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New vet moves in

KILLDEER -- Becoming a veterinarian was a happy accident for Shelley Lenz, who is opening up a new practice here. In fact, it took three moves to get her to get to this point. Before coming to North Dakota, Lenz traveled to places nationwide and ...

KILLDEER -- Becoming a veterinarian was a happy accident for Shelley Lenz, who is opening up a new practice here.

In fact, it took three moves to get her to get to this point.

Before coming to North Dakota, Lenz traveled to places nationwide and internationally to find her heart's desire, which ended up being veterinary medicine, even if it wasn't her first choice.

A new move

A building is being constructed for Lenz's veterinary medicine clinic to treat small animals, horses and cows on the northeast corner of Highways 22 and 200 south of town. It is slated to be open this spring.

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In the meanwhile, Lenz recently purchased a mobile clinic to travel through the southwest region within a 100 mile radius, where she may be needed. She has been in the area for about a month and has only treated a few animals.

"With the mobile clinic I can do full small animal surgeries, blood work and X-rays," Lenz said. "It's a way for me to get out into the community and get started right away as the building is built."

Although Lenz will mostly be in the Killdeer and the immediate surrounding area, she will go where there is a need, she added.

"Those towns who may need a routine small animal vet, I could set up something like vaccine clinics or rabies shots," Lenz said. "I can set it up to be in a town for a certain day of the month too."

Lenz wants to create a good relationship with communities so people are comfortable accessing her services, she added.

"I don't want to just go there once, leave and not come back," Lenz said. "If there's an emergency, it's good for people to know who I am and what I can provide and that's also why I don't want to extend my services too wide because I want to be able to be accessible."

The building clinic when done will mainly be haul-in, she added.

"When I have the building, I can be more affective if I'm in one place and people can come to me," Lenz said. "Plus, I'll have more extensive facilities and I can do most of the horse work there. I will offer emergency cow work."

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Lenz's experience is not as extensive with cows, but she plans on continuing to learn from those around her. She will be able to handle critical procedures.

"I'll have facilities for cows for things like c-sections," Lenz said. "Surgery is surgery and I have done some cow work in South Dakota."

Providing emergency services is important to Lenz and helping ranchers at critical times is essential.

"A veterinarian can help a rancher most when they understand the cow business and husbandry," Lenz said. "It's also my hope to hire a cow veterinarian in a couple years after hopefully getting the rest of the business going."

A veterinarian can make a difference with things such as preventative medicine and herd health, she added.

"The biggest thing I can do is just be there, and over time people will realize that I am," Lenz said. "People respond to good, quality care. I'm here to listen to what they need."

The first move

Lenz is originally from Ohio. Her mother, Sandy's, father, Alfred Murphy, is from Killdeer. Lenz would visit relatives in the area on occasion growing up and more often after her parents retired here eight years ago. Lenz has three siblings who live in Ohio and Wisconsin.

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Veterinary medicine is a second career for Lenz, which she discovered through a series of jobs taking her from the East to the West Coast and the Great Plains of the United States.

Lenz received a doctorate in pharmacology with an emphasis on neuro science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001.

"Neuro-pharmacology isn't pharmacy," Lenz said. "It's using drugs to understand biological mechanisms or trying to understand biological mechanisms to develop better drugs. It's about how drugs work in the body and discovering ways of using them."

Lenz got involved in a project studying Huntington's disease, a genetic neuralgic disorder, in Venezuela for six weeks a year. Lenz collected data on the disease working in the barrios there and discovered she enjoyed the clinical aspect.

"As much as I liked science, I found I liked the clinical side and I was good at it," Lenz said. "Typically when you get a Ph.D. you get a M.D., which go more hand in hand, but I was trying to decide how to add the clinical side to my career."

On a visit to Killdeer to see her parents, a spring blizzard hit the area. She was impressed by the work done in rural areas for animals and was concerned about the need for more veterinarians.

"What I realized was, I wanted to work with animals and the people working with animals rather than with people who are ill," Lenz said. "I thought veterinary medicine would be a better road."

Lenz received her Ph.D., then went to Ohio State Veterinary School to get her doctors of veterinarian medicine, but she wasn't sure what aspect of veterinary medicine she wanted to do.

The next move

With the unique and rare combination of a Ph.D. and doctors of veterinarian medicine, Lenz had many options open to her. She chose to do an equine internship.

"It's hard to get good experience in equine as a veterinarian," Lenz said. "I was accepted into the program at Hagyard, Davidson and McGee in Lexington, Ky., which is the largest equine hospital in the world. It is a 40 veterinarian practice."

