Everybody thinks they want to be a veterinarian – until they think about.
I didn’t so much think about becoming a vet, I just was. Some say it’s a “passion” while others call it a “pathology.” Either way, working and living with animals is all I’ve known since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper” as we used to say way down South in my childhood home of Georgia. Sure, it’s hard to become an animal doctor and even harder to actually be one, but it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen myself doing.
The reason everyone dreams of being a veterinarian is straightforward: Humans are infinitely charmed by puppies and kittens and all manner of warm and fuzzy critters. The prospect of spending your days surrounded by wagging tails and nuzzling whiskers is universal. Ask any kid ages six to nine and they’re likely to list “veterinarian” as a top three career choice. Who could blame them? Sounds like a dream job if ever there was one. Trouble is, snuggling furry babies is only a minor part of what I do as a veterinarian. And that’s where the challenges begin.
Being a veterinarian certainly invites its fair share of sloppy, slobbery kisses. But it also involves facing life-and-death emergencies, terminal conditions, and serious confrontations with the fragility of life. Being a vet also means you get to deal with some of the best people on the planet – as well as some of the world’s least gracious and disagreeable two-legged inhabitants. When you consider 1) that being accepted into vet school is harder than entering medical school, 2) the job requires you deal with bodily fluids and excretions on an hourly basis and 3) that you’re likely to be called some pretty nasty names during your career all for less than half the cash a “real” doctor makes, it’s easy to understand why there are eight times more MD’s than DVM’s in the U.S. And then there’s that little issue that most human patients don’t bite or claw their doctors.
That’s why being a vet is often more than a career choice; it’s a hard-wired, ingrained, immutable part of your DNA. (At least in the good vets – and, thankfully, most are.) You see, I not only love being a veterinarian, I also love veterinarians, the people who work with us, the pet owners who visit us and the pets who make everyone’s lives more meaningful.
I recognize my job can be awesome one minute and downright wretched the next. I accept I’ll witness miraculous feats of medicine and face inexplicable tragedy despite my best efforts. They don’t call it “life-and-death” for nothing. Veterinary medicine is not for the faint-hearted nor cold-hearted. And that’s what makes it so tough – and rewarding.
So if you really want to be a veterinarian, you probably don’t need to think about it. You already know it.