03 Feb Q&A with New GVMA President – Dr. John Tarabula
Where were you born and raised?
Although born in upstate New York, I mostly grew up in an Atlanta suburb. My father worked with a large company that moved us around the country from the east coast to west coast and back. Having experienced life in other parts of the country, there is nowhere I would rather call home than Georgia.
Why did you choose to become a veterinarian?
As a 14-year-old living in Dunwoody, my neighbor, Garrett Thornton, D.V.M., would beep his horn in the mornings. I would run out, jump in the car, and go to work. On weekends and during summers you would find me cleaning kennels and caring for boarders. I was then “promoted” to number one dog washer. Later, I assisted with patients and in surgery. Dr. Thornton, who recently passed away, was a gentle soul who was very influential in my life and career path.
Where do you work?
After practicing for 37 years in many different capacities including small animal, exotics, shelter medicine and emergency medicine, I have reduced my hours to part-time and management consulting. I enjoy working with my daughter and son-in-law (both veterinarians) at a small animal practice in Forsyth County.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I love being a veterinarian; it is who I am. However, my priorities have shifted. I have discovered there are other things in life that give me joy as well. I now spend more time with our grandchildren and spend time outdoors on our farm tending to blueberry bushes and apple trees, working with my tractor and planting crops for the family
(and of course some for the wildlife). I often prepare dinner for my wife and high school sweetheart, Cindy, and have been experimenting with new international recipes with varying degrees of success.
What would you say is the most difficult part about being a practice owner?
Having practiced more than 3 decades, my perspective on this answer has changed over the years. Early on, balancing roles as a dad, husband, doctor and a practice owner- it was time management. Human resources, social media marketing and reviews, positive hospital culture, staff burnout and shortages, and team wellness highlight more recent concerns.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
In addition to having the honor of treating patients, it is the relationships built with clients and their families over the years. Children who once ran around the exam room and opened all the drawers now have children and pets of their own. It is humbling to be able to care for generations of family pets and to be a part of our community.
What have been your greatest challenges as a practice owner since the pandemic began?
Veterinarians have proven once again that we are a resilient breed. It is a situation no college course or years of experience could ever prepare us for, but we knew the continuity of care for our animals could not stop even as the world around us paused. Our greatest challenge locally was developing protocols to continue to provide quality medicine curbside while keeping our team members safe.
What advice would you give associates who might be interested in practice ownership?
We all do not have to be owners. Although practice ownership can be very rewarding, it takes commitment to veterinary medicine to another level. With this being said, a prospective owner should develop a solid business plan, have appropriate financial backing, realistic expectations, and plans to live in and be a part of the community long term.
Multiple members of your family have a career in veterinary medicine, what has it been like for you to see your daughter follow in your footsteps?
I am a very proud dad of all our children, but having veterinary medicine in common and working with Julie is quite special. Discussions at the Tarabula dinner table have always been interesting! Veterinary medicine and “events” of the day were exciting topics. Though trying to be delicate during conversation, the kids quickly learned medical terminology to describe bodily fluids and used it at school much to their teachers’ chagrin. Banana peels weren’t thrown away, they were sutured back to form.
When the children were younger, we always had a “backyard menagerie” that included not only dogs, cats, snakes, lizards, birds, and traditional farm animals, but also ostriches, emus, llamas, peacocks and more. Raising, treating and rehabilitating all kinds of animals, my daughter, Julie, and I learned husbandry, nutrition, breeding and disease prevention together with a hands-on approach. This built a foundation of understanding animals. Julie was determined to nurse every baby squirrel or bird back to health and I admired her grit and resilience in all the lessons it taught.
Now I am happy to mentor complicated surgeries with my daughter and son-in-law. We often collaborate and exchange ideas on interesting cases at the family meals and the tradition continues.
Why did you choose to join the Board of Directors of the GVMA?
I have always enjoyed being involved in my community from local city government to being a GVMA board member. The adage that “the only thing consistent in life is change” is true. I want to be involved in the direction of change, to make changes that matter and benefit others. I feel that as a group of volunteers the Board helps guide the direction of veterinary medicine in Georgia. It is aligned with veterinarian’s best interest in mind, consistent with our values and with common goals and advocation for the profession in our state.
Are there specific issues you would like to see addressed during your tenure as the GVMA president?
We plan to continue to be proactive in the coming year. We will work on mitigating the challenges that come with telemedicine and telehealth, preserving the doctor-client-patient relationship, cultivating solutions for veterinarian and technical staff burn out and shortages, and prioritizing the overall well-being of those in our profession.
How has the GVMA benefited you?
Before becoming a GVMA member, I never realized how much the GVMA is an advocate for our profession. The quality of continuing education programs and LEAP seminars is well known, but so much goes on behind the scenes. The GVMA works tirelessly with leaders of government, academia, and industry to be a voice for Georgia veterinarians in matters that affect everyday practice. We are involved with new regulations and proposals coming from outside interests as well as promoting veterinary medicine to the public and to students. I am very pleased that the GVMA Wellbeing Committee is actively working to develop tools and resources for veterinary professionals to help them and their staffs.
Why should new veterinarians get involved with the GVMA?
Times are changing. New members can make a direct impact and give back by bringing a wealth of information, unique insight and new perspectives to our committees, task forces and working groups. We need input. The GVMA encourages veterinarians from all areas of interest to become involved to help direct the future of veterinary medicine in Georgia.