When Dr. Kim Haddad went to college, she was destined for medicine -- she just didn’t know it yet.

The San Francisco native came from a family of physicians, but chose to focus on her love for writing (English) and a practical career (Economics) when she went to college, graduating with a BA in Economics from the University of California San Diego.

Jobs in finance in the Bay Area involved long hours and less-than-satisfying outcomes. She worked at major financial companies—first as an assistant, then as an institutional salesperson in financial futures and options. She recalls that the work was exciting at first, but the profession lost its luster; it left her feeling unsatisfied.

“It was putting money in the bank,” Dr. Haddad says “But it was bankrupting my soul, my spirit—just moving a pile of money from here to there.”

Then a recession hit, and Dr. Haddad’s then-husband was offered a job on the other side of the country in Florida, where Dr. Haddad ended up attending University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

“...Animals… Just Want to Get Well and Get on With Their Lives”

The move to Florida gave Dr. Haddad time to think about where she wanted her career to go next.

“It was between sports medicine, pediatrics or veterinary medicine,” she says. Each of those would allow her to work with patients who were ready and willing to get better. There would be less selling patients on the importance of treatment, therapy and lifestyle choices, and more action.

“Athletes, kids and animals don’t feel sorry for themselves, and they just want to get well and get on with their lives,” she says.

The animal patients ultimately won her interest. Sure, she wouldn’t be a physician like so many in her family, but she’d be a doctor—of many more species than human beings.

The future Dr. Haddad took courses for two years at community colleges to fulfill all the prerequisite requirements for veterinary college that she’d missed with her first college degrees.

“It was really fun,” she says. “When you’ve been out of school for a while, you appreciate learning so much more.”

She also did part-time work at a veterinary practice, starting as a kennel assistant and working her way up to veterinary assistant. When she became pregnant, she moved to the reception desk for a little less time on her feet.

Finally, she was accepted to the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine and had a “great four years,” she says. She was pregnant with and gave birth to her second child during her third year there, which meant she had a little more perspective on managing the stress of classes than twentysomething students who’d come straight from their undergraduate degrees.

Eventually, the variety of work in zoos caught Dr. Haddad’s eye, and she pursued an externship at the Jacksonville Zoo and a month’s clinical rotation at the San Francisco Zoo. She eventually took a job as a part-time veterinarian at the San Francisco Zoo.

“I thought that was my path, so I focused on learning about animal welfare and conservation,” she says. She describes her time working with zoo animals as eye-opening, where she saw the possibility that some zoos could “do right by animals and others, not so right.” As a result, she worked with nonprofits to end the pet trade in wild animals and to improve living conditions for animals in zoos globally.

But while she was to continue advocating for wild animals—even helping start the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, where she continues to serve as vice-chair—she also needed a way to make money (hey, she was an Economics major. She knows how this stuff works).

That’s where practice ownership came in.

“I wasn’t ready to retire,” says Dr. Haddad. “I still really enjoyed practicing, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to let go of the business side of practice.”

From Passion-fueled Practice Owner to Passion-fueled Medical Director

Shortly after returning to the Bay Area, Dr. Haddad was divorced with two small kids. She was practicing small animal medicine while she did part-time work at zoos. VCA Holly Street Animal Hospital was her first job out of vet school.

“I realized the only way to make a decent living for me was to be a practice owner,” she says. So she took a job as an associate veterinarian down the road at San Carlos Pet Hospital in 2000.

She arranged to get first right of refusal to buy San Carlos—that was a promise by the practice owner at the time to give her a shot to buy before anyone else. While she waited, in 2004, she bought a hospital in San Mateo and then another, Redwood Pet Hospital, in 2007. Shortly after that, San Carlos’ practice owner finally came calling.

Dr. Haddad now had three hospitals under her belt. San Carlos became a 24-hour emergency facility, and things were really busy. Eventually, she merged Redwood City and San Carlos, and she says the craziness of hospital ownership settled down and she really hit her stride.

“The hospitals were chugging along, and things were pretty good,” she says. Then an offer to sell popped up through a veterinary management consultant.

“I wasn’t ready to retire,” she says. “I still really enjoyed practicing, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to let go of the business side of practice.” Dr. Haddad

That didn’t need to change, however, with a sale to VCA. She could stay on as medical director at both VCA San Carlos Animal Hospital and VCA San Mateo Animal Hospital. She just wouldn’t need to worry about human resources, payroll, liability, and the other things that keep business owners up at night.

She decided to sell and gave her staff time to consider whether they’d stay on. Some did, some didn’t.

“Those who are still with me see that we continue to practice excellent medicine and provide great care, but now we have more resources and more support,” she says.

Josue Pereda, who managed VCA San Mateo Animal Hospital and now is hospital manager at both San Carlos and Holly Street, says Dr. Haddad loves practicing medicine, but also teaching on the job.

“She’s definitely a patient-oriented veterinarian, but she’s also a medical director who likes to be hands on teaching with her doctors, especially new graduates,” Pereda says. “Because of that, she has a great bond with every doctor on staff.”

Not Finished Learning

Dr. Haddad, who has also become a yoga instructor, is finishing a long-distance Master’s program in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law at the United Kingdom’s University of Winchester. She hopes to expand her nonprofit work as well as her time as an expert witness in cases to help close down unaccredited facilities that subject animals to lives of deprivation and poor welfare.

“My witness work has been super powerful,” she says. “It’s made a difference in a lot of animals’ lives, a lot of species. I want to be in a position to do even more of that important work.”

Her research also hits closer to home at the San Carlos and San Mateo hospitals, where she’s been studying the effect of better food conversations with clients. Does better communication with veterinary clients help those pet owners manage their dogs’ obesity? Dr. Haddad’s soon-to-be-published research will be a piece of the puzzle.

Whether it’s research to help obese dogs, testimony in court to help captive zoo animals, or new and exciting study, Dr. Haddad feels she’s in exactly the right profession in the right place for growth and satisfaction.

Strangely enough, not long ago, a friend reminded her what she’d written in her senior high school yearbook about what she wanted to be when she grew up: a veterinarian.

“That went by the wayside for a while,” she says.

But not forever.

Is veterinary medicine calling to you? A career in veterinary medicine is full of possibilities and opportunities to continue to learn and grow. Explore the vast array of opportunities in veterinary medicine by visiting the VCA Careers page