Saturday, October 1, 2011

Every 14 year old girl wants to be a Vet

I know that I get to live a lot of peoples dream. I have moms come up to me every day and announce with a big prideful smile that their "little girl is 14 years old and wants to be a vet someday."  I was one of those 14 year olds about a million years ago. (Although I know for sure that my parents never marched me into the Vet’s office and proudly presented me as any kind of future anything). My dad never wanted me to be a Vet, or an artist, (my back-up plan), I grew up doing all of the things that I my parents wanted me to do, what  I was supposed to do, and doing them with a huge amount of pressure on my shoulders that there was no back-up plan allowed. There was their yellow brick road that they had chosen for me, or, there was an abyss if I chose for myself. My parents were frugal people and vet school and the veterinary profession did not meet their standards for 'success'. From their point of view it was an effort to solidify for me what they thought was “successful”. Boy did I show them. I did what they wanted me to do for as long as I could stand it (a decade), and then I went back to school to become a veterinarian.
But let's get back to those 14 year olds...

I always sigh, tilt my head, purse my lips and nod my head when I am asked to provide the mentor ship and words of encouragement that I know those parents expect from me.  How do I break it to them that it just isn’t as easy as cute and cuddly puppies all day? (We all wish it was, but this is real-life. There aren’t birds singing, dogs dancing, and cats doing a polka). It is real life drama that can break your heart, burn you out, and bust you both emotionally and financially. That’s real-life when you are a veterinarian.
Every 14 year old looks at life with rose colored glasses. It is the best part of being 14, and no one should ever deny you that. Real-life shouldn’t impact you at 14. The world should be your oyster and every door should be waiting for like a sweepstakes prize for you to open. It’s probably a good idea to shield your 14 year old kids from the likes of me if they say they want to be a veterinarian. I am going to be completely honest, and let’s face it you don’t probably don’t want me to be.
Here’s what I have learned about living your dream. It always comes at a price. So let’s go over the financial price of vet school. First you have to have a four year undergraduate degree. Average cost between $12, 000 to $40,000 a year. Times four. Then you have to get into vet school. Not necessarily expensive but it can be difficult and time is money. Then there is the four years of vet school. Average cost $20,000 to $100,000 a year. Times four.  I would say that my average vet school classmate spent over $140,000 to get into and out of vet school. I know of others who are $300,000 in debt. That is a whole lot of money. It is a substantial investment of both money and time. An investment of that magnitude takes a few moments to ponder. There are many important questions to answer when you stand at the precipice of a decision like this.
Before we discuss just how serious you have to be about this career let’s talk about what life after vet school looks like. Lets start with the emotional side. OK, you get in, (lucky you, you beat the odds, (less than 1 in 5 get in). You spend four long grueling, challenging, and very stressful years having given up almost everything for those four years to get out, (the stats for this are FAR better, usually about 90% of the Vet students who start their freshman year graduate), then you need a job. In general Veterinary jobs have been pretty plentiful. That is up until this recession hit. There are now many Veterinarians looking for work. None of us ever thought this would happen. But it has. You may not be able to find a job once you graduate from vet school. If you do get a job you will likely make around $50,000 to $60,000 dollars a year. It will take you over 10 years (or up to 20) to pay off your debt, but in that time you are also trying to resume a life you had on hold for about 8 years. You want a car that isn’t embarrassing to be seen in, or one that runs. You also want to buy a house, and maybe start to plan a family. You are in debt for a long time. But what if you aspire to owning your own clinic? Well, that’s a tough nut to crack. Most vets don’t think about this until they have been out for 10 plus years. So the debt mountain grows.
Back to being a 14 year old. I want every single person to live their passion every single day of their life. We should all be so lucky. Now here is my full admission. I LOVE being a vet. I love the puppies, the kittens, the middle aged dogs and cats and the old guys too. I love to sit in their cage, stroke their ears, calm them if they are afraid, and try to unlock the puzzle of what is ailing them. In most cases, I love my clients too. At 6 years out of school I have a handful of clients that I am honored, privileged, and adore serving. 
Of the 88 classmates I graduated vet school with 78 are women. Women are dominating this field. Women over represent this career for many reasons; First, and foremost, we are genetically wired to be nurturers. It is the undeniable maternal instinct to help others, especially the less fortunate, or those who cannot help themselves. The sadder the scenario the more we are drawn to the plot. (Chick flick, anyone?) We also are now able to seek any career we want. There are no restrictions for women anymore. Women also in most cases do not feel the same compelling need to be the primary bread winner. If you are going to spend so much time and money in school then with everything else being equal men go into the human medical field because you will make substantially more money. It has taken me a few years to understand this concept, but both veterinary and human medicine means that you have to deal with people. Don’t go into vet school like I did because you “like animals better than people”. In almost all cases you have to deal with people (owners) if you want to treat pets. I had to learn how to talk to, handle, and deal with owners, when all I really wanted to do is heal animals. One of my closest and most respected vet school classmates wrote on his vet school freshmen essay that the reason he wanted to be a veterinarian was to help people. He had it right, and he is one of the best veterinarians I ever knew. What he knew then took me years to figure out. To help pets I had to figure out how to get their owners to want me to help them. I had to figure out how to build trust that I not only knew what I was doing, but could be trusted with the care of their pet. My mission is to strengthen the bond between an owner and their pet.

