Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Veterinarians

(And that, my friends, is probably the first and last time you will ever see a country song referenced in this blog.)

Last weekend, I had the honor of going to a fundraiser dinner for a local rehabilitation center at the invitation of my father-in-law, an active Rotarian and an example of the kind of person I want to grow up to be like someday. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, there was another Rotarian there whose daughter wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, and he asked if I would mind talking to them for a few minutes about the job. Sure, I said, and walked over to the mom and her adorable, wide eyed high school daughter.

They asked me the usual questions: Where did you go to school, what do you like about the job, what tips do you have, etc, etc. I am prepared to answer these questions. I can do it in my sleep. (Davis-puppies-volunteer, it just rolls off the tongue at this point.)

Then the mom dropped the bomb: “If you had to do it all over again,” she asked earnestly, “Would you have chosen the same career?”

I looked at her, smiling. Then at her daughter, wide eyed and hopeful. For the record, I have to say that the previous day was one of if not perhaps the worst in my entire professional career, and I had spent the vast majority of the prior night red eyed and awake, staring at the ceiling wishing desperately for a time machine to whisk me back to 1997 so I could shake myself by the shoulders and scream “NOOOO! Don’t do it, you IDIOT! This career has nothing but HEARTACHE and PAIN and you will NEVER EVER GET TO WEAR NICE SHOES EVER AGAIN!!!!!”

In short, it was probably not the best time to ask me this question.

I think I gave an anemic “I guess so” as my response, which is probably not what they were expecting but was the most enthusiasm I could muster up at that point.

Now, I’ve never been the most gung-ho about this career choice to begin with, as I’ve alluded to before, so I don’t know that I would ever be the best choice of motivational speakers when it comes to advancing the cause of careers in veterinary medicine. I have one of those desperate-for-a-time-machine nights about twice a year on average, though admittedly this last one was the worst of the doozies to date.

Had that time machine materialized, I’m not sure what I would have told young me. “Go to medical school,” maybe. But one of the main reasons I never did was the conversation I had where I was the 14 year old with my mom, talking to a respected local pediatrician, who said to me, “Don’t do it. What a mess.”

It influenced me greatly, which is one of the reasons I realized I was in no way emotionally capable of being objective on that particular day with that young family. So I gave the most honest answer I could: “Spend a ton of time working in a clinic before you make that commitment.” After all, she isn’t me. The things that bother me might be entirely fine by her, right?

I imagine unless you are either really lucky or really motivated, most people out there have those moments of doubt with regards to their career choices from time to time. Some personalities are probably more prone to those moments no matter where they are and what they are doing. I would probably freak out here and there as an MD, a cake decorator, an art gallery manager, or a writer in equal measures.

In this day and age, having a life of harmonic fulfillment often seems an indulgence when so many are holding on to make ends meet in whatever way they can, so at the end of the day yes, I am grateful to have a job at all.

And when I spent all those hours staring at dust motes on the ceiling, thinking about what I would most love to do if I could throw it all away and start over, well, I’m kind of doing it now- writing about animals and connecting with others who feel the same way.

It’s not as if I missed the mark entirely with this career- animals are my passion. They are. Being a vet who has to deal with certain aspects of the business, well, not so much. But it’s not as if I committed a horrific blunder that left me perpetually stuck in a field whose topic I neither understand nor enjoy. Being one of those crab boat fishermen, for example, or god forbid, a children’s sports coach. Shudder.

So I’m torn. If I had that time machine, I’d fly back to 1993, a nice vintage year, and I would tell myself lots of things:

1. Dump that Matt kid immediately.

2. Stop being so damn serious all the time.

3. Invest in Google.

4. Travel after you graduate.

5. Go to vet school if you must, but start a blog in 2000 before Dooce hits big.

There’s lots of other stuff I would tell myself, stuff about the overalls craze of 95 and the “Rachel” and that unfortunate trip to Vegas in 97, but that is between me and me.

Then I’d sit back and wait for 50 year old me to arrive and tell us both what I’m about to screw up next decade. Hopefully I will be rocking some Manolos.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Musings Tagged:
  • Sophie

    wow, i am in my first few years of college right now and i used to REALLY want to be a vet. I got a job as a vet assistant about 4 months ago and now I am not so sure anymore. As far as I have seen being a vet deals too much with money and people to be perfect for me… I still want to get into vet school but I think something like behaviour or research would be better. Thank goodness I got this job or I would have made these realizations too late…

  • Chile

    I think it’s common among most professions even if you enjoy your job. In the back of my head I always knew starving artist would be true and by god, it is. If that time machine shows up, send it my way because I want to knock some sense into my high school/college self.

