By Karen van Kampen
As a five-year-old girl growing up in a farming community on the West Coast of Newfoundland, Dr. Trina Bailey knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian. Surrounded by a “menagerie of pets” that included a bunny, dog, cat and gerbils, the veterinary surgeon says, “I don’t think I ever thought about doing anything else.”
Trina has built a successful, award-winning business on her lifelong love and compassion for animals. In 2015, she launched The Veterinary Specialty Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador (VSCNL) — the first veterinary hospital in Newfoundland dedicated to emergency and specialty services. As owner, , Trina was the 2017 winner of the Staples Start-Up Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has developed a thriving business that’s poised for the next level of growth.
Steadfast determination and dedication is the foundation of Trina’s inspiring career. “When a goal is important, you should do whatever it takes to achieve it,” she says. The advice comes from personal experience: Trina applied four times to the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) before she was accepted in 1996. Being admitted into the competitive program gave her a newfound confidence. “I was finally able to show what I was capable of,” she says.
Trina graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2000. Two years later,, when her son was 10 months old, she and her family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to complete her surgical residency as well as a Master of Science at Louisiana State University. Trina gained experiences that she still reflects on to this day. “I learned to take skills, ideas and previous knowledge and apply them to a situation that I may never have seen before,” she says. “This happens frequently in the O.R — almost every day when trying to run a hospital. It also happens in daily life!”
She also learned early on that veterinary medicine is a challenging field, and a very emotional, high-stress business, she says. “You care for the owner as well as the patient,” Trina explains “These pets are part of the family.”
There are people who decide not to have children and develop a strong bond with a pet. And there are the owners whose spouses have bought them an animal before passing away. “So this is the last link to that loved person,” she says. When clients convey their gratitude for helping them through a pet’s sickness or injury, “it makes it all worthwhile,” says Trina.
In 2006, Trina returned to AVC as a professor, where she taught until 2014. During this time, she travelled regularly to Newfoundland to perform specialized surgeries, an experience that was the catalyst to launch her own practice. Veterinarians in Newfoundland were doing the best they could, says Trina, but the need for specialty and emergency services wasn’t being met, forcing sick animals to travel great distances for critical care.
In 2015, Trina launched the VSCNL with eight employees — including her husband, John MacKenzie, who pitched in by working the reception desk for the first few months of operation. “He’s been a huge support and is a big part of me being where I am now,” she says.
While Trina recognized the need for her business, she says that starting her own practice wasn’t an easy decision. “It was nerve-racking. I was a tenured professor at the university. I could have easily stayed there for the rest of my career and had job security.” But Trina knew that if she didn’t take a risk and venture out on her own, “I think I would have always felt like I gave up and just settled.”
Today, with 44 employees — including John, who is the Chief Financial Officer — Trina’s practice has tripled in size. The new 6,500-square foot facility has two beautiful operating rooms, an ICU that is twice as big, a space dedicated to rehabilitation, and a CT scanner.
At her new facility, Trina cares for trauma and neurologic patients and performs specialized procedures including cancer and heart surgeries. Trina sees Newfoundland and Labrador patients referred by their family veterinarian as well as animals from New Brunswick and the neighbouring French archipelago, Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
When asked what advice she would give to other women entrepreneurs, Trina doesn’t hesitate: “Have no regrets. The things that people regret in life are the things that they didn’t try. If there’s something that you really want to do, then make it happen.”
As you make your entrepreneurial dream a reality, “Don’t try to do it by yourself. Allow yourself to be supported,” says Trina, adding that you also need to support your team by communicating your goals and objectives. “Don’t assume that other people know what you want and what you’re thinking,” she says, even if you have a history of working together. By documenting policies and procedures, “this minimizes confusion and makes everyone happier and less stressed,” explains Trina.
Trina already has her next goal in sight: to expand her emergency services by hiring more doctors, encouraging them to move to “stunningly beautiful” Newfoundland. Trina, John and their two kids spend summer weekends at their cottage on the south shore, kayaking with whales and puffins. And she still has a “menagerie of pets” that includes two dogs, two rescue cats, a lizard and a Chilean degu named Velma.
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