Lenz was in thorough bred country in Kentucky, which she found to be a special sub-culture of its own.

"It was a great and I learned so much because I was trained by the best," Lenz said. "It was like being a kid in a candy store for me. It was an intense experience, but I loved it."

The internship ended after a year, but Lenz did not leave for another two years since she was offered and accepted an associate position, but she knew Kentucky wasn't her final destination.

"It wasn't my heart and soul, and I knew there were 40 vets behind me wanting my job," Lenz said. "I also did work in the Third World on working horses, which are the horses needing my help. I knew it was the same in rural America."

Lenz's heart would break when family in North Dakota would call to ask her advice on a horse that she desperately wanted to help in person rather than over a phone.

"Slowly, I developed what I really wanted to do," Lenz said. "It started to resonate with me what I could put my heart and soul into."

Then a call from a colleague in Belle Fouche, S.D., provided a closer step to her heart's desire.

"He was leaving his job to get certified for surgery which is a 4-year program and asked me if I'd come there as an associate to take over the horse and mixed practice," Lenz said. "I wanted to be in the Plains, closer to family."

The work was mainly horse and small animal work, she added.

"I decided not to renew my contract after two years, but I had signed a non-compete contract to accept the position," Lenz said. "It just meant when I left the practice I couldn't set up my own in the area. I understand the need for that to protect the business."

Now that Lenz has opened up her own practice here, she understands the financial risk the owner takes opening up their own practice, she added.

Lenz left South Dakota in 2005 and was offered a unique experience at the University of California Davis.

"The Dr. Lon Kendall director of laboratory animal medicine offered me a temporary, one-year position in the neuro-sciences," Lenz said. "Laboratory animal veterinarians are a whole set of veterinarians on their own. They do things such as ensuring the health of the lab animals and help scientists understand the physiology affecting their research."

It was fun to get back into the science field for a little while again, she added.

Lenz worked mostly with primates while at the university. She also continued her work in South America, which reminded Lenz how much she wanted to work with the working animal.

"It all came together last year after my time in California was ending, I decided I was ready to take the huge step to open my own practice," Lenz said. "I felt I was ready and spent about six months doing demographic studies of this area. This is cattle country and I'm a horse vet. I wanted to make sure this area could support a small animal and horse vet."

The right move

After developing a business plan to see what services were needed here and what she could provide Lenz was convinced she could be part of the solution to the shortage of rural veterinarians.

"I worked with Ron Newman at Small Business Association for small business planning, Ken Davis with the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council on my loan and Todd Tschetter with American Bank on financing," Lenz said. "They were three very instrumental people in making this happen."

Lenz completed the business plan this September while still in California and has been in the area just more than a month. She also compared costs and regional veterinarian service prices with a regional analysis.

"I've also been in touch with other veterinarians in the state and region here," Lenz said. "There is so much work to go around I don't see us really competing because some veterinarians are better at some things than others."

While Lenz might be the one to go to for a complicated horse case she would in turn refer a complicated cow surgery to another colleague better suited for the job. She is not worried about being close to several other practices such as the ones in Dickinson.

"It simply gives clients more options," Lenz said. "It's also more convenient for people in this area to come to me."

Besides a new business owner, Lenz is the Vice President of the Academy of Rural Veterinarians and is dedicated to finding a solution to the rural veterinarian shortage.

"It's the lack of exposure of the veterinary student body to rural veterinarian medicine," Lenz said. "Most of them are females coming from an urban or suburban area not familiar with what is needed out here. They need to hear about the successful stories of rural veterinarians."

Members of the academy visit veterinarian schools to tell their stories, she added.

Lenz has already set up six veterinarian students for internships at her practice in the coming year. She wants to them to see what working in a rural community is like and what it can offer them.

"Usually with interns you mostly show them the medicinal side, but I want to have them do things with the rancher like moving cattle to get a feel of what it's like," Lenz said. "It's important to learn the community aspect which is a real fun part of being a rural veterinarian."

It's scary when you think of why the country is in a rural veterinarian shortage, she added.

"Is it because we can't finance a business or lack of interest or understanding of what is needed," Lenz asked.

Word of mouth is the way in which Lenz hopes to get most of her business in the area. She also will advertise in local newspapers and on the radio in the future.

"Most importantly, I want to get involved in the community which I really love whether that's with rodeos, 4-H activities or giving talks at schools," Lenz said.

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