There is an inherent assumption that must be clarified. You don’t always meet the owners who want their pet to be treated. Not all people view their pet as their responsibility or concern. I understand that not everyone looks at their pet as a blessing. Some people see them as a soul-less, meaningless, burden. How do you get past the heartbreak of a helpless pet being ignored, denied care, or simply being overlooked? That is my greatest challenge. That is what causes burn-out. Along with the financial burden of people routinely trying to guilt you into treating the animal they have been feeding, housing, (i.e “owning”) but now needs a financially responsible party to step forward.
To all of those moms and 14 year olds out there I say, “live your dream!”, but please understand that it takes a tough strong determination and a solid foundation for you to live this dream. Embrace the happy endings, the wonderful clients and patients who always make you smile and who appreciate you, but know that you will be challenged and there are some very difficult decisions to make. In the end it’s not how much money you make its how strongly you believe in your own ability to make a difference and live your dream. Your conscience is not for sale unless you pin a price tag on it. And I wish you all the luck in the world. (There were a few pharmacology exams where I think that luck was the only thing that got me through.)
I thought I would include some of the "lighter" moments in vet school. Here are a few shots of us goofing around on our radiology block. It was the last week of school, the faculty is happy if we show up, so we push the limits of professionalism, as you can see.

Here are some pictures of graduation. It was a great day, and one of the high points of my life. I was so happy to have completed what so many people told me I couldn't achieve.


  1. Thank you for doing this and I'm sorry for my actions. Can you please give me your name, contact information, and your employment.
    1. What do you like most about your job?
    2. Why did you chose this to be your career?
    3. What would you do if a person comes in the office with an injured animal but only has a few dollars?
    4. What you do if a person comes in with a perfectly healthy animal but wants to euthanize it because they no longer want it

    1. Hello,
      What I like most is solving problems that help people keep their pets for a longer period of time. I love seeing medicine improve lives. I also love being a part of my clients lives. What you put out into the world in the way of love, kindness and compassion comes back to you.
      I had to do this. It was my purpose and my calling. There is nothing else I would rather be doing ever. It is a challenge, it is rewarding, and it makes me feel as if I am helping others.
      Money never decides your purpose. I didn't become a vet for the financial gain. I became a vet to help. I never turn away a pet in need. We have lots of options to help people pay for the care their pet needs. I have third party billing options and I have a fund at the clinic that allows us to help those in our community who need it.
      I never euthanize a healthy animal. The cost of my conscious and ability to be proud of what I do will not tolerate wavering on this. We either take possession of the pet or fire the client. I do not believe that pets are property and I do not treat them as such.

      Here is a similar interview I did. maybe it will help.