Animals have always been a major part of Dr Sarah Inman’s life. She developed a love for animals from an early age and this passion is what inspired her to want to work with them.
Since leaving in 2005, Sarah has completed a Bachelor of Science – BS, Genetic and Biochemistry at Melbourne’s Monash University before moving north to complete a Veterinary Medicine degree at The University of Sydney.
The veterinarian, who now lives in San Francisco, loves her job as and has now ventured into the business world, opening two hospitals — Polk Street Animal Hospital and The Castro Animal Hospital — in the city located in the US state of California.
Sarah recently took time out from running her businesses and caring for furry patients to talk to us about her path for this edition of Alumnae Spotlight.
When did you know you wanted to have a career as a veterinarian?
I have always loved animals and grew up in a home always full of pets, from dogs and cats to mice, guinea pigs and budgies. As a child, I had imagined myself working in wildlife conservation as a game ranger, but during middle school at MGGS, I realized I really enjoyed Science, particularly under the tutelage of Mrs Mary Vamvakas, who later became my VCE Biology teacher. Veterinary medicine became the logical choice for a future career that would combine my love for animals and science.
What do you love most about what you do?
My furry patients are at the heart of what I love about my job, especially the satisfaction I get from knowing I have been able to make a positive or meaningful change in their health and, therefore, their happiness. I also love the challenge of trying to solve a problem when it comes to finding a diagnosis and treatment plan, especially since my patients can’t tell me what’s wrong or where it hurts.
My furry patients are at the heart of what I love about my job, especially the satisfaction I get from knowing I have been able to make a positive or meaningful change in their health and, therefore, their happiness.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt during your time as a Vet?
A lot of my colleagues went into vet medicine over human medicine because they would rather deal with animals than people. The biggest lesson or reality check for me was that all patients have owners and, a lot of the time, a veterinarian will find themself doubling as a counsellor. I have found myself mediating between divorced pet parents, dealing with pet custody battles, testifying with police regarding animal abuse cases, acting as a grief counsellor for clients saying goodbye to their pets and, on top of all that, being the target of verbal abuse from disgruntled clients or clients with substance or mental health issues.
You made a big move from Melbourne to San Francisco; how did you find the change in lifestyle and work culture?
The adjustment after moving country had phases to it. It initially felt very easy as everything was new and exciting, and San Francisco is a big city with a lot of things to do. I also had the luxury of relocating with my husband, who is American and already had a whole group of friends that lived in San Francisco. It wasn’t until years 2-3 that I started to really miss Australia, the cultural familiarities, and of course, my family! Surprisingly the veterinary industry actually has a better work-life balance than in Australia, with significantly higher salaries for veterinarians compared to Australia. The theory behind this is the much higher uptake of pet insurance by owners in America, but I also think Americans just anthropomorphize their pets more than Aussies (rightly or wrongly so). Americans, as a whole, are actually really welcoming people, which made the relocation easier than I think it could have been in another country.
You now own two Animal Hospitals in San Francisco. How did these opportunities come about, and tell us how it’s going?
I started my first San Francisco general practice hospital in 2018 and my second in 2021. I initially worked for a family-owned GP practice when I first arrived in SF, and quickly discovered that there was a massive undersupply of vets in the city. No one had opened a new vet clinic in almost 20 years in San Francisco, mostly due to the headache of going through city planning, which is notoriously difficult! So, I took on the (debatably foolish) challenge of building a business model, securing a loan, finding a suitable location and taking the leap out on my own. My amazing Practice Manager, Jason, joined me from my old practice (he had been my lead technician before), and with one of my other long-time employees, we opened our first day with just the three of us! Three years and one global pandemic later, we now have two 3,500sqft locations, 60-plus employees and a client base of over 13,000 patients – it’s been quite the growth trajectory!
What do you know now that you wish you knew during your time at MGGS?
I was the master of procrastination in Years 11-12 and wish I had been a little more disciplined with my studies. As a result, I did not get directly into vet school and had to complete an undergraduate science degree first. But I was able to study abroad during my undergrad and incorporate a second degree, graduating with a double degree in Genetics/Biochemistry and Finance, which I would never have been able to do had I gone straight into vet school. So, in the end, I like to think I just took the long way round. I am also glad that, while at MGGS, I really did take advantage of all the extra-curricular opportunities available, from choir to rowing to trips to Papua New Guinea.
If anything, I wish I knew how lucky I was to have access to competitive sport, an almost unlimited array of arts and once-in-a-lifetime experiences like school camps and the PNG trip.
What advice do you have for alumnae or students that are working towards a career in Veterinary Medicine?
If you don’t get into vet school immediately, there are alternatives. I was definitely not the top of my class at School, but I put in the time at university and got in that way. The veterinary industry itself can be quite gruelling and emotionally taxing, so it is not for the faint-hearted. However, the rewards far outweigh the costs, and I have a genuine sense of purpose in my day-to-day life. Being a business owner is a different beast and something I both love and hate. Managing people is the hardest part of any job or industry, and the veterinary world is no exception. It is not for everyone, and if financial gain is the only thing that drives you to owning your own business, then it might not be for you.
What are your plans for 2022 and beyond?
Getting my second hospital to full capacity then spending more time with my husband, kids and old cat. Starting renovations on our house in Sausalito and finally just getting five minutes to myself!