Dr. Joe Hendricks and his wife, Dr. Susan Hendricks, are the owners of Briarwood Veterinary Hospital in Grand Blanc, where they have provided gentle care to pets in a stress-free environment for many years. Dr. Joe was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, and obtained his degree at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. That was where he met his wife, who was also a student there. She is an animal practitioner, now retired. While Dr. Sue had an inkling that she wanted to be a veterinarian, Dr. Joe’s passion for the field grew over a period of time. He knew he wanted to be involved in the field of biology and had become very interested in animal science. He and his wife both loved animals, so it was a natural fit that they became veterinarians. The couple moved to Michigan and built Briarwood Veterinary Hospital in 1990. “I consider myself a Michigander now,” laughs Dr. Joe. “We raised our family here and I absolutely love Genesee County!” As a general practitioner, Dr. Joe treats companion animals – dogs and cats of all shapes and sizes, as well as “pocket animals” including guinea pigs and gerbils. He took some time to share with MCM his average day as a busy veterinarian.
Dr. Joe begins his day by checking on any animals that had surgery the previous day and spent the night at the hospital. He checks the status of two cats: one had surgery for an abscess and the other was treated for a wound on his side. He is often accompanied by Associate Vet, Dr. Amy Webb-Kalin. The friendly resident cat, Bud, can be seen wandering around the place, and Pete, the resident cockatiel, can get quite noisy in his cage in the front office.
8am – 12pm
There are eight 30-minute time slots allocated for appointments, although the time spent with patients always varies. Dr. Joe and Dr. Amy treat an average of 20-25 animals each day. “It’s a busy practice,” says Joe. On hand to help are three veterinary technicians, two vet tech assistants and numerous other staff members. “They are very committed to the cause,” says Dr. Joe, “and Dr. Amy is an amazing vet.” Monday, Thursday and Friday mornings are reserved for surgeries, ranging from dental cleanings, knee reconstruction, sterilization procedures and everything in between. Population control is a high priority at Briarwood. According to Dr. Joe, four million animals are euthanized every year, nationwide. To do his part in dealing with this problem, Dr. Joe provides population control for Lucky Day Animal Rescue, the Humane Society and other area shelters.
When animals come to the hospital, they are typically already stressed, which can make for a difficult visit and exacerbate an illness. The Briarwood staff adheres to their philosophy of providing a fear-free environment. “We reduce anxiety by controlling the lighting and the noise level,” says Dr. Joe. “There is a lot to be said about how we approach medicine here.” Emphasis is also placed on the human/animal bond.
12pm – 1pm
The staff breaks for lunch. Dr. Joe believes it is important that the staff has time to relax and refresh. The biggest issue for veterinarians is burnout. Once a week, a yoga instructor comes to the office and leads a class for those who wish to participate.
1pm – 5:30pm
Again, there are eight 30-minute time slots allocated for appointments. In a typical day, about 50 percent of the appointments are wellness exams to evaluate the overall health of the animal. The patients get any necessary vaccinations and pest control, if needed. Sick animals that come in are evaluated for ailments ranging from GI problems to orthopedic issues, and receive diagnostic testing including blood work, full digital x-rays, dental x-rays or basic microscope work. All of this is done with the help of a highly skilled team. “I couldn’t do all this without my staff,” says Dr. Joe. Depending on the diagnosis, a patient may have to be referred to a specialist. Dr. Joe also handles emergency situations – when an animal has been hit by a car, poisoned or has a seizure. “Emergencies throw a real wrinkle in our day,” says the doctor, “but we do handle them.”
Perhaps the hardest decision any veterinarian has to make is when to euthanize a pet. “The saddest part of my job is when we have to end a life,” Dr. Joe says. “When the quality of life has slipped away, it is a kindness and the right thing to do.” Dr. Joe approaches this decision in a very compassionate way, and cremation service is provided immediately. And, no one is rushed into making that decision.
Staff meetings are held weekly at Briarwood, run by Office Manager Jennifer Wells. Jennifer is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM), which involves a rigorous training program. “There are only 330 CVPMs in the country, and she does a great job!” exclaims Dr. Joe. “All of my staff does a great job; they are here because they love animals.” Dr. Joe strives to keep up on technology and trends in the field of animal medicine by attending seminars and online classes, and training sessions for the staff. “The Internet has changed everything in this field,” says Dr. Joe. “We can consult with other veterinarians all across the nation!” The newest technology offered at Briarwood is laser therapy for treating arthritic pain.
In his spare time, Dr. Joe enjoys traveling with his wife and being with his family. He enjoys the company of their three cats and dog, Mason, a black Lab-mix that was a stray. But his real passion is fishing. “If you ask any of my friends what I am doing in my spare time, the answer is fishing. I fish with Mason,” he laughs. “Any Wednesday and on the weekends, you can find me fishing out on Lake Fenton.”
At the end of the day, Dr. Joe says he enjoys the quality of both his professional and personal lives. “Coming from L.A., I am very pleased with the lifestyle and my work environment here. Genesee County has a lot of best-kept secrets. It’s a great place to have a dog.” And, being a veterinarian has been a rewarding career choice. “Everyone gets into it because they love animals and they are willing to sacrifice – for the love of animals and the joy they bring to our lives.”
Photography by Mike Naddeo