Reflections and Advice on Veterinary School
Veterinary Medicine is, I think, a truly unique profession and veterinarians themselves are a special breed, if you will. Many of us (myself included) have known that we wanted to be vets from a very young age. Whether there was some defining moment that sparked our interest, or just a trip to the vet with the family dog, the seed is often planted early. While this passion and dedication is crucial as it often is what carries us through and pushes us to not abandon our dream, it can be somewhat blinding. In my years prior to vet school, I had several encounters with disillusioned vets who warned me about going into this profession, and sometimes even urged me to reconsider. This always upset me, and I told myself that I would never discourage anyone from chasing their dream of becoming a vet. I still stand by that, however, I have learned that it is incredibly important to know EVERYTHING that goes into being a vet before you sign on. If you are unsure at any point if it is right profession for you, make sure that you don’t just stay in it because you feel like you can’t back out now. It is definitely not just playing with puppies and kittens all day long.
In thinking about what I wanted to convey in this blog post, I realized that I wanted to try and avoid the standard clichés about why I wanted to be a vet, and instead be really honest and truly open up about what it has been like to go through this process. In an effort to provide some constructive advice, I’ll address a few of the more common statements I have heard regarding the veterinary profession:
The phrase “I want to be a vet because I don’t like people”.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is all too common with some prospective vets, and to me this is the scariest attitude for a prospective vet. One thing I wish I had known prior to vet school was how much communication is required. Sometimes, I wish I had majored in psychology or economics because not only are you the vet to your client’s pet; you are often their therapist, friend, and financial consultant. People love their pets like their children, and sometimes they will get upset with you and you will have to talk them off the ledge. The majority of my time is spent dealing with people, whether I am explaining the pathophysiology of a disease process to an owner following a diagnosis, discussing money and whether they can afford certain procedures, managing technicians and receptionists, returning phone calls and interpreting lab results to owners, checking in on owners and their pets, or comforting them through a euthanasia. I have yet to have a day at work where I have not had to talk to a person.
Veterinary School is very expensive.
As much as I hate to admit it, there may be some truth to this. Vet school is expensive. And unlike our human doctor counterparts (forgive me if I am misspeaking here M.D.s), the payout once you get your D.V.M. is less than cushy. Sure, there are ways to do better financially, and not everyone has to take out student loans. I just feel that this was an area that was not addressed enough to pre-vet (and even vet) students to really make sure they understood what they were getting themselves into. If you love your job, it’s worth it. But don’t go into this job for the money.
The misconception that as a Veterinarian, “you will have no life.”
This is the statement that gets to me the most. I have always been a huge advocate of work-life balance, and I can’t stress this enough for vets. You can, and should, make time for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, this profession will infiltrate many parts of your life. It is stressful and often will mean that after a hard day at work you will come home and spend an hour venting to your less-than-pleased significant other. You will get stuck at work late because an emergency was called in 10 minutes prior to closing and you have to stay and see them. But I firmly believe that it is what you make of it. I try not to call clients from home or email, so that when I am away from work, I am truly away and can shut off a little. Keep up with your hobbies, don’t be afraid to take vacations, and never think that you are not entitled to days off during the workweek. You will work hard, and if you want to specialize or own a business this will be especially hard, but it’s not impossible. Having a successful career and a healthy life are, in my opinion, certainly not mutually exclusive.
I don’t want this to sound negative or discouraging in any way, I just think it’s more helpful to be honest and realistic than to paint a rosey but false picture. I love my job, and can’t think of anything that would be more rewarding, nor would I ever go back in time and change my mind. The days when a patient that was sick comes running back into the hospital for their recheck looking like a million bucks, or the times when an owner tells me how grateful they are for helping their dog or for being compassionate even when giving bad news, provide me with so much inspiration and make everything else worth it.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
Advice for Pre-Veterinary students at Hamilton:
- I owe so much to the pre-veterinary community at Hamilton for helping me get into vet school (two Hamilton students in the class two years ahead of me have been instrumental in mentoring me throughout my vet school and veterinary career) that I want to be able to pass on some of that knowledge. My advice to pre-vet students wanting to get into vet school is actually a relatively simple list:
- Be unique. Don’t think that you have to major in Biology to get in. I was a Hispanic Studies major which allowed me to study abroad through the HCAYS program in Madrid, and, thanks to Hamilton’s amazing lack of core requirements, enabled me to complete all the pre-vet requirements in time (although it did mean I had to take physics my senior year and take 2 labs every semester).
- Get a broad range of experiences. While going back and working as a technician at your family vet will certainly get you a large amount of experience (and probably a good recommendation), vet schools want to see variety. Work on a dairy farm. Volunteer at the local zoo. Participate in a research project. Hang out at a shelter. You need a lot of hours (seriously, the more the better), so budget your time and line up those summer externships. Make sure you keep track of this too because vet schools often will require a letter from each experience you list.
- Get good references. Good references and who you connect with during your externships make a difference. If you have a dream vet school in mind, think about trying to spend some time there and doing an externship to get your foot in the door. Remember, everyone applying to vet school is on an even plane more or less when it comes to intelligence, so you want to stand out. Having your name ring a bell to the right person will make a difference.
- Practice your interviews. Go to the career center and set up mock interviews. Make sure you prepare specific questions for each school and do some research about pertinent veterinary issues. Studentdoctor.net is a pretty helpful forum for this kind of thing.
- Don’t let people discourage you. People will say things like “Wow! Vet school is harder to get into than Med school!” or “Aren’t there only like 28 vet schools in the whole country?” or “You need an A in Orgo to get in” (you don’t). If you want this, hard work and determination will get you there.
- Expand your horizons. Look at schools in Canada, the Caribbean and Europe. Sometimes these schools get a bad rep but in my experience working with vets that have graduated from all these places, their training is just as, if not more, exceptional than schools in the U.S.