Being a veterinarian is involved than being good with pets and performing routine check-ups. If you’re interested in becoming a veterinarian, know that you may need to develop business skills or work on building relationships.
Keep reading to uncover some of the things current practitioners think everyone ought to know before pursuing this career path.
8 truths experts reveal about becoming a veterinarian
While many who obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) to become qualified practitioners were inspired by famous veterinarians and books, including Dr. Lucas White of Sunset Veterinary Clinic, there’s more to the role than a love of animals.
Is becoming a veterinarian worth it? Reviewing these facts might reveal the answer.
1. Interacting with people is a critical part of the job
Becoming a veterinarian means committing to interacting with humans more than you might expect. “Your love of animals must be accompanied by an equal love of people,” says Dr. Audrey Wystrach, CEO of One Vet. “You will spend far more time communicating with pet owners than pets.”
This makes a lot of sense. Any information about treatments and medical history has to be communicated between the veterinarian and the pet owner.
2. You’ll learn an astonishing amount of material during vet school
No matter how successful you were during college, you should expect to work even harder during veterinary school. Dr. Wystrach says it was a steep learning curve.
“The volume of information that one person can assimilate in four years is almost unimaginable,” she says. But retaining this vast amount of information is possible—you’ll just need to develop diligent study habits.
“It takes a high level of commitment, but it’s only temporary and worth it in the end,” Dr. White says.
3. Nothing goes as planned when working with animals
Even maintaining great communication with pet owners won’t guarantee every visit will work out as planned. Maybe a piece of equipment in the exam room spooks a dog. Or you might find yourself treating a cat that’s anxious around unfamiliar faces.
“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,” Dr. Wystrach explains. “To expect the unexpected on a daily basis has become my mantra.”
4. Nontraditional backgrounds abound on the path to becoming a veterinarian
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 veterinary medicine, students can be quite different. Some might be heading toward a second or third career. Others may have families. This means you have no reason to worry that your pre-vet path could hinder your performance.
5. There are way more career options than you might realize
Vet students often focus on pursuing one of the main types of veterinary professions, but there are many additional options. In fact, there are more than 20 different veterinary specialties that span a wide range of interests. These careers include:
Emergency and critical care
Laboratory animal medicine
Veterinarians can also choose careers in holistic veterinary medicine, public health, and executive leadership, as Dr. Wystrach has done. No matter your passion, there’s a veterinary profession for you.
6. Your career may evolve—even after you’ve spent time being a veterinarian
Though having a general idea of your professional goals 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 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.
“I am a believer that you are responsible for your own destiny and can create or find the practice model that suits you,” 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.”
7. You need to be business savvy
Information from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows most veterinarians choose private-practice careers. One thing to keep in mind if you plan to go this route 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 a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in addition to a DVM. You might even look into the possibility of obtaining a combined DVM/MBA degree.
8. You’ll forge lifelong friendships
Making friends during veterinary school is inevitable, even if you don’t feel like the most social person. 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 shares.
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 veterinarian contacts to provide encouragement and guidance throughout your career.
Determine if becoming a veterinarian is right for you
You clearly have to consider a number of factors when deciding whether you would enjoy being a veterinarian. If you’re certain that becoming a veterinarian is right for you, it might be time to start thinking about obtaining the appropriate education.
Learn more about the requirements you’ll need to complete to gain acceptance to a veterinary program by reading our article, "The Vet School Requirements Aspiring Animal Doctors Need to Know About."
*This article was originally published in September 2018. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.
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