Career Spotlight: Stephanie Correa
This is the latest in a series of interviews with Board-certified veterinary specialists of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) to share insights, knowledge and expertise about career opportunities, growth and development. Today we hear from ACVIM Oncology Specialist Dr. Stephanie Correa.
Dr. Stephanie Correa is President and Founder of Animal Cancer Care Clinic (ACCC), an oncology-focused practice with six locations throughout South Florida. Dr. Correa earned her DVM from the University of Florida and went on to complete an internship at The Animal Medical Center in New York and a residency at Louisiana State University. She achieved ACVIM Board-certification in oncology in 2001 and worked as an oncologist at Veterinary Specialists of South Florida before going on to found ACCC in 2004. In addition to her role at ACCC, Dr. Correa serves as the Executive Committee Chair of the Veterinary Management Group, a professional membership organization for veterinary hospital owners . In her free time, she enjoys camping, attending monthly book club, snorkeling in the Florida Keys, yoga and watching baseball.
What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist?
As a rotating intern at the Animal Medical Center, I was fascinated by the oncologists. Other doctors would go to the oncologists with histopathology reports and ask them what to do next for their patient–and the oncologists knew! They had the answers and I wanted to have the answers, too. I did not want to be in a position of staring at a report and feeling frustrated and scared because I did not know what to do for a patient. Those oncologists were superheroes and I wanted to be one, too.
Are there any resources or pieces of advice that helped you along the way?
My mentor used to say that “cancer does what cancer wants- always stay one step ahead.” This is true in so many ways when it comes to treating patients with cancer and also in leading a company. Recently I have been recruiting new doctors to join us at ACCC and when I think about it, I believe it applies to someone’s career outlook as well. With cancer care, business management, and career decisions, you need to be flexible and have the courage to change paths quickly, trusting in your training, instincts and available data. My most valuable advice is to ask questions and learn from others who have been in your shoes. Cultivate a network of mentors and be generous about sharing your own experience if it can benefit others. We put this advice to work for us recently and developed a page on our website where our doctors and technicians share their experience with those considering a new job. They answer questions about issues they’ve come to believe are most important in making career decisions such as culture, ownership/management structure, age/size of practice, focus, market position, work/life balance, etc.
Is there a story or experience that stands out in your mind that reaffirmed your decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine?
Interestingly, my roots are in general practice. My dad is a retired veterinarian and he owned a small animal practice in Fort Lauderdale. I remember when there would be a challenging case in ophthalmology or endocrinology, the GP’s in the practice would reach out to the specialists at a university for help. It was a collaborative and also a personal relationship between the GP’s and the specialists. They all knew each other and supported one another. That bond and that network of veterinarians in all facets of practice made me realize how truly connected we are, whether we are specialists or generalists. I wanted to be a part of that network of veterinarians and am so pleased to carry on the tradition of my father in enjoying and valuing the personal and professional relationships we share.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
As the owner of ACCC, my typical day is a blend of seeing patients and running a business. Luckily, I have a great staff and a team of 13 fellow oncologists at our practice to help me balance it all. I conduct new patient consultations and recheck appointments several days a week, and like our other doctors, I oversee my own team and schedule for this. It also helps that because we have a singular oncology focus, and do not have emergency services, our patient schedules are more controlled and predictable. Of course, I also spend time on continuous improvement projects, personnel and organizational issues, and planning for the future.
What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
I always knew that to provide the best care for patients, you needed to care for the people too – our clients and employees both. I would say that guiding the internal culture of ACCC while watching our employees develop and grow over the years has been a very satisfying career success for me. I’m not talking about it in the past tense, though, because our culture is very present and continuously evolving and adapting to our growth. Though a description of our culture is best left to employees, suffice it to say that it feels to me like a warm, caring, and comfortable context for a busy practice focused on excellence. It’s difficult to control and pursue a specific culture as a defined strategic goal. Instead it sneaks up on you in organic ways, with the small decisions that you and all those in the organization make every day. I think it has been achieved mainly through good hiring decisions, listening and positive reinforcement.
What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
As an entrepreneur and business owner, I’ve faced a number of challenges. For example, I remember when I decided to invest in a linear accelerator. There were nights I didn’t sleep worrying about the investment and the qualified staff required to run and maintain it. Yet, looking back it was one of the best decision I made, as radiation is helping so many of our animal patients live longer, higher quality lives. Today, finding enough qualified oncology specialists is always a challenge. To overcome it, we are increasing our national visibility - web site, social media, online job postings, industry partnerships, and word-of-mouth efforts, to name a few. We mainly need to fight through the clutter of large corporate recruiting so that people can know about us and what we are doing here in Florida.
What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?
The ACVIM provided the groundwork to allow me to access the training through a residency program and board certification examinations to become board certified. As I am becoming more “seasoned” in my profession, I am looking forward to the opportunity to be able to give back to the organization. In addition to the personal involvement of myself and my ACCC oncologists, we’ve appreciated the opportunity to get more involved as a company in the Forum and support programs like VetSpecialists. Attending ACVIM-led events always helps me stay current on scientific advancements and have the chance to discuss common stories and issues with colleagues around the country.
Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?
In some ways it is probably unique to love your job as much as I do, for as long as I have. When I started out 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to provide veterinary cancer care, but I did not know how much I would enjoy the business management side of things. Our growth has allowed me to work with a fabulous and expanding group of people and it has presented challenges requiring surprising levels of creativity and teamwork. I love the contrast between understanding and caring for our animal patients and doing the same with our human staff. I love learning and managing our continuous improvement efforts on both fronts – all to achieve what we call “Optimal OUTCOMES”. It truly has been a unique and gratifying career, and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunities I continue to have in this industry.