    Because we don’t get to wear nice shoes either. Can’t afford them! LOL!

  • Sylvia

    I have been sitting here trying to figure out what to say to you. I felt an incredible urge to comfort you. Like you said, “Everyone has those days”. Now that I have said that, I think that after reading your postings for a while now that you are in the exact spot you were meant to be in. I truly believe that you have a gift, whether it be animals themselves or animal awareness. Sometimes it is a means to an end kind of thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you. I really appreciate it.

  • Tamara

    The business side of veterinary medicine is difficult, especially if you got into the profession because you love animals and want to care for them. Human doctors rarely have to deal with the ‘money’ and probably don’t even know how lucky they are. Chin up! You are making the world a better place every day, and while that’s not easy, it is extremely important ๐Ÿ™‚

  • i’m thinking about becoming a vet tech. it’s a lower commitment ~$6k for school, and i hopefully wouldn’t have to deal with the “business” stuff so much. or am i wrong?

    and if i can do it, maybe vet school – but i don’t think i’d want my own practice. i’d love to do wildlife. and i’m fine wearing beat up sneaks – manolo’s are uncomfortable.

  • Fiona

    I, too, wanted to be a vet my entire childhood. Then I got a job for the summer at a clinic & lasted 2 weeks. As much as I love animals, I just couldn’t get my head around being objective. Having to hurt them to treat them just made me sad – so irrational. I was totally unsuited for the job. To this day, I cant even take my own cats to the vet, I send them with “daddy”. So what did I do instead? I became a registered nurse. Somehow (and I am not exactly proud of this) working with people didn’t bother me even when I had to hurt them to help them. Does it say something bad about me? I don’t think so – I hope not. I still volunteer at the humane society and donate funds. Thank God for people like you, who, even though they have time-machine days, are kind & caring and dedicated vets. Chin up, we ALL (ok, almost all) appreciate the special work you do for, as far as I am concerned, not nearly enough compensation.

  • Hey, you ok Doctor? You usually make me laugh, not cry. I will just say “me too sometimes” and leave it at that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m OK and not OK, if that makes sense. It’s just a long, tiring story.

  • At least you don’t have everyone from the federal government on down telling you you’re doing a crap job and need to be more regulated and less able to use the creativity that’s one of the reasons you went into your job in the first place.

    Not that a high school English teacher would ever have cause to feel like that, or anything.

    (Not ranting at you… just… yeah.)

    • macula_densa

      My mother is a retired English teacher — she was a damn good one and won numerous awards, honors, etc.

      Yet, she felt exactly the same way. She loved the teaching part of it but felt so disillusioned later in her career when all her creativity in her profession was no longer allowed because she had to ‘teach the test.’

      She insisted I was never allowed to become a teacher, so I became a vet instead. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I am not sure if this is related exactly, but here goes:

    I read something recently- a piece of advice that some CEO got from some other CEO when she was just starting out: Go where the growth is.

    Whether in business or your career or personally: Go where the growth is.

    I think that things SUCKING BEYOND BELIEF, sometimes, is where some mega growth happens. Sometimes it teaches you something you didn’t know before, either about your craft or yourself or someone else. Sometimes it shows you where change needs to happen. Sometimes it gives you just the kick you need to cuff someone (or yourself) upside the head (violence is bad kids… but seriously, sometimes people REALLY need a figurative punch in the face).

    You already pointed out that if you had to do it all again you would write & connect with us animal-loving folk, which is what you are doing now. I THINK THAT IS SO EXCITING! So, maybe being a vet wasn’t/isn’t the most snuggly perfect fit but it brought you here! So awesome! Who knows where this next bit will take you!

    Also, you’re dang funny. That is more of an aside than a point.

    I hope you don’t have to stare at your ceiling tonight ๐Ÿ™‚

    • If I choose to believe that the universe sends us signals, I would count this one as a cast iron pan upside the head. So I don’t know. I probably need a little more time to see things objectively.

  • Nancy

    There are many of us in human medicine that feel the same way sometimes and have those sleepless nights too! The plus side always seem to outweigh the down side though. Recently, I had my senior mini schnauzer at the vet’s. His kitty patient right before us had to cross to the rainbow bridge. My girl Georgie only ever kissed 2 people in her life. That day she leaned over and gave our vet a kiss on the forehead and got a smile out of him. Those moments are what make it all worthwhile. Thank you for what you do!

    • Aw, I love that story. Thank you.

