Friends don’t let Friends become Veterinarians.
You want to be a veterinarian?
No, you don’t.
You think you do, but you don’t know what you don’t know, so I’ll tell you a little bit.
“Being a veterinarian when I grow up” is this common romantic notion that so many people (usually kids) have. Being a veterinarian in real- life, is quite different from the sweet notion in your head, or as portrayed by the media. I only know this because I was a kid who wanted to be a veterinarian, and now I am one, and there have been many times that I have wished that I was not. After two decades — largely spent in emergency medicine — I have found a balance that works for me at this time in my life, but it’s been a rough and tumble road, and I should have been a gym teacher.
Becoming a veterinarian is hard, expensive, and time consuming.
Being a veterinarian is dealing with a lot of really sick animals, which as you can probably imagine, starts to wear on you after a while.
Four years of college, four years of veterinary school, followed by internships, residencies, if you so choose. Veterinary school is an all consuming type of post-graduate education. There is little to no room for “a life” outside of the rigor of veterinary education. Your time is not your own, and you will work your ass off to learn all the things about many different species, some of which you will never again deal with upon graduation.
The hardest part of becoming a veterinarian is getting into Veterinary school. The schools are relatively few, generally one (1) vet school per state (except Alabama which has Tuskegee yay! — a HBCU, and Auburn, and the great state of California). Some states do not have a veterinary school at all. There are international schools, and some island schools (Ross, St. George) to consider as well. Probably the least expensive way to go with a stateside school, is to see if the state you live in has a veterinary school — if so, in-state tuition may be less costly. Seeking admission to veterinary school can take years, for some. I was lucky to have grown up in a state with a vet school, I only applied to that school — and got in on my first try.
Because it’s ridiculously expensive, for most non-well-to-do folks (like… if your parents aren’t paying for you to goto school and you’re not an independently wealthy person, you will take out ~ 500k in student student loans) you will spend literally the rest of your career paying off your student debt. Let me say that again, many veterinarians spend the entirety of their career, paying off their veterinary education.
Once you make it through vet school, which you probably will, because although getting into vet school is challenging, there are supports to help keep you there if you’re having academic difficulty. Long before you graduate, you probably start stressing about what you’re going to do next — because for damn sure, every other type-A go-getter in your class has already decided on a career path, specialty, an internship, or some other lofty goal. Folks will apply to “the match” for an internship, and then a residency. This is a whole other drama and stress filled special flavor of hell. You graduate, after what feels like an eternity. At some point or another, you will be reborn into an actual doctor in the workforce, armed with a stethoscope and this feeling of freedom — which will be abruptly squashed when you realize that you learned a million things, but you still know nothing. Whatever social skills you had before vet school, if any, have receded and you don’t even know how to relate to another human being, let alone a worried/irate/angry/sad/unstable owner of some hot mess of a medical disaster pet.
Simply put, once you’re out of school and are starting a job, it gets even weirder. You would think it would be better — because at least now someone is paying you, and you are doing what you were trained to do. But it’s hard. You’re a baby doctor, and also you’re a full grown adult by the time you’ve done four years of college, four years of vet school, +/- the interim years where you’re getting a Master’s degree while seeking admission into vet school, or years you took off to start a family or travel the world or what have you, and then also plus internship and residency — should you so choose. Anyway, you’re a new vet, flying solo, you may feel like you are the bomb diggity and you know everything, but alas — you are not and you do not. It will take you some time to realize that (depending on who you are and your level of self awareness), once again, you don’t know what you don’t know. After accepting this fact, you set out to a) figure out what you don’t know and b) figure out how to learn it. Sounds easy, is hard — because it will take time.
You now have to learn how to be a regular doctor seeing regular things (if you go into General Practice). You have not learned how to be a regular doctor seeing regular things, because you’ve been in vet school — vet schools are generally tertiary referral faciities that only see the very sickest of the sick, who have already been referred from their family vet to a referral facility, and then to a veterinary teaching hospital. So now you know too much about all the obscure, super complicated things, and nothing about the most basic things. Hence, you feel like an idiot. To make up for feeling like an idiot, you bend over backwards to work really extra hard to help and please your clients and patients, but it is not possible to “win” them all. You develop poor boundaries because you’re trying so hard to do the right thing, and to communicate that to the humans that hold the smartphones that type ridiculous reviews about ridiculous tangential things about you, your practice, the profession as a whole. These same people also believe that grain free diets are healthy, (they aren’t) that raw diets are a good idea, (they aren’t) and will happily believe the kid at the pet store selling heavily advertised but garbage food, or the “breeder” who is breeding and selling crappily cared for puppies and kittens, over the veterinarian.
Veterinarians are notoriously poor business people, and yet, many practices are still privately owned and run. This seems appealing to work for an independent business, but please refer to back one sentence: Veterinarians are notoriously poor business people. We want to help you (unless you are a huge jerk to us, which many people are) and we want to help your pet.
Simply put, veterinarians are not schooled well, or at all, in the principles of running a successful stable business, we are schooled in anatomy, physiology, and medicine. Most veterinarians have bleeding hearts and poor boundaries.
There are vets out there who are jerks, but they are few and far between.
There are vets who have supreme mental health and none of these issues… I just don’t know a single one of them.
Also — NOBODY gets into this for the money. That would be the most ridiculous career choice — EVER — for someone who is primarily concerned about making ‘good money’.
Veterinarians work long hours, sometimes very very long. The job is hard, animals die, literally all the time, either despite what we do, or because it’s the only way that we can end their suffering. Animals die, people lose their very best friends. Sometimes a pet is the only source of joy or solace a person has, and then you (the veterinarian) get to tell them that the animal is not going to make it. This revelation, that all lives eventually end, is often not well received by people.
People want you to do things that are unethical, inappropriate, free, or just straight up wrong.
People mistreat their animals. You will see neglect, you will encounter animal cruelty. You will see convenience euthanasias (that’s when the pet is inconvenient for the owner to deal with, for whatever reason, so the owner wants you to put their pet to sleep, so they don’t have to deal with it anymore.) You will try to talk people out of doing these things that are clearly horrible, and sometimes you will be successful, and sometimes you won’t. You will then carry this with you, until you cannot, and then you will seek professional help in the form of a therapist or psychiatrist.
Sure, there are vets who don’t go to therapy (this is not the same as saying there are vets who don’t need therapy) and aren’t on meds, but look more closely. Do they only work part time? Do they have very limited hours? Have they a spouse who is the bread-winner and they truly only work because they legit WANT TO? Most veterinarians deal with significant mental health issues as a direct result of their career choice.
Do you know that veterinarians kill themselves, like more often than almost any other career? Whelp — we do. We have access to controlled substances at work every day. We use controlled substances every day, to end the suffering of our patients. We become comfortable, or numb, or comfortably numb with the concept of ending a life, particularly when there is no other end to the suffering. And then, when our mental health spirals out of control and we can’t take it anymore, we kill ourselves.
I have a lot more to say on this subject, because I live it everyday.
If you want to be a vet, be a vet, but don’t enter into this profession believing in this romantic notion of puppies and kittens and responsible pet owners. Don’t believe you’re going to save all the pets, because that is not logical, practical, or even possible.