People have always told you they think you would make a great veterinarian. Though being a vet is your dream career, you wonder if others assume it’s the right path based solely on your love for animals. You know there’s more to it than that. After all, simply adoring literature doesn’t make someone a great author.
You’re absolutely right in thinking it takes a number of other traits to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Most of the requisite hard skills aren’t developed until you attend vet school, but there are other important traits that lend themselves toward a career in veterinary medicine.
So, how do you know you have what it takes to be a vet? Keep reading to gather some expert insight that’ll help you determine if you’re naturally inclined to be a veterinarian.
7 Signs you you’re destined for a career in veterinary medicine
We reached out to Dr. Rexanne Struve, owner of Veterinary Associates of Manning, to learn about some of the signs that indicate you could be a great fit for this field. Keep reading to find out if you should consider thinking more seriously about pursuing veterinary medicine.
1. You’re a people person
You already know veterinarians work with a lot of animals, but you may not realize how many vets spend a good amount of their time interacting with other humans. This is particularly true for clinical practitioners like those who work with companion animals.
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“You’d better enjoy working with the people who own the animals,” Dr. Struve says, “because it’s the people who make the decisions, not the pets.”
Individuals who don’t like working with other people can still seek a career in veterinary medicine if they’re open to other options. “Maybe this would be a situation when they work in a place like a research lab or a shelter,” Dr. Struve offers. She points that while shelter vets work with companion animals, they typically don’t interact directly with the pet owners.
2. You have a strong sense of responsibility
You’ll have a serious advantage if you’ve always been willing to do chores without nagging or the threat of some punishment. The reality is some veterinarian duties are not particularly enjoyable. While cleaning cages and doing paperwork might not be fun, they’re essential tasks.
“You have to have the willingness to do what needs to be done,” Dr. Struve says.
Reflecting on your childhood experiences can help you determine if you have what it takes, according to Dr. Struve. She explains that she and her sister were predominantly responsible for taking care of the two horses her family owned when growing up. They never tried to get out of chipping in for food or skipped a day of carrying water to the shed.
“It was never a question of whether we wanted to do it or not—we just did it,” Dr. Struve says. This type of accountability is a great sign you have what it takes to make a career out of animal care.
3. You have a knack for business
There are a lot of career paths for those who obtain a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree. You can do research, work as a regulatory veterinarian for the government, and much more. That said, most veterinarians go into private practice. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports private clinical practice roles accounted for about 60 percent of the 120,652 positions held by veterinarians in 2019.
Ask any clinical practitioner what their job entails, and you’ll soon realize there’s a lot more than diagnosing and treating conditions. “Anybody anticipating going into practice must understand that there’s a business part that goes along with it,” Dr. Struve says.
"Anybody anticipating going into practice must understand that there’s a business part that goes along with it."
Working in a vet practice involves an understanding of financial management, client communication, marketing, and more. This is true even for vets who aren’t practice owners. In fact, some evidence suggests employers base hiring decisions on business skills and other nonclinical competencies.
4. You’re a lifelong learner
Your education doesn’t end once you obtain your DVM. You’ll also need to undergo continuing education for the duration of your career. Specific requirements vary by state, so make sure you understand the expectations in your area. You’ll likely need to complete some courses in person.
“There are plenty of continuing education classes,” Dr. Struve says. “And a lot of time is also spent in the hallways talking to your cohorts and asking, ‘How do you handle this?’” She adds that these informal conversations are often just as beneficial and educational as the classroom time.
5. You’re patient
In most cases, aspiring veterinarians need to complete a four-year bachelor’s program as well as a four-year veterinary medicine program. Eight years is obviously a lot of time. You need to be patient and maintain focus in order to obtain a DVM.
“If somebody hates going to school, they're going to have a really difficult time,” Dr. Struve says.
It’s still possible to work with animals without making such a time-intensive commitment, but not as a veterinarian. Dr. Struve says becoming a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant might be a better fit for those wary of spending eight years completing college and veterinary school.
6. You have perseverance
You’ll face challenges before you even apply to veterinary school. Your ability to overcome obstacles is critical. Consider all the animal and veterinary experience hours vet programs expect. You’ll likely need to spend a lot of time shadowing practicing vets. This can be a real challenge if you don’t have many veterinarians in your area or if your request to shadow is rejected.
"They need to persevere."
“They need to persevere,” Dr. Struve says of students who have trouble finding opportunities. “They need to figure out how they’re going to do that.”
Vet school itself is also challenging. Not everyone is cut out for such a rigorous program. You need to recognize that there’s a lot of hard work ahead.
“Gutting it out through vet school takes perseverance, blood, sweat, and tears,” Dr. Struve says.
7. You’ve never pictured yourself doing anything else
While this isn’t true for every veterinarian, many were sold on the career at an early age. This was certainly the case for Dr. Struve. She grew up surrounded by animals. She cared for her own dogs and horses, but she also earned a reputation among neighbors as someone who cared for injured and sick animals of all kinds.
“I had no thoughts of being anything other than a practicing veterinarian from the very beginning,” Dr. Struve says.
Are you cut out for a career in veterinary medicine?
It’s clear there is a lot more to being a veterinarian than petting puppies and bonding with bunnies. It’s a demanding profession that can involve long days and unpredictable cases. For the right person, though, a career in veterinary medicine can be extremely rewarding.
Now that you have a better sense of the most crucial qualities for veterinarians, you might feel even surer that it’s the right profession for you. It might be time to start thinking about next steps.
Learn more about how to work toward your dream career by checking out our article, “How to Become a Veterinarian: Your 8-Step Guide.”
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