The Case for a Family-First Culture

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By Sean Miller

I know firsthand that family can truly change your perspective. So when Dan Espinal and I founded Rarebreed Veterinary Partners, we were committed to infusing the built-in support system of “family” as the framework of our company culture.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was 13, I was part of a travel hockey team that was third in New York State. Despite my size – I was about 5’2 and 110 pounds – I was improving and an ascending player on that team. I could skate circles around the high schoolers as an eighth grader.

Then one day, it happened. I got hurt badly. A 200-pound high school senior crashed into me on the ice, popping a screw out of my helmet and giving me a concussion. That was a turning point for my dad. He made my brother and me give up hockey and switch to the safer option: basketball.

Do you know any hockey players? Well, I can tell you they are not known for their basketball skills. I struggled to catch up to others on my team, leaving me discouraged and wanting to quit. When I was 16, I told my Uncle Rick that I was frustrated and wanted to quit basketball. Uncle Rick didn’t pity me. He didn’t encourage me to try something else. Instead, he paid for my brother and me to attend Syracuse University basketball camp that summer.

I didn’t even have basketball shoes that fit me – just tennis shoes. But I went anyway.

The end or the beginning?

A combination of hard work and great coaching led me to get drafted on the best team that week – going up against kids that were headed to play college basketball. I remember there was one guy who was one of the top-3 point guards in the entire place. I shut him down for a whole game.

That experience completely changed me. It was a moment of validation. And it is one that I return to when I find myself vulnerable, unsure, or questioning my abilities.

I thought: “I can do this.”

What I saw as the end of the road, my Uncle Rick saw as a new beginning.

And that’s why family matters.

The hard realities of veterinary medicine

I am fortunate enough to have many supportive figures in my life, like Uncle Rick. People who are there for me when the road gets bumpy. But with the draining and isolating nature of the veterinary profession, many veterinarians lack this support system. And it can have devastating effects.

Because when you’re in veterinary school, no one tells you about the additional hardships you’ll face with the job.

No one tells you what it’s like to come out of school with over $150,000 in debt and then enter a job where you’re paid a fraction of that. You work nights, weekends, holidays – and have to deal with demanding clients who won’t hesitate to broadcast their unhappiness on social media. You’re isolated. And while you’re not trained to manage people, you have to do it every single day.

It can feel like you’re not living up to expectations: like you’re constantly disappointing others. And for some, the draining work and intense pressure become too much to handle. The CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 10 veterinarians experience severe psychological distress.

This needs to change.

A culture that feels like family

So, how are we at Rarebreed addressing this problem in the veterinary profession? It starts with our own company culture.

As we build a healthy company culture, it’s essential to consider where we are – and where we want to be. What do we like about our current culture? What new things do we want to see implemented? And what factors (or people) inhibit us from achieving the ideal workplace environment?

The goal of fostering a good company culture is to create an environment that’s collaborative, supportive, and rooted in strong communication. Where people want to come to work every day, and work is their happy place. We aim to create a workplace that allows and encourages people to help each other grow.

When I was growing up in New York, we didn’t have a lot of money. But I had a lot of support in the form of my family. My parents instilled strong values and stressed the importance of kindness in my brothers and me at a young age. Both of my parents came from huge families, so there were always family members around who would laugh with you, listen, teach and support you — no matter what.

That’s why we strive to create a culture at Rarebreed that feels like family. We focus on people and positive work environments over results. We emphasize healthy communication and listening to others’ points of view because we recognize that everyone perceives situations differently.

And we invest in our people, personally, emotionally, and financially. When we care about our people and show that through our actions, we create a happier, healthier workplace for everyone.

So, even when you’re wearing tennis shoes for a basketball game, you can still hit a game-winning buzzer-beater.

To learn more about our Rarebreed family, visit us at