  • CC

    Tomorrow’s a new day Dr. V, you’re amazing and you inspire me every day, if that counts for anything. I currently have what I once considered to be my dream job, and while I’m proud of myself every day for going after my passion and actually making it here, the reality is that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and I sit at my desk bored out of my mind most days. That’s how I found your blog, and in three days at my desk read every single post you ever wrote. Ha. I love my two dogs and thought I was doing the best I could with them. But every day when I read your post you inspire me to go home and be a better pet owner, to give them a little more love, make play time a little longer, and appreciate them a whole lot more. And also I couldn’t NOT switch their food to the best stuff I could find. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Katherine Willey

    Hi Dr. V.,

    This is from the mom of the “wide-eyed high-schooler…”

    You know, Jade (my daughter) thought the question I’d asked you was a little rude, too personal for a first meeting, and I guess she was right. But, hey, that too-personal question inspired a terrific reflection from you on the fact that most of the choices we make in life, even the really big ones, are rarely perfect, almost always resulting in a tippy balance between what we hoped for/what we got.

    You are one terrific writer with a whole new career or meaningful sideline ready and waiting.

    Thank you for sharing your gift with us!

    • I don’t in any way think it was rude or too personal! Especially since it was one I had asked of someone myself at one point. I guess my only thought is that it is so biased that it might unduly influence someone in the wrong direction if you happen to ask them on the wrong day (cough cough). I know so many people who love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.

      It’s obvious from our short time talking that Jade is as perceptive and thoughtful as she is dedicated, and I have no doubt that no matter where life takes her, she will trust her heart and choose what is right for her. It was truly a pleasure meeting her, and you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Natasha

    I’m a college senior with my eye on vet school. I’m in my 3rd month of an unpaid internship at a local vet hospital, and it’s been a mixed bag. I love observing surgeries (I never thought I’d be okay with eye enucleations, but lo-and-behold!), meeting an endless stream of new animals, and seeing all the clues fall into place for a diagnosis. On the other hand, it seems like there’s at least one euthanasia a day, telling a client their beloved 13 year old cat has terminal cancer, stitching a little cat with multiple bite wounds up just so her owners can throw her outside again with whatever got her the first time, and telling someone the surgery their pet needs is a more than their paycheck. There has been more than one day that I’ve thought about going the tech route, because I could be done sooner, with less debt, and not bear the responsibility for all of the emotionally heart-wrenching stuff. I just don’t think I could ever be satisfied with days of endless anal glands, and nail trims. The newest vet at our hospital, a grad of less than a year, told me she was seriously considering going into veterinary pathology: no angry clients, rude clients, crying clients. She seemed pretty discouraged by her experience thus far. You guys are really giving me something to think about!

  • Tonya

    Like Sylvia, I have spent the last few HOURS trying to think of what to say. All I can come up with is that you are EXACTLY the vet I would choose to care for my pets if you weren’t so far away. I cannot imagine finding one better than you. I really do like my vet now, but as my boss would say, “you are the star on the crown” when it comes to vets. I just wish the rewarding days in your job would always outweigh the sucktastic ones. That being said, I would respect your decision to choose another path should you decide to do so, but I would sure hate to see you do it.

  • Makes alot of sense. I am here praying…and empathizing. It’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got. : )

  • Liz

    As I sit here in my grey office cubicle after a walk up from the bus (during which i got soaked through by the rain), another day sitting in an office amongst YEARS sitting in an office, I just want to say – We all have those days! Some of us are more fortunate in that we get to make a difference with what we do – I think that would be you – so just hang in there! I love my cat so much and am so grateful for his excellent vets, you are looking after people’s little ones and that is so important. AND i love your blog, too!

  • macula_densa

    Dr. V, I often find myself still frightened by all the responsibility this job requires of us. As you know, people’s perceptions are not reality, and yet we still have to answer to them from time to time, and that’s the scariest part. I’m so sorry you’re going through what you are.

    That said, I do not think you’re in the wrong profession at all. I know you’re wise enough to realize you just need some time to assimilate everything, but there’s a reason that any time someone who lives around your area asks me for a recommendation, it’s always you. You’re a good vet, and I hope you don’t let the dark side of the profession distract you away from that.

  • The really great thing about life is that you can always change your mind. Nothing is written in stone, especially when it comes to your job/career.

    And fact: you are a very wise woman.

