Dr. Debbie Edwards comes from a medical family. Her mother and older sister are both nurses, and her younger sister is a naturopathic doctor. From an early age, she had an affinity for animals.
A native of Marietta, Edwards says she “kind of” had a dream to be a veterinarian at a young age, but she didn’t fully embrace it as a real goal until her teens.
“Now, I can’t imagine having a job without animals involved,” she said.
Edwards attended Kennesaw State College in Marietta, and then went on to the University of Georgia to attend veterinary school. She graduated in 1999. It was while she was at UGA that she met her husband, Gary, who is from Statesboro.
After the couple was married, they lived in Cartersville, and he practiced there, while she practiced in Woodstock. But her husband really wanted to come home to the Boro, so they moved to Bulloch County and started their own practice, Gateway Animal Hospital.
The practice grew quickly, and it soon outgrew the facility. So they opened Best Friends Animal Hospital, which she manages, while her husband oversees Gateway.
The couple has one daughter, who just celebrated her 17th birthday. Edwards says she has spent years shuttling her daughter around the state to tennis tournaments, but she recently became more interested in horses. So the Edwards family now owns a horse, in addition to, Edwards says with a laugh, a lot of cats and dogs.
“I often refer to myself as the crazy cat lady,” she said. “We are the proud owners of many animals, cats and dogs. More than I care to admit, because someone is going to think we’re hoarders.”
She says she has also rescued a lot of cats over the years, and works with a lot of rescue groups.
“I just have an affinity for cats. But I can’t imagine life without a dog, either,” she said.
When she and her husband aren’t working, Edwards says they enjoy getting outside and traveling. They have recently purchased a recreational vehicle, and they’ve been taking trips together. They also enjoy biking.
As a vet, Edwards says she enjoys the interaction with the animals. But she also enjoys the problem solving, and the contact and relationship with pet owners.
“It’s not just about taking care of the pet. The relationship with the owner is important. You have to take care of the owner as well,” she said. “I think the ability to connect with clients, and understanding their differences, and be able to provide the care they’re looking for, for their pets. Sometimes it’s hard for them to put into words what they want. You never know what people are experiencing at that time.”
Edwards says it’s difficult for her to be everything to everyone when they need it.
“It’s difficult to deal with disappointment. There is a major problem as veterinarians are at the top of the list for suicides. When you work in such a stressful environment, and you feel like you’re putting it all out there and doing everything you can, it’s hard to accept that you’re not going to satisfy everyone. Because that’s what your goal is, to take care of everyone,” she said.
It can be defeating, at times. For Edwards, she says her worst day is when there’s just complete chaos, and she isn’t sure in that chaos she’s been able to meet everyone’s needs.
Edwards says that most people might think that those days she has to do euthanasia procedures would be her worst days.
“Those are bad days,” she said. “But sometimes, those are blessings. They’re a blessing for the animal and for the client. Those I don’t look forward to, but certainly those are just part of what we accept. When I’m not sure if I made a difference, I’m not sure if I connected and was able to do everything that someone needed, I think probably that’s the worst for me.”
Her best day is when she’s working hard and connecting with clients. It’s at the end of that type of day that she can get in her car and drive home knowing that she made a difference.
Veterinary medicine has taught Edwards much, including the understanding that she always has to be willing to learn new things and evolve.
“We’re always going to need to step outside of our comfort zone, or be at the edge of it to continue to grow and improve. Life evolves, and if you want to improve, you have to be willing to keep on and be willing to change,” she said.
Edwards and her husband sold both Gateway and Best Friends three years ago to Southern Veterinary Partners, and so far, clients haven’t seemed to notice. Things are run pretty much the same as before, except that they don’t offer emergency after hours.
Edwards says they had to make that move because they can’t seem to attract young talent in the veterinary medicine field, as the younger doctors don’t seem to want to participate in the longer, often overnight hours. So they don’t have the staff for it.
And she adds that at this stage in her life, she no longer can work all night and then all day. Making the proper balance between work load and personal life is important for Edwards, and something she is still working on.
“I’d rather be 100% during the day. I just have to accept that I can’t do the overnight,” she said.
Edwards says that she can’t see herself ever doing anything else, and loves working as a vet because it’s so rewarding. But she also wants to be sure she has time for her family and for enjoying life outside of work, particularly getting outdoors.
When asked if she has advice for young people looking to enter veterinary medicine, Edwards first urges them to consider spending time working or volunteering at an animal hospital.
“You need to see what we’re doing from day to day. It’s not all petting puppies and kittens. There’s a lot of challenges. It’s emotional. There are a lot of difficult decisions that have to be made,” she said. “You have to decide if that’s the lifestyle you want to do, and then you need to research what education you will need, and ask yourself, ‘Am I prepared to go to that degree?’”
Edwards says that students headed into veterinary medicine also need to be aware that they will have to push themselves.
“It has to be self-driven. You definitely have to be a motivated individual,” she added.
As for being named Best Vet in the 2021 Readers Choice Awards, Edwards says she is appreciative and validated, but she embraces modesty. She says any time you’re put up on a pedestal, life has a tendency to knock you back down.
“I know I’m surrounded by some amazing veterinarians. I couldn’t be that person without the support of the vets and staff that I work with. We have an amazing group of people that I work with. They’re there for me to be able to lean on for the support that I need,” she said. “Whoever voted for me, to have that belief, I couldn’t do it alone.”