I love when families come in to the clinic and tell me their daughter or son wants to become a veterinarian. My parents used to do the same thing when we would go see our vet. And of course, I made my parents take me to every zoo that exists in Europe when we did our first European excursion at the age of 10. It didn’t end there; horseback riding, volunteering at the vet, etc. I even wrote in my little journal that when I grew up I wanted to be a vet – at the age of 5!
So when these kids come in to the vet hospital and look at me with those wide hope-filled eyes, it gives me both a sense of joy and sadness. I wish deeply that their dreams come true. And some will. And others won’t…. It is a very difficult professional program to be accepted into and even the best students will have challenges getting in. The competition is as difficult as it is to get into human medicine or dentistry.
I always believe it is important to go after your dreams. But the other side of me believes it is equally important to have a back-up plan.
I always had one. There was a time when I thought I was almost more interested in my back-up plan than getting into vet school. I didn’t even apply to vet school until I was in my final and fourth year of my undergraduate program because I was enjoying it so much. In fact, I had just begun my master’s research the summer I got the call from the Ontario Veterinary College that I had been accepted.
When I got the call though, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation: “YES”!!!! I called my parents and my boyfriend (now husband) within seconds, crying. And I loved vet school. It was hard though. There were things that were frustrating. We were all a bunch of geeks, but we all shared one thing in common – we really did LOVE animals and wanted to help them be healthy and feel better.
The reason I feel a little sadness for these hopeful kids is complicated. It’s not just about the fact that they may struggle to get in and not have their wish fulfilled. It is in part that I want them to know that if they do become a veterinarian they must have a really deep down CALLING for it.
This is a very tough profession. Once you make it through vet school, the real challenges begin.
You have such high expectations and you know that what you have learned is really going to help your patients. What you didn’t realize is that often people can’t or choose not to do things that could save their pet because of financial constraints OR in some very sad cases, because they don’t believe their pet is worth the money: “I can go buy another cat for less than that” is an all-too-common refrain.
I don’t think I ever expected it to be quite such an emotional career either. The emotional drain that is put on you every day is overwhelming. It is not surprising that we have a very high percentage of veterinarians who go through serious burn-out.
What other career do you know of where you will see the first months and last months of 70% of your patients?
Where you will be forced to euthanize a puppy because he was hit by a car and the treatments to save his life are upwards of $5000 and the family simply cannot afford it. Even though we try to find ways to make things cheaper, sometimes it is simply impossible to make things free. There is a cost to caring for your pet which some people cannot afford. This would all be so much easier if families had pet health insurance!
My sadness also comes from knowing the reality of working very long hours only to earn less than 40% of what an MD does (as a general practitioner). Profit margins are so very small in veterinary medicine that few veterinarians make anything even close to an MD.
BUT I LOVE BEING A VET and wouldn’t change it for the world. It was what I was meant to be and I am so very fortunate to have seen my dream come true. Nothing is perfect, everyone will complain about their job or career choice at times.
I get to go into work every day and help our furry four-legged family members feel better, keep them healthy, and help them and their families on their journey through life.
What more could you ask for?