If youâre reading this, you probably love animals, and you might have said at some point as a kid, âI should be a vet!â
Many children, as well as plenty of adults, are sure that being a veterinarianâspending each day helping and healing animalsâwould be more magnificent than even winning the lottery.
But the requirements for being a veterinarian go way beyond having boundless puppy (or parrot) love. From completing undergraduate and graduate veterinary training to building courage and emotional strength, there is much more to becoming a veterinarian than meets the eye.
Hereâs what you should know if youâve always wanted to become a veterinarian.
1. Becoming a Veterinarian Requires Extensive Training
Becoming a veterinarian means getting a lengthy education, inside and outside of classrooms. âI always found every way I could to spend my time helping animals,â says Dr. Liz Bales of Red Lion Veterinary Hospital in Newark, Delaware.
Dr. Balesâ decision to become a veterinarian required a lot of work before she even got to veterinary school. It meant researching different universitiesâ pre-vet requirements, then excelling in a rigorous undergraduate curriculum of biology, calculus, chemistry, organic chemistry and more.
Dr. Bales explains that she had to pass all the typical standardized testing to get into the right university program so that she could pursue her veterinary career in the PennVet program. âAdditionally, I volunteered outside of college with a veterinarian during all of my free timeâholidays and summer,â she explains.
To prepare for the many years of education and training, Dr. Emily Nielsen of Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Fairfax, Virginia, advises young clients who want to become vets to âspend time at a vet clinic or an animal shelter and try to find a mentor.â
2. In General, Veterinarians Have to Be Specialists in Multiple Fields
âWhat people donât know about vets is that we specialize in everything and anything, whether itâs dental issues or an eye problem or cancer,â says Dr. Alex Klein of Alison Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
Dr. Klein explains that people bring in pets with a wide variety of symptoms and rely on veterinarians to be able to identify what the underlying causes are. âThatâs what makes it so hard, because we see everything, and we try to know about and do it all for our clients,â says Dr. Klein.
For extremely difficult or rarer cases, the option to refer the pet to a specialist is available, but if you want to become one of these doctors, youâll have to remain in school for even longer than a âregularâ vet.
3. Veterinarians Share Your Worry and Grief
The toughest part of a veterinarianâs work comes when we ask for their help in saying goodbye to a beloved pet. âVeterinarians devote their lives to providing care for and saving the lives of animals. There is no easy way to cope with the sad aspects of the job,â says Dr. Bales, who offers her clients an open letter that lets them know how deeply sheâand all veterinariansâfeel the pain of pet loss.
Dr. Klein says that while the difficult aspects never ease up, having an enduring connection to the community and her clients provides strength. He explains that the people in his community all know he is there and wants to help them and their pets.
Dr. Klein adds, âAnd because the clients all come in pairs, two-legged and four, itâs twice as fulfilling to work with them.â
4. Compassion Fatigue Is Real, and Many Veterinarians Experience It
When theyâre not working in a veterinary clinic, veterinarians take time to recharge their batteries. âThe balance of life is very important in this [line of] work because there is often so much compassion fatigue,â says Dr. Nielsen.
To help maintain a balance for herself, Dr. Nielsen spends her downtime doing things that make her happy: training for marathons (she hopes to complete one on every continent) and planning her return to competitive horseback riding.?
Dr. Bales found her balance in devoting her downtime to writing about pets for her blog and her business passion, Doc & Phoebeâs Cat Co. Her company is dedicated to creating a âno bowlâ feeding station with their Doc & Phoebeâs Cat Co. indoor hunting cat feeder kit. Sheâs also currently developing a version for canned cat food.
5. As a Veterinarian, Sometimes You Have to Improvise
In comparison to human medicine, there is not as much research when it comes to veterinary care. This is especially true for exotic animals. So when veterinarians like Dr. Nielsen, whose patients include snakes, rabbits, hamsters, reptiles and birds, encounter a unique problem, they have to find unique solutions.
Dr. Nielsen, who considers guinea pigs to be one of her favorite pets to treat, explains, âwith guinea pigs and other small ones, sometimes you have to get creative in helping them, and you are not always sure it will work.â
Dr. Nielsen says that itâs this kind of challenge, and the successful treatment outcomes, that are âwhat makes the job so worthwhile and means no day will ever be boring.â
6. Veterinarians Need to Be Excellent Communicators
Dr. Nielsen says that besides learning about animals and focusing on their needs, veterinarians need to be good at communicating. âSo much of what veterinarians do involves communicating with clients and other vetsâyes, with humansâand you need to be prepared to do that well,â she says.
Dr. Nielsen says she reminds clients that she âcan help your animal, but itâs your job too, because this is going to be a team effort to get him well. If that rabbit needs medication every three hours, youâll need to do your part of the plan weâve created for him. Itâs heartening to work with animals, but pet parents understanding that they are a crucial part of the equation is what helps it succeed.â
7. Being a Veterinarian Means Being Prepared for a Twisty Career Path With Detours
Dr. Bales says, âI always envisioned myself as an equine veterinarian, driving from farm to farm, caring for horses.â However, when she got out of veterinary school, she discovered that it wasnât going to be the best fit. âThe great thing about veterinary school is that it prepares you for a variety of careers,â she says.
Although he always loved animals, Dr. Klein spent his early working years working in the corporate world. However, the death of his teenage sister, Alisonâa devoted animal loverâprompted a major career change. He even incorporated Alisonâs name into the name of his practice as a tribute to her spirit in serving the pets and people of Brooklyn.
Dr. Nielsen never planned to be a veterinarian. ?She started out studying forensic medicine, then started working with horses in Germany.
It wasnât until after watching a veterinarian treat a horseâs leg for a laceration that she realized wanted to pursue veterinary medicine. âI was mesmerized at his precise movements, patience and care,â she says. âI never said, âIâm going to be a vet,â but the transition came naturally, and I ended up with my dream job.â
8. Veterinarians Still Have a Business to Run
Although a veterinarianâs work is highly personal for their clients, itâs still a business. Veterinarians who own their own practices have to worry about utility bills, printer paper and staff salaries, just like any other company.
And just like any business, a vetâs office can experience ups and downs. They have to adjust to the changing market in order to make sure that they can provide pets with the best care possible without going bankrupt in the process.
Dr. Klein says that your neighborhood veterinarian faces the same small-business challenges as an independent bookstore or local yarn shop, with competition on all fronts. âA local vet should be an ideal small-business owner, with services and products the community needs,â Dr. Klein says.
Dr. Klein worries that as larger, incorporated veterinary practices grow, small veterinary practices will be forced to shut their doors. He explains that the larger veterinary practices can offer lower prices due to volume, whereas a smaller practices have to maintain certain prices to stay operational.
Dr. Brad Levora of Little Seneca Animal Hospital in Germantown, Maryland, points out that after the economic crash of 2007 and 2008, he saw a drastic drop in the number of people bringing their pets into the vet.
Dr. Levora says, âOften we would not see an animal unless it was in extreme pain or deteriorating health.â He explains, âAnd in those instances, the help needed was highly specialized and thus expensive or, in some cases, there was little we could do except try to keep the animal comfortable.â
He recommends that pet parents who experience financial bumps speak openly to their veterinarians, exploring all options to support their petâs health and well-being. âYour vet wants whatâs right for the pets and will do his or her best to work with you,â he says.
By: Kathy Blumenstock
Featured Image: iStock.com/SelectStock