Searcy veterinarian finds satisfaction in service to animals, children

By Lisa Burnett Published October 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Dr. James Hoffmann, a veterinarian at Westside Veterinary Clinic in Searcy, stands with his border collie, Loch. Hoffman is serving his fourth year on the Searcy School Board. He said serving on the board has been an eye-opening experience for him.

After serving his community as a veterinarian, Dr. James Hoffmann has been given an opportunity to help provide quality education for students in Searcy — as president of the Searcy School Board.

Hoffmann was born in Little Rock in 1965 but grew up “all over” the country, he said.

“We lived in Republican, Ark., when I was born,” Hoffmann said. “We lived in Guy, a few places in southern Missouri, and when I was 4, we moved to Alaska.”

He said his family spent about five years in Alaska before moving to Michigan, then back to Arkansas.

“I graduated high school from Heber Springs,” Hoffmann said.

Upon graduation, his family moved once again, this time to Potosi, Mo.

“I stayed [in Heber Springs] and finished high school because they knew they were moving [to Missouri] for a little bit, so I had looked at schools up there,” Hoffmann said.

He began his college career at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and although he is now a veterinarian, he didn’t start out in that field.

“[My decision to become a veterinarian] came after some experience I had when I went to college,” Hoffmann said. “I started in computer science, then I switched to chemistry.”

He said he started thinking about how he wanted to spend his days at work and decided chemistry was the wrong route to go.

“As much as I liked the sciences, I wanted to do something practical that involved some hands-on work,” Hoffmann said. “I had a couple of experiences where I was living that exposed me to what veterinarians did, [and I] thought that was a really nice way to make a living.”

Hoffmann thought working in a clinic would allow him to live where he wanted to and spend time with his family.

Though Hoffmann is a doctor of veterinary medicine, he doesn’t have a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

“When I decided to go to veterinary school, I was in my third year of my chemistry major — about a year from graduating — and I ended up transferring to the University of Missouri,” he said.

“I dropped all of my chemistry courses for a semester to take the prerequisites I needed [at the University of Missouri], and it turned out I got accepted that year. So I went ahead and started veterinarian school without a bachelor’s degree.”

He graduated from the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1990 and went to work as a veterinarian in Murray, Ky. A year later, he and his wife, Laura, decided to move back to Arkansas.

He worked in Greenbrier for another year until starting his own practice in Searcy, where he’s been since August 1992.

Though Hoffmann said veterinary medicine is a lot of fun, the job does have its downside.

“[In the veterinary field], there’s a lot of talk about compassion fatigue,” he said. “If you’re a caring person, how much sickness and death can you be around before you become burned out or calloused? That can be a challenge — it’s constantly a challenge.”

He does have to deal with death on occasion, but in spite of that, his job has proven to be quite rewarding, Hoffmann said.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in diagnosing and doing something to treat a complicated, difficult medical case, where you can make the animal’s life better,” he said. “No matter how routine things get, there are still unique cases that show up and things that present a new challenge.”

Hoffmann said one way he’s avoided becoming burned out in his work has been to get his board certification through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. He became board certified in 2011 in Feline and Canine Practice.

“This doesn’t mean that I know more than other veterinarians around here because I’m board certified. It does mean that I’ve demonstrated that knowledge to someone, and I’ve been held accountable for that,” Hoffmann said.

He said becoming a board-certified veterinarian is a five-to six-year process and has challenged him to remain up to date in his field.

“It involves a pretty extensive review of your practice, as far as what you’ve seen and diagnosed,” Hoffmann said.

In addition to helping the furry residents of Searcy, Hoffmann is serving as Searcy School Board president this year to help the students in the district.

This is his fourth full year on the board, but he fell into his position in an unconventional way.

“If a school board member resigns during their term, the remaining board members have the opportunity to appoint somebody to serve out that term,” Hoffmann said. “Jim Davidson was resigning, and one of my colleagues in town had asked me about possibly serving in [Davidson’s] position.”

After some thought, Hoffmann decided he should be a part of the board because of what the school district had done for his family.

“When they asked me, it was an honor to be asked,” he said, “but I also felt like — at the time I had one [child] who had graduated, one who was in high school and one who was in junior high — I felt like with what Searcy schools had done for our kids, it would be impolite, at least, for me to say no or refuse to help out.”

After taking over for Davidson, Hoffmann served until the fall election and was then elected to serve the rest of Davidson’s term, which was two years.

Hoffmann has been through two more elections since then.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to the community, and [benefit] something that’s been good for my family,” Hoffmann said. “It’s a good environment to work in — both the other board members and the administration and staff of the schools.”

His experience on the school board has been eye-opening for Hoffmann.

“I’ve realized what it takes to provide public education in our culture and our political environment,” he said. “I think I had an understanding of what went on in the classroom to some degree, but certainly not from a teacher’s perspective.”

He said his wife taught a gifted and talented class for a while, and he heard some of what goes on in a classroom on a daily basis but didn’t realize how much work is involved for the teacher.

“Teachers have to be there teaching for eight hours a day. It’s an amazing profession. The people who do it well are truly amazing,” Hoffmann said.

In addition to realizing the work teachers put in on a daily basis, Hoffmann said the most eye-opening part of being on the school board for him has been the bureaucracy involved in providing public education.

“There are regulations that have to be followed, the assessments that have to be done,” Hoffmann said. “There’s a very complex world that goes on behind the scenes.”

Hoffmann said he enjoys working with the board and looks forward to his term as president.

“We have a very cohesive board,” he said. “It’s a board of people who are on there because they want what’s in the best interest of the students and the schools.”

He said sometimes board members don’t agree on things, but they always have the school’s interest in mind.

“It makes for a very pleasant work environment,” he said.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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