While plenty of individuals have a fondness for animals, those who love them as much as you do tend to stand out. Instead of ignoring a lost cat wandering around the neighborhood, you take in the feline and try to find its owner. Notice a littered local pond? You start a clean-up initiative to help wildlife flourish.
Your commitment to caring for animals has always made you curious about becoming a veterinarian. That passion can lead to a rewarding career regardless of what sparked your initial interest.
For Dr. Lucas White, a Veterinarian at Sunset Veterinary Clinic, James Herriot’s books were partially responsible for igniting a desire to work with animals. “I was also fascinated watching veterinarians work on my own animals and solve a problem for them without them being able to talk,” Dr. White adds.
But being a veterinarian is much more than playing with pets and performing routine check-ups. You may need to develop business skills or work to improve relationships. Keep reading to uncover some of the things current practitioners think everyone should know before pursuing veterinary medicine.
8 truths experts reveal about becoming a veterinarian
1. Interacting with people is part of the job
Becoming a veterinarian might seem like the perfect way to pursue a career in medicine without having to interact with humans, but that’s not really the case. “Your love of animals must be accompanied by an equal love of people,” says Dr. Audrey Wystrach, co-founder and COO of ZippiVet. “You will spend far more time communicating with pet owners than pets.”
It makes sense when you think about it. Any information about treatments and medical history has to be communicated between the veterinarian and the pet owner. No dog or cat is going to be able to verify whether their vaccinations are up-to-date.
“You will spend far more time communicating with pet owners than pets.”
2. You’ll learn an astonishing amount of material during vet school
Veterinary school is among the most challenging postgraduate paths you can take. No matter how successful you were during college, you should expect to work even harder. Dr. Wystrach says it was a steep learning curve, but doable. “The volume of information that one person can assimilate in four years is almost unimaginable,” she says.
“The volume of information that one person can assimilate in four years is almost unimaginable,”
Successfully absorbing so much information requires diligent study habits. “It takes a high level of commitment, but it’s only temporary and worth it in the end,” Dr. White says. But don’t let these insights intimidate you — just being aware of the challenging journey ahead will help you be even more prepared and determined to reach your destination.
3. Nothing goes as planned when working with animals
Working with pet owners is a crucial part of being a good veterinarian, but maintaining such communication can’t guarantee every visit will work out as planned. Maybe a piece of equipment in the exam room spooks a dog. Or you may find yourself treating a cat that’s anxious around unfamiliar faces.
“The unique challenge of veterinary medicine is that there is never anything that happens according to plan,” Dr. Wystrach explains. “To expect the unexpected on a daily basis has become my mantra.”
“The unique challenge of veterinary medicine is that there is never anything that happens according to plan,”
4. Nontraditional backgrounds abound in veterinary school
What was the most surprising part of veterinary school for Dr. Wystrach? “The variety of prior jobs and experiences of all my classmates,” she notes. Aside from the shared goal of pursuing a veterinary career, students can be quite different. This means you have no reason to worry that your pre-vet path could hinder your performance.
5. Your career may evolve over time
Though having a general idea of what you’d like to do can help as you complete veterinary school, don’t be surprised if your plans change as your career progresses. Dr. White initially intended to be a mixed-animal practitioner, then eventually switched his focus to smaller creatures. “Large-animal medicine is equally fun and challenging, but it just did not fit with my future plans,” he explains.
Dr. Wystrach’s journey has been even more varied. She spent 15 years practicing equine and small-animal medicine in a combination hospital-mobile concept, transitioned to three years focusing solely on house calls, and then spent another three years in corporate practice before settling into her current role.
“Careers and focuses change,” Dr. Wystrach says. “I am a believer that you are responsible for your own destiny and can create or find the practice model that suits you.”
“I am a believer that you are responsible for your own destiny and can create or find the practice model that suits you.”
6. You need to be business savvy
You’ll find yourself with plenty of company if you have dreams of owning and operating some sort of clinic. Information from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows most veterinarians choose private-practice careers. One thing to keep in mind is that business acumen is crucial for these types of roles.
Given the chance to go back in time, Dr. Wystrach says she would “Take as many business classes as possible.” She also suggests students consider pursuing an MBA in addition to a DVM. You might even look into the possibility of obtaining a combined DVM/MBA degree.
“Take as many business classes as possible.”
7. You need to plan for school expenses
Veterinary school is a costly but worthwhile expense for students committed to caring for animals. You should think of it as an investment and prepare accordingly. “Have plans in place to be able to pay for school or pay back student loans without sacrificing quality of life,” Dr. White recommends.
Most students don’t have the funds available to pay for veterinary school out of pocket, so loans are generally a necessity. Make sure you attend a program that participates in the federal student loan program. Check Federal Student Aid’s running list and be sure to contact your intended program for more information.
“Have plans in place to be able to pay for school or pay back student loans without sacrificing quality of life,”
8. You’ll forge lifelong friendships
Making friends during veterinary school is almost a given. Dr. White was surprised by how much he connected with his colleagues in school. “I have a lot of good friends from vet school that I still keep in touch with,” he says.
So while the journey through vet school will be a challenging one, rest assured that you’ll have plenty of cohorts to help get you through. And once you all come out the other side, you’ll have a built-in network of professional contacts to provide encouragement and guidance throughout your career.
Explore your options
You clearly have to consider a number of factors when deciding whether becoming a veterinarian is the right choice for you. Think about your career goals, and what it will take to achieve them. If you have the drive and passion, then veterinary medicine could be a great fit.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a vet, it might be time to start thinking about the path you’ll need to follow. Attending veterinary school is a huge part of the process. Learn more about the specific requirements by reading our article, "The Vet School Requirements Aspiring Animal Doctors Need to Know About."
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