Why I Won’t Disclose my Job

Veterinary Medicine and Humanity

I learned early on to avoid telling people that I am a veterinarian. I used to be very proud of being a veterinarian, but as my mental health, ethics, morals, and views on the world, people and animals have devolved and evolved — I feel way differently now.

Most folks assume that I, as a veterinarian, would like to hear all about all of the pets you’ve had, past and present, at all times and in any given situation. Here’s the thing: I don’t. Even when I am not at work — people won’t or can’t stop. Everyone assumes that even after I’ve said — “I don’t want to hear about your dog/cat/story you read on the internet etc. “ — that they are an exception and that while they understand that I don’t want to engage in veterinary conversations with others, I will make an exception for them. The sheer number of people who believe that my very clear boundary does not apply to them astounds me. Daily. Many times a day.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to hear about your dog. Or your cat. Or your dog’s diet. Or what you read in some bullshit non-scientifically backed article about dog behavior, food, etc. Don’t tell me to watch Dr. Pol or read James Herriot. Caesar Milan? Fuck that guy. Please spare me, and don’t tell me what you think of your veterinarian who is, inevitably, any one of the following: too expensive, too overbooked, wrong, incompetent, not nice, unfair, etc.

Guess what? When you complain about your veterinarian, I AM NOT JOINING YOU. I am always, always, always going to be on the side of the veterinarian. I don’t agree with you. I may not engage in an argument or get into the details of why I disagree with you, because it’s not even worth my time, words and emotion. I can and will wholeheartedly take the side of the veterinarian in any such pissing contest. Why? Because I’m over it. So over it.

I dated a woman recently. During my career as a veterinarian — I burned through two marriages. One to a man — which is hilarious because I am a gay lady through and through, and then one marriage to a woman. I was seeing someone shortly after separating from my wife, and this person needed to be schooled on all things veterinary. She did not have any pets, and did not understand that I don’t shout my identity as a veterinarian from the rooftops. She did not understand why. I explained it. I explained it some more. I gave examples. She still did not understand. Eventually — early on in our dating relations, this happened:

We were having dinner — four gals, getting ready to goto an Indigo Girls concert. Cliché, but true. You can laugh, it’s ok. Two of the women were friends of my girlfriend, but were strangers to me. Naturally, they inquired about my career and job as a veterinarian. I threw down a boundary. One of the women traipsed over my boundary and continued to prod me about what I thought about her cat, her vet, the advice her vet had recently given her. My body language and my actual words were clearly indicating that this was not an avenue that I wanted to go down with her. My then-girlfriend witnessed the interaction and agreed that I was very clear with my words and body language, and was appalled that her friend was still peppering me with questions. She kept on coming at me with her cat-questions. Even though this person was being completely out of line — she clearly had no idea and it put me in a very icky sticky spot. I shut her down, as nicely as I could. We finished eating, and as we cleared the table, she busted out copies of her cat’s most recent lab work on her phone — and then passed it across the table to me, asking me to have a look.

What I wanted to do was scream. I said, “It’s Friday night and I’m not on duty!” She still didn’t get it, as she thrust the lab work into my personal space. I took a deep breath, put on my “dealing with clients at work” face, and gave her the usual caveats — “Having never laid eyes or hands on your actual pet before, I’m looking at this lab work (under duress, obviously) out of context. I told her what I thought. She hit me with more questions. I answered them. As I sat uncomfortably answering questions about this cat that I don’t know, have not examined and hope to never see, my girlfriend’s cell phone rang. She was cleaning up after dinner and was about 20 feet away in the kitchen of her open floor plan home. She answered the call. I didn’t know who was on the other end of the line…. but she said, “ Yes, she’s here!” and then walked over and handed me her phone — still, I did not know who was on the other end.

Mind you — I’m already trapped in the middle of a cat conversation that I didn’t want to have in the first place and despite my (what I thought was) clear boundary — I’m knee deep in bloodwork results now. I take the phone, and on the other end is a hysterical woman who I don’t know and hope never to meet. It was an acquaintance of my girlfriend, who had heard that I was a vet, and had an “emergency” vet question. On a Friday night. When I’m not at work. I don’t know this woman. I’m just trying to eat pizza and goto a concert like a normal person, damnit. And now, I’m on the phone with a woman I don’t know, answering questions about a nest of squirrels this woman found in her car. A nest of baby squirrels, ok? WHUT.

I wanted to punch the sky. Repeatedly. Like, is there a witness protection program for veterinarians who just want a friggin’ night off? Geez! So now I have a lady across the table from me hanging on every word I say about her cat’s blood work, and another lady on the phone asking me ridiculous questions about wildlife.

