary Information Network, an online community of 75,000 worldwide veterinarians, and is a former clinical assistant professor at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.
He has lectured for several international veterinary conferences (winning the small animal speaker of the year award for the Western Veterinary Conference in 2010) and is an active blogger and writer.
He used to live in a converted one-room schoolhouse in the middle of a cornfield, but has since taken up occupancy in a normal house in a normal neighborhood with very little corn. They recently moved from Carmel, Indiana to the suburbs of Chicago. He has 3 young kids and a beautiful wife named Gretchen, who is also a veterinary emergency and critical care specialist. In his spare time he enjoys sleeping, eating and breathing with occasional forays into woodworking, cooking, wine, reading and writing tiny little horror stories.
How did you get started in this business?
I started as an overnight technician in a small hospital in Seattle, although I have always loved animals. After discovering that I enjoyed the work very much, I applied to veterinary school at Washington State University and graduated in 1996. I did an internship in California and a 3-year residency in Portland, Oregon. I became board-certified in 2003 and have worked at many emergency and specialty hospitals across the country including Indiana, and Illinois where I currently work.
How do you make money?
I make money through a few different outlets. My main pursuits are lecturing, teaching and treating pets for emergency illnesses.
How long did it take for you to become profitable? When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I have always known I wanted to be an emergency clinician since I started my first job. As with any medical profession, there were times where it was difficult to push forward, but the rewarding nature of being an emergency clinician has always made those difficult times worthwhile. There will always be days that are more difficult but I find that when I remind myself how important this work is, it makes it easy to prevail. Reminding myself of the work, and having an incredible family support network is how I handle any shadows of doubt.
How did you get your first customer?
I don’t like calling my patients customers, I don’t feel that it accurately represents our relationship. My patients come to me in a state of emergency for their animals and because I am the emergency clinician, or because I have an existing relationship with them. Many of my patients also come from referrals from their friends or family.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
One of the ways I attract new patients is through my series of blog posts and lectures that help raise awareness about issues that are important to pet owners, veterinary students and the profession as a whole. I have been working on my blogging platform where I share news about pet care and the veterinary world for quite some time. Many of my patients have said they enjoyed reading my posts, and that they look forward to whatever news I have to share next.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
ERs force us to make tough decisions in every shift. My family and I have recently relocated from Carmel, Indiana to the Chicago suburbs, and the decision to work almost totally online was very difficult and required a lot of soul-searching. With the onset of the pandemic, this decision has served me and my family well, since as you know, many individuals are unable to physically be at the office at this time.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I am able to explain complex medical issues to laypeople (pet owners) well, which helps to establish rapport and trust. Anyone in the medical industry will tell you that trust is essential for a proper doctor patient relationship. I am also a good teacher, which affords me the ability to secure lecture opportunities around the world (when we can travel again, that is).
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Throughout my career I have had several medical moments involving critically ill pets that have turned out well. I also teach an online class for new graduate veterinarians on the basics of ER medicine. We are going to be teaching our 13th year this year and I am very proud of the course and the thousands of people we have helped educate over the years.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Veterinary medicine faces many challenges, especially now with the pandemic affecting how we do business. I think this will usher in a new era of telemedicine, which will present its own challenges and opportunities to explore and solve. Also, I believe that artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to grow and become a larger part of medicine and the medical world.
What business books have inspired you?
Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell a younger Tony Johnson to not eat the sushi at that place on 35th in Carmel, IN.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Yes absolutely! Please email me at tony@VIN.com if you are interested in becoming an emergency clinician.