Dear Younger Me,
You get to be a veterinarian when you grow up! Can you believe it? Yes, you are incredibly lucky to get to make a living working with animals. Puppies will lick you. You’ll get to play on the floor with kittens. You’ll meet amazing rescue dogs. You’ll learn how not to get bitten! You’ll work with lots of other animal lovers. You’ll get to help sick animals get well, but you’ll have to help some say goodbye. This profession will be rewarding and challenging and exhausting and there are some things I want you to know.
It’s a good thing that you like school because you’ll go to four years of college and then four years of veterinary school. I know you think you’ll be an equine vet since you’ve spent your teens in the horse world. Surprise! Like so many veterinarians you’ll take a winding path through your career. While you’ll concentrate in large animal in school, you’ll find your way into public health for a few years after graduation. It turns out veterinarians have a lot to offer the world in areas like zoonotic disease, food safety and epidemiology. You’ll spend four years in undergraduate work and it’s okay that you explored other subjects before declaring biology as your major. You’ll treasure that experience in the middle of four years of science focused vet school. Your education will be well rounded and you will have choices. In mid-career you’ll be working in a Fear Free small animal private practice (and loving it), but you will have enjoyed the journey and won’t necessarily see it as finished. Careers are long!
Being a veterinarian is about working with people. Lots of people think that it’s all about working with animals, but almost all of those animals come with at least one human. People will bring you their new kittens and puppies and newly adopted animals. They’ll be joyful and nervous about the new responsibilities. They’ll also bring you their sick best friends looking for answers and comfort. You’ll find yourself working to build a team every time you meet a new family with the goal of seeing that the pet gets the best care you can provide. You’ll also be working with other doctors, veterinary nurses, veterinary assistants, practice owners, practice managers, and front desk staff. This clinic team will laugh together, cry together and get covered in hair (and other things) together. You will support each other through life and come to think of them as family.
So it turns out you’ll be a pretty good dentist. You will also be a decent surgeon, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, internist, endocrinologist and other things you’ve never thought about. You’ll have specialists to send your most challenging cases, but in lots of situations you’ll be the one searching your books and knowledge and experience to figure things out. Lots of the time you’ll get it right. Sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll lose a patient to a bad disease because you can’t fix everything. Some days will be full of puppy and kitten vaccines and some will be full of cancer and diabetic disasters. The variety will be one of your favorite things about the job. It’s also hard work. Just so you know, grooming is not one of your talents. You can shave as medically necessary, but it will be uneven and look a mess, even on your best days.
I know you’re worried about euthanasia. It is a hard piece of the job. You will come to see it as a privilege and honor to help patients and families find a final peace. You’ll also cry a lot of tears. That is not only okay, but sometimes necessary.
Being a veterinarian requires empathy, courage, knowledge, patience, endurance. It can be a very physical job. (You’ll wish you’d been more consistent about yoga and weight lifting.) It can be a mentally and emotionally exhausting job. You’ll look for stress relief reading and walking your dogs. Time with family and friends will be so important.
It’s going to be hard work, but it’s going to be worth it. Your heart will be full and you’ll never be bored. Don’t forget to eat healthy food, get some sleep and call your parents. Enjoy the journey!
Your Future Self: Dr. Jennifer Nunnery, DVM