The morning of May 29th, 1999 was like most other summer days in Eastern Tennessee; very sunny, very warm and very beautiful. But for Dr. Kathryn Primm, at the time, a recent graduate of Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it was a day she will never forget.
That morning, she was “test driving” a new horse. The horse was a Quarter Horse with a chest so wide that Dr. Kat didn’t see a sapling had slipped under the breast collar. Soon afterwards, the breast collar snapped and Dr. Kat fell off with such force that her helmet cracked on impact. She was airlifted by a Lifeforce helicopter to an emergency hospital where her family was told that she was unconscious, suffering traumatic brain injury (TBI)—and very lucky to be alive.
After surgery for a broken jaw (where the helmet strap was) and dealing with the aftermath of TBI, she was on the road to a very slow recovery. She had to recover from surgery, relearn how to walk and deal with memory loss. She didn’t recognize her family, but for some reason, she never forgot that she was a veterinarian. After her hospital stay, she went to a physical rehabilitation center and she was able to return to work (part–time at first) after about six weeks.
PetVet catches up with Dr. Kat to chat about her life, love and plans for the future:
Why did you become a vet? I grew up spending time at my family’s farm and fell in love with animals at a very early age. I never wanted anything else. It is my destiny.
What was the best part about vet school? My vet school days at Mississippi State are full of great memories. I met my husband, Shane, while we were both students. Best day ever was when Shane found a stray kitten that I named Merlin. Merlin helped me study by keeping my textbooks nice and warm.
We’ve all heard reports of female veterinarians not wanting the responsibility of owning a clinic, so why did you? I am extremely strong–willed and independent. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I also wanted the freedom to practice medicine the way I wanted.
How do you balance owning a clinic with your family? I have been happily married for 22 years to my soul mate. He gives me love and space, and is always there when I need him. He also understands my practice demands, which means we don’t get to eat dinner together every night, but when we do, it is wonderful. We also have a 14–year–old son, Will, who has no interest in becoming a veterinarian. But he is a lot like me, so when he finds his passion, I know he will give it his all.
What is the best part about being a boss? I own a two–doctor practice in Ooltewah, Tennessee, Applebrook Animal Hospital. Being a boss is a double–edged sword. The best part is also the worst part. I like being responsible and able to effect change when it is needed, but being responsible also means that my choices affect others’ livelihood.
What’s the best part about being a Veterinary mom? Because I am a practice owner, I was able to balance being a mom and being an owner in ways that associate veterinarians may not. When my son was very little, another staff member also had a small child. We set up my office like a nursery. The kids had a great time and we both had the peace of mind having our kids close.
What’s your biggest challenge? The hardest part of owning a business is people management. Over the years, I have dealt with staff members who would steal from our inventory or drive away clients by being very rude. Now I have a carefully chosen team of individuals that share our practice’s core values. However, I always remember that no matter how great your team is, life happens and there will always be changes and turnover. I have learned to embrace each person for what they can bring to the team, but as we grow, adding new team members is scary.
You are known to be a great client communicator, what’s your secret? I am a big believer in creative pet owner education. I use my social media sites to blend pet care advice with a touch of humor. I also host two podcast series on PetLife Radio and I published a book this year, “Pet Parent’s Guide to Infectious Diseases”. People these days have limited attention spans and even less time, so I think that by making learning fun, I am more likely to get important messages across to them…like the need to vaccinate or use heartworm prevention.
What is next for Dr. Kat? I have recently remodeled my clinic and it has a totally new look. One of the most important parts of the new facility is our new cat-friendly exam room, which features a window kitty hammock. We have doubled our exam rooms and treatment area. I am very excited about what the future holds. +
Photos by East Ivy Photography