So you want to be a veterinarian?
Choosing a career is one of the most important, life-altering decisions you can make. If you’ve decided to become a veterinarian, you know that investing all that time, effort, and money into learning how to care for animals will be challenging, fulfilling, exciting, and definitely exhausting.
It will take dedication, maturity, and stick-to-itiveness to see you through Organic Chemistry, mucking out stalls, preparing for your admissions interview, and all that comes in between! So it’s vital that you’re certain that veterinary school is the right path for you.
During my first year of veterinary medical school, one of my classmates decided after one semester of our four-year program that being a veterinarian wasn’t what he wanted. He was honest and brave enough to say, “This isn’t for me,” and walk away. Unfortunately, he was thousands of dollars in debt when he made that decision.
If you’re considering applying to veterinary school, making sure a career in veterinary medicine is for you is the biggest favor you can do yourself.
Spending as much time as possible in the field can help you be certain. There are countless other careers working with and for animals that may require a different degree such as a Masters of Public Health, a Ph.D. in Animal Science, or a degree in marine biology.
Get varied experience!
One great way to get exposure to different careers in the field of veterinary medicine and animal science is to volunteer or work in different settings. Farms, shelters, and museums are just a few of the options available to curious would-be veterinary students.
Aside from helping you confirm your decision, exposure to and experience with animals is crucial for entering any field of animal care.
Time spent volunteering or working in different settings and with diverse species not only may help you discover your latent love of all things opossum but also shows an admissions committee that you’ve done your research and are open to the varied experiences of being in the veterinary field.
Try something different
In addition to volunteer opportunities and work experiences, another way to gain exposure to the veterinary field is to participate in study-abroad programs like those offered by organizations like Loop Abroad or Operation Wallacea.
These programs provide opportunities to care for amazing animals like coatis, elephants, and spider monkeys while giving students a chance to spend time with and learn from professionals in all types of animal care careers.
Marine biologists, small animal veterinarians, wildlife veterinarians, and conservationists are just a few of the professionals teaching in these programs. Working alongside, learning from, and asking questions of these experts is a great way to narrow down what kind of career in animal healthcare you want.
Your interest and hard work is also a good way to impress and get a recommendation for graduate school. There’s also the added bonus of visiting amazing countries like Thailand or Guyana or South Africa.
But also! Show consistency
Experiences abroad provide memorable encounters and exposure to species and lifestyles you hadn’t before considered, however working at that small alpaca farm down the street for the past five years shows any admissions committee your commitment and dedication.
Don’t underestimate the effect (both on you and on your application) that a steadfast focus can have.
If you’re crazy about all things camelid and can’t wait to wake up each morning to deworm llamas, that infectious enthusiasm will be conveyed on your resume’ and hopefully during your admissions interview. Perseverance makes you good at what you do; passion makes you great.
Why a veterinarian?
Hopefully, as you come to apply to veterinary school, your ducks are all in a row – you’ve gotten years of hands-on experience, you’ve aced (or at least survived) Biochem and Physics, and you’re pretty sure you could perform a C-section on a naked mole rat if you needed to.
Even better, the admissions committee at your favored school sees all that, and you’ve got an interview. Before heading into that interview room, it’s important to understand and be able to communicate clearly why it is you want to become a veterinarian.
Whether it’s a passion for lab animal medicine, a deep desire to help livestock in underserved farm communities or a love of all things surgical, having an awareness of why you are pursuing this career shows the committee you’re prepared for the realities of practicing veterinary medicine.
It’s all about relationship
By any stretch of the imagination, getting into veterinary school is not easy. But actually becoming a veterinarian is even more difficult. That’s because becoming a veterinary doctor, someone who’s promised to provide care and comfort to animals and often by extension their humans, entails everything that comes after admission to veterinary school as well.
Like any other endeavor in life, being a veterinarian entails being in a good relationship – with clients, owners, co-workers, vendors, and of course patients.
Demonstrating to your interviewers an awareness of that reality shows a level of maturity that’s necessary to be an effective and kind doctor.
The financial reality
Income, work environment, and hours worked will vary greatly depending on where you practice and whether you’ve decided to complete an internship or enter a certain specialty after veterinary school.
Are you a veterinary neurosurgeon in New York City?
A zoo veterinarian in Cincinnati?
Have you decided to leave the country to work at dog shelters in India?
Regardless of the type of medicine that you practice and where, one thing is likely certain: you will graduate with a sizeable amount of student debt. This may range from $100,000 up to a staggering $400,000 for students who choose to borrow for living expenses as well.
While job prospects are generally good for veterinarians, be aware that school loans and the interest they accrue are often lifelong obligations. Choosing a state school in a state in which you have residency, can help bring down these very real costs.
The emotional reality
There’s been a lot of press lately about the high rates of suicide in the veterinary profession. The realities of practicing veterinary medicine include fulfilling work, but also the very tangible experiences of compassion fatigue, client bullying, euthanasia, and the sense of being unable to do enough.
If you’ve entered this field, you’ve done so for love – of animals, of science, of puzzles, of serving.
It’s often harder to extend that love and kindness to ourselves and to remember we’re part of a community and it’s always ok to ask for help. The University of Tennessee Veterinary Social Work program at https://vetsocialwork.utk.edu/ puts any veterinarian in touch with a Veterinary Social Worker by phone or email.
While the costs of entering the veterinary field may be high, the payoff can be as well. Doing something you love and to have amazing stories that gross-out your loved ones at dinner time are just a few of the perks of becoming a veterinarian.
Membership in professional associations is also a benefit of becoming a veterinarian.
There are dozens of organizations and associations; some of the most recognized include:
- AVMA: American Veterinary Medical Association; publishes the twice-monthly Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
- AAHA: American Animal Hospital Association
- ABVP: American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
- AAFP: American Association of Feline Practitioners
- ACVIM: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
To thine own self be true
If you are certain veterinary medicine is the path for you, when applying to veterinary school, make sure you present yourself with humility and honesty.
Do your research, do your best, but when all is said and done, do not try to be someone you’re not.
In your application essay, during your admissions interview, and through all the steps leading to that white coat ceremony, consider the sort of person you’d want caring for the animals in your life. Drawing blood, diagnosing disorders, and passing catheters you can and will learn rather quickly.
Having curiosity, doggedness, and a willingness to make mistakes in your inventory of skills as a doctor are just as important to master and will make you the veterinarian you hope to be.
Luckily, those are all characteristics you can develop now on your path through kennel-cleaning and Chem lab to realizing your dream of becoming a veterinarian!