  • lawgeekgurl

    I’ve been thinking about this all day. As you may have deduced from my posting name, I’m a lawyer. I love the law. I mean, I LOVE the law. I am the one at the party who bores people with chatter about the Supreme Court decision which allowed Congress to use the Necessary and Proper clause along with an enumerated power to enact federal laws, and whether such method will become this century’s answer to the Commerce Clause rationale of the second half of the 1900s, and which fell into disfavor in the late 90s and into 2000. But I would be lying if I did not have more than a few days where I wish I could go back to the young me who thought “hey, law school – that sounds like a good idea” and kick that young me right in the butt. I don’t think anyone can be passionate about a cause or career without experiencing the flip side of passion, burn-out, from time to time. Sometimes that burn-out can be quite severe and may require a sabbatical or even a new direction entirely although I’ve never gotten to that point. In your case, you work in a field where you see the best and the absolute worst of people and that’s got to be both inspiring and difficult. As far as I can see (which is the virtual you – but you seem like a genuine person both virtually and in real life) you deal with your difficulties with humor and wisdom, which I think are admirable qualities. And if it helps, you have ‘net fans!

  • I’m feeling your pain Dr V. I’m 37 y.o and currently having a massive career crisis! I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up and lie awake every night wishing someone will appear, wave a magic wand and I will know which direction to take.
    There is probably a lot more going on in your life on top of the challenges in your career that have bought you to this place. Perhaps some time off will give you the space you need to heal and re-group. If that’s not possible, then find some green grass, soak up some sunshine and cuddle your dogs & loved ones. It’s good for the soul ๐Ÿ™‚ Sending you big hugs from Australia! xxx

  • Ash

    I’m sitting here, right now, after one of the worst work shits of my entire life. I work at a group home, my first job right after university that was offered to me even before I graduated with my psych degree. I thought I’d never work with kids again (serious burnout) but the job was good paying and I thought I could get fufillment out of helping our demographic of aggressive youth. I have no idea what to do anymore, I’ve worked here barely a month and all I want to do is just cry and quit. I can’t tell the difference between burn out and just having a rough time, I’m so lost. I want to find a different job, but I’m scared because I don’t want to admit failure, that I really CAN’T do it.

    I want to help people, but this is killing me. I appreciate reading your post and others comments because it puts it into perspective that even those who love their job have times when they’re thinking “umm why did I want to do this again?” Any advice is appreciated.

    • “after one of the worst work shits of my entire life”

      I know this was probably a typo, but what a great Freudian slip. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Lisa W

    Dr V, you are truly a hero. If you didn’t care so much, you wouldn’t be having difficulty. If you were in my area of the country, I would not walk but run to bring my fur babies to you — and I really really love my vet. You are what we dream that our vets could be. And you do it with humor, wisdom, and grace. But, as others have commented, that kind of passion can bring serious burnout as a side effect.

    I’m trying to come up with a plan to completely ditch the corporate world sometime in the next 2-5 years to open a senior dog sanctuary and hospice, which will mean taking somewhere in the neighborhood of a 70% pay cut. I’m in the training business, which I got into because I have a passion for learning and for helping people. I make a nice living, but the job has, after 16 years, turned out to be soul-sucking. I understand that we all feel that way sometimes, but I’ve felt that way for a couple of years now. So I feel your pain.

    For all of the good pet parents and siblings out there, I hope that your passion allows you to continue to care for animals. You’ve done such a great job with this blog, maybe advocacy and education are the direction you should go. If that’s the case, I’m just kind of sad for all of the animals that would not benefit from such a caring doctor.

    Sophie and Oscar send puppy kisses your way, and I send gratitude for all you’ve done.

  • Lisa W
  • Jessica, bless your heart. It’s okay…you are not alone. I have felt the same way, many DVM’s I know have felt the same way, from time to time. I have found that if you put your HEART and SOUL into something, you’re occasionally going to get worn out and bruised. You are the only one who can decide if that level of dedication is sustainable. I have figured out a couple of things that help me through times like these, but I don’t want to be a “know it all” on my first, ever blog comment. Let me know if it would be helpful to you, and I can share them. Thank you for your blog…this is an amazing site.

  • Let me take this from another perspective. If you find you don’t want to do what you’re doing after giving it a good shot — and paying off your student loans — you don’t have to. As a T.A. in grad school I discovered I really disliked teaching — which made me wonder what the heck I was going to do with a Ph.D. in English. But I finished the degree, because I hated the idea of not finishing. And that decision gave me the freedom, eventually, to not do it.

    It took me another career — travel editor — to finally get the nerve up to become a writer. My timing wasn’t the best, what with publishing being so sucky at paying these days, but it’s what I love. And sometime hate. That’s when I wish I had bitten the bullet. I’d have tenure by now, and all those summers off. But then I remember administration, academic infighting…and standing up in front of a class. Which I would still find immensely stressful.

    You’re an annoyingly good natural writer (says she who labors over every word; nothing like an advanced English degree to destroy spontaneity). And when and if you want to do that full time, or more than you’re doing now, you’ll succeed. Just wait until you save some money. And until publishing isn’t quite as sucky as it is now.