So, you want to be a veterinarian…

Part of my job as the Resident Veterinarian at Broadview is to chat with potential students.  Usually I talk to them about our program, the rigor, hands-on experience, etc.  Lately, there have been a few students that have wanted to chat with me because they can’t decide if they want to be a veterinarian or a veterinary technician.

 I have to admit, that I’m always perplexed when I get this question.  Usually, the people asking it are young, and bright eyed.  I can tell that most of them have this idea that becoming a veterinarian is easy, fun, and involves lots of time spend petting and cuddling kitties and puppies that are cute and fluffy.  I want to tell them that deciding between being a veterinarian or a technician is somewhat like wanting to be a nurse OR a doctor.  That is not to put down nurses or technicians…if you think I don’t hold my technicians in high regard, then read my last post.

 Here’s the thing though…it is HARD to become a veterinarian.  It depresses me and sometimes infuriates me that many people in the general public have no idea what we go through to earn our degree.  I swear that some of them think we got it online from some random school in Mexico, or that we went through a two year program at a trade school.  This must be why they think that or knowledge is equal to or less than the supposed knowledge of the kid working at PetCo or their breeder, or some whackadoo that posted stuff on the internet.

 Let me repeat…it is hard to become a veterinarian.  It takes AT LEAST 8 years of schooling…four of undergraduate work and four of veterinary school.  Your undergraduate work often must include classes such as Microbiology, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Anatomy, etc.  Then, you have to apply to veterinary school.  To this day I sometimes think I bamboozled the admissions people at Colorado State, because I know of several highly intelligent, talented, awesome people that applied to vet school many times and were not accepted.

 If you do get into vet school, you can expect four years of long hours hitting the books.  You have to cram knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, disease processes, behavior, pharmacology, etc. of dogs, cats, horses, cattle, exotics, etc. into four years of schooling.

 Guess what?  Dogs are not humans wearing a fur coat, and cats are not small dogs.  Even when you compare dogs and cats, they have different diseases, react differently to medications, and even have differences in their anatomy.  For example…dogs can get HYPOthyroidism, which is a disease of low thyroid hormone production.  Cats can get HYPERthyroidism, which is a disease of too much thyroid production.  They are two separate diseases, treated completely differently.

 Once you graduate from veterinary school, these days you are considered fortunate if you can land a job that pays you enough salary to cover the massive student debt you have incurred.  Contrary to popular belief…veterinarians are not rich money grubbers.  For example, the standard salary a brand new veterinarian can expect is generally between 40,000-50,000 a year.  That sounds pretty decent, but consider that many vet students have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off.  AND they went to school for 8 years.  AND they are a doctor. 

 As a practicing veterinarian, you work long hours.  You deal with clients that think you are only after their money.  You deal with clients that think their breeder knows way more than you do.  You deal with clients that think it is awesome that their rotten, unsocialized, unneutered dog wants to eat your head. 

 Also, you deal with death.  You deal with death on almost a daily basis.  You play with the cute fuzzy animals as a way to keep your sanity on the days you have euthanized 8 animals and diagnosed others with untreatable disease.

 I realize I have just spent this entire post knocking the profession I am in.  I actually happen to love being a veterinarian.  I really do this to help animals and their people.  I love doing surgery, diagnosing disease, and being there for grieving clients.  I happen to be fortunate enough that my student loans are not killing me.

 I just wish more people understood what this profession is like.  If you are a fellow vet and you are reading this, you understand exactly what I am talking about.  If you are not a veterinarian, please be kind to your vet the next time you take your animals to see them.  Remember the hard work and long hours they put in.  When they give you a treatment plan, please remember that they are doing what is best for the health of your pet.  They are not lining their pockets…they are trying to make living enough to eat and save a little. 

 If you are someone that wants to be a veterinarian, read this post about 5 times.  Then read the other ones, especially “Communicating with the Crazies,” “The Unanswerable Question” and “The thing I hate about being a veterinarian.”  Then go volunteer at a veterinary clinic for a few months. Research the cost of veterinary school vs. the salary you will make, and make sure it is something that won’t bankrupt you. If, after all of that, you still want to be a vet….then go for it with everything you have. 

 This is a worthy, noble profession to go into.  Just make sure you fully understand what it will be like before you take that jump. 


