It’s the usual summer busy season
in veterinary hospitals. On top of that, we are still in the season of COVID-19,
so add those together and you get complete chaos on some days! As a newer grad,
I am still learning the ins and outs of daily life in practice. I have found
more confidence as the weeks progress, but I still wake up some days with anxiety
about what the day may bring and if I will be good enough for my patients. I am
hoping with more experience those feelings will subside, but in the mean time I
believe I am growing as a person and as a doctor.
I recently had a fully booked day of
appointments with several patients needing diagnostics and treatments done. In
addition, we had about twelve drop-offs added to the schedule that morning. Needless
to say, I was quite busy, and at one point I was managing six hospitalized
cases- a diabetic dog getting a glucose curve, a dog with hemorrhagic
gastroenteritis, a dog with pancreatitis, a blocked cat, a dog with chronic
kidney disease, and a dog with a brachial plexus avulsion. That is quite the variety!
It was one of those days I couldn’t wait to be over so I could breathe.
The demands of daily practice, especially
during this time, can be overwhelming. We are a profession of compassionate
caregivers. We push ourselves and replay cases over in our heads wondering if
we made the right choices. We strive to be perfect and get discouraged when we
can’t possibly live up to that standard. That is too heavy a load to carry even
for the most seasoned veterinarians! Trust me, I need to remind myself of this daily.
It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes and then learn from them. It’s okay to ask for guidance, and it’s okay to give yourself grace because we are only human and can only do so much. At the end of the day, what matters is that we’ve done our best to advocate for our patients. All we can do is our best, and that is enough.
After letting people know I was moving from research to clinical practice, someone said to me “Oh, you’re going to be a vet?” I just sat there a little confused because I am a veterinarian, but then I realized how often I come in contact with people who think vets only work in that local practice seeing cats and dogs. It is amazing what you can do with a veterinary degree beyond the “traditional” route, and I think many people are surprised to hear all the opportunities that this degree can bring. Here are a few options if you are looking for a change!
Private Practice: This route is what most vet students choose following graduation. Whether large or small animal, veterinarians in private practice diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform surgeries and dentistry, provide wellness care, and perform euthanasia. They have the opportunity to create long-term client relationships and develop strong bonds with their patients. Usually new graduates will want to choose a practice with strong mentorship and support as they transition from student to doctor.
Internship & Residency: If veterinarians want to specialize in certain areas of medicine or surgery, they must complete at least one internship (sometimes two!) followed by a 3-year residency. Areas of specialty include internal medicine, soft tissue or orthopedic surgery, dermatology, cardiology, clinical or anatomic pathology, theriogenology, emergency and critical care, anesthesia, ambulatory medicine, dentistry, neurology, oncology, behavior, radiology, nutrition, lab animal medicine, equine medicine or surgery, zoo medicine, avian medicine, food animal medicine or surgery, ophthalmology, shelter medicine, and rehabilitation. These programs require strong dedication as they usually include long hours, on-call shifts, and low pay.
Practice Ownership: Experienced veterinarians interested in business and management often elect to buy or build their own practices. This provides greater flexibility in scheduling and ability to practice their own styles of medicine. Some may also open their own mobile practice and spend time traveling to client homes to treat pets.
Research: Veterinarians can complete postdoctoral fellowships, earn a PhD degree, or do clinical research at veterinary or medical schools. This is a route that allows veterinarians to impact both animal and human patients through new developments in medicine and science.
Industry: Opportunities in industry are plentiful for DVMs. These jobs are at pharmaceutical companies where vaccine or drug development is done. Professional service veterinarians can also act as reps for companies like Zoetis or Merck in educating animal hospitals about new products and speaking to veterinary students.
Government: Veterinarians ensure food safety and appropriate treatment of animals in the food chain. They usually work for USDA or CDC and perform accredited duties, such as reportable disease testing, health certificate management, or disaster response.
Shelter Medicine: Veterinarians in shelter environments typically perform high volume spay and neuter surgeries, treat medical conditions, develop policies and procedures, and manage disease outbreaks.
Public Health: For DVMs interested in zoonotic and infectious disease management, this is a popular route. The majority of veterinarians pursuing this area of medicine also have Masters in Public Health degrees.
Writing: Veterinarians have a vast knowledge of medicine and the ability to communicate well with clients. Creating a blog, developing a writing business, or volunteering for a local newspaper are all options for those that enjoy writing.
Teaching: Those that like teaching others can find jobs at veterinary schools, vet tech programs, or other academic institutions. Some positions may require another graduate degree, but the opportunities are plentiful.
SO many options exist for those holding a DVM degree. I think it is the most versatile medical degree and will open many doors to pursue whatever interests you! Veterinarians often take advantage of many of these different paths throughout their careers. Don’t be afraid to try something new! That is the only way to know what works and what doesn’t.
Mental health is a huge problem in the veterinary profession. Veterinarians have higher depression and suicide rates than any other profession as well as the general public. There was an incredibly sad month where we lost six amazing people from this profession this past year. People question why this is occurring and what we can do to curb these devastating losses. I think it’s important to think about a couple things that could be contributing to this issue.
The veterinary profession is made up of some of the most compassionate people you will ever meet. Not everyone places such importance on protecting and caring for animals the way that we do. Unfortunately having the hearts that we do is sometimes a double-edged sword. It is difficult for us to leave the negative comments behind when we have done everything we could for your pet but the outcome did not turn out as planned. It is difficult for us to see you take the advice you read on Google over our own. Your veterinarian cares deeply for your pet. They went to school for nearly a decade to obtain the clinical expertise and medical knowledge that they provide. You have no idea what your veterinarian went through to earn his or her doctorate degree.
Another emotional part of this profession is losing pets. We have a great honor of allowing pets a peaceful passing. However, it is not easy and sometimes we struggle just as much as the pet parent during these times.
Then there is a recurring theme that veterinarians are “just in it for the money.” Your veterinarian is not in this profession for the money. Diagnostics are not recommended simply to increase the bill. Your vet likely took on more student loan debt than your house mortgage to follow this career path! We truly have your pet’s best interest at heart when making medical recommendations.
It is a shame that we keep losing intelligent, talented professionals each year. Changing this starts with awareness. There is not enough mental health awareness or resources available to veterinary students or veterinarians today. It is difficult to discuss because of the stigma that currently exists. No one should feel ashamed to ask for help. We can’t expect change if we don’t start talking about it. We need to leave this profession better than when we started- for future generations of veterinarians, our clients, and our sweet patients.