I suggested she call the local animal control /wildlife agencies. I don’t know the numbers for these places because I don’t practice around here — I practice in another state. How should she find these numbers? Uhhhhhh 411? The good old fashioned Google? Just lemme eat pizza and fuck off already. What did she expect me to do? Probably drop everything and go lovingly hand-pick each of the baby squirrels out of her car. When she asked again, “What should I do?”, I said jovially “Well I’m not in the mood to breast-feed a litter of baby squirrels tonight, so I suggest you call local agencies, or check with the closest emergency vet office — because they likely have those numbers at the front desk and can point you in the right direction.”

Nobody got my super funny joke about me “not wanting to breastfeed a litter of squirrels”. Bummer. It was a good one.

I hung up the phone, attempted to conceal my disgust at least a little bit — handed the other phone back to the cat question lady — and said to the room — Hey, I am not working tonight, so let’s go to this concert. No more animal questions please. I let my then-girlfriend know that if anyone else ever calls her asking for me or soliciting veterinary advice, she is never ever to hand me the phone in that manner again. It was offensive, inappropriate, and completely out of line. She felt bad and apologized repeatedly. She was getting a crash course in dating a vet.

We went to the concert. I was seated next to her cat-question friend. Cat-question friend had the audacity to bust out more cat photos during intermission, and proceeded to talk my face off about her cats, showing me photos from their entire lifetime. Lemme tell ya, when clients do this, I am polite and then redirect them back to the issue and pet at hand — but at least when it happens at work, I’m working and can play the game. But this woman was not getting it. I eventually pinched my then-girlfriend’s leg so hard that she leaned over to ask what was up — and I told her I needed a buffer because the cat lady was killing me. We swapped seats.

I drove the four of us home from the concert, my then girlfriend apologized again and again for the squirrel call. As the woman I was dating has no pets and has never had any pets — she had no idea what I meant when I was explaining how and why I don’t tell folks I’m a veterinarian. But now, in just a few short hours, the first time I’ve done anything socially with her friends — these two simulatneous events demonstrated to her just how weird and inappropriate people can be once they hear that I’m a vet. She said, “ I think I get it now.” I was moderately upset at this point, “No. No, I don’t think you do. Do you understand that veterinarians are in an mental health crisis, we have an extremely high rate of suicide and despite my telling people to STOP — that people will do this to me (and any other veterinarian) wherever I go, and everyone assumes that because I am a vet and love animals, that I want to hear/see/help/counsel everyone and all of their acquaintences about their pets?

I don’t, I can’t.

My father also didn’t get it for a long time. He’s proud, you know, that I’m a vet. For my 40th birthday, we rented a houseboat on a lake in California. My then-wife, our dogs, and my father stayed on the houseboat and at some point — my dad and I took a small motor boat onto the lake (basic analogy if the house boat is your home, the motor boat is your car) to go seek provisions at one of the dock stores. We came across a man in another boat — who was stranded out there as his motor died and he had no oars. As we towed him in, my dad struck up a conversation with this guy. My dad told him I was a vet. I shot him a look to kill. The man in the boat proceeded to tell me all about his pets and how his neighbors poisoned his dog and then his dog died. Ahhhh yes, a tale as old as time — the old “my neighbor poisoned my pet” saga. I got roped into another ridiculous conversation after which I said, Dad — please don’t tell people I’m a vet — you can’t keep doing that to me. If I had a nickel for every time I sat through a “my neighbor poisoned my pet and my pet died” saga, I would be the 1%.

In the overwhelming majority of cases where someone claims that their neighbor poisoned their pet — it’s complete bullshit. The pet was sick, masked it well from their owners, , and the owners, now seeking/wanting/ needing definitive closure — conclude that their pet must have been poisoned by a neighbor. And then they want a vet to corroborate this so they feel correct, absolved of any guilt, and so forth.

Here are some takeaways if you know any veterinarians that you would like to keep as a friend or acquaintance:

Don’t assume that they are your own personal concierge on-call service.

Don’t shit talk other vets, it’s not a good look.

Respect the boundaries of medical professionals — when in doubt — maybe just make an appointment and go see your actual vet.

If you Dr.Googled yourself into a frenzy, or if you do this regularly, maybe give it a rest.

And lastly: I’m not going to breastfeed your nest of squirrels on a Friday night — or any other night.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Emily Roawr

Career veterinarian pivoting. I write about animals, queers, adoption, alcohol free life, and art. Inquiries may be directed to emilyroawr@gmail.com