About hteyler

I decided in 8th grade that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I never deviated from that goal, and after a ton of studying and hard work I graduated from Colorado State University with my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. I spent the first few years out of vet school in the southern California desert. After a few years I missed the mountains, so I took a job at a small animal practice in Park City, Utah. Somehow, in the middle of all of that the teaching bug bit me. I am now the Resident Veterinarian at Broadview University, West Jordan. Also, I have four cats, Pete, Sally, Tommy and Roger. If I told you much more, you would decide I am a hopeless nerd. For example, I am obsessed with the TV shows LOST and Supernatural.

Posted on December 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. true true true! I cringe when I see the bright eyed 9 year olds who come in saying “I want to be a veterinarian too” I can’t convey all of this info to them in a positive manner. I usually smile and say something to the effect of “study hard in school” And now I understand why I got a similar short response when I was that 9 year old bright eyed kid.

  2. One of the main things that decided me on being a veterinary technician instead of a vet was a case that happened in the clinic I was working in. A dog had been hit by a car and had been brought into the clinic because the dog had our rabies tag on. The owner of the clinic was not there that day and never saw the dog. However she got sued and got her liscense suspended because the vets treated the animals wounds when they couldnt reach the owners right away. The lesson of this being that if you are the vet you can be sued for treating the animal without permission. But she also could have been sued if the other vets in the clinic had not treated the animal and it had died. Either way she probably would have lost the case as there are no laws safegaurding the veterinarian and protecting them from this as there are with human doctors. The veterinarian that actually treated the animal was on trial as well and also had consequences.

  3. Keep writing, Doctor! This is a blog! People do not have to agree with you! It is your opinion and you expressed it truthfully! I wish anyone who is planning to enter a career would prepare themselves by volunteering somewhere related to their dream profession! Maybe then we wouldn’t have teachers who say from the get-go, ” I hate teaching!” ” I just picked this to earn some Money and get three months off in summer and all holidays!” Poor students!

  4. Spending a lot of time at various rescues/charities/sanctuaries I’ve seen the worst of the worst. Its often easy to make you question whether you are in the right profession, but that day you see them making a turn for the better is what makes it all worth it.

    I always tell people who ask me, that I’d never suggest this career unless they truly understood what they were getting into and truly loved it, because otherwise, the long hours, the schooling, the lack of a social life, separation from family and friends sometimes etc. can be daunting and difficult. But can also be so rewarding.

    Spending time with a vet for longer than a week is THE best thing you could do and make sure that you encourage the vet to let you be involved with it all, because its dealing with the client who refuses to get what could be a potentially malignant tumour tested, or the owner who loves their pet but can’t afford their care, etc. that test you the most

  5. If you think you want to be a vet, spend A LOT of time considering it…. and do your research. Everything mentioned in this article is true and the combination of high debt, low pay, and high stress is a draining combination that causes high burn-out and high-suicide rates.

    Especially if you are a woman (and 90% of vet students are), consider whether being a vet will fit into your future dreams of being a wife and mother, and how much time you hope to spend with your children. Paying off $100,000-200,000 is very difficult with only a part-time job, and can be a huge burden/stress in the early years of marriage. Many vets give up working in the field, after discovering they couldn’t handle the stress OR the lifestyle they were hoping to have wasn’t achievable with a veterinarian’s salary. For those people their degree just became a VERY expensive hobby, and they could have otherwise bought a house and saved years of headache.

    It’s do able… but just know what you are getting into, and be ready to weigh the cost (financial & emotional) of entering this profession vs the benefits, AND compare it closely to other careers that might interest you. There are many careers that allow you to work with animals, and don’t allow the reasoning “I love animals, so I want to be a vet” to be your only driving force.

  6. I hate when people exaggerate salary issues like this. Look, I’m a vet, I have more than twice as much debt as I make in a year, and I definitely agree that I have serious financial difficulties/constraints, and will be paying off my loans for the next few decades. But when you say “they are trying to make living enough to eat and save a little” you do a disservice to hundreds of thousands of people in this country who truly are struggling to eat and put away a little money for savings. No matter how rough things get financially, I have no reasonable expectation that I will ever go hungry. While I am paying off my debt, I am also directing 5% of my salary to my 401(k). If things get expensive– say I move, or want to buy a plane ticket, etc– I cut back my loan payment for a month, and voila! I have cash.

    I know it seems nitpicky, but invoking the image of not having enough to eat just makes people roll their eyes and sigh about our lack of perspective. Remember when Mitt Romney said he had no choice but to run his business a certain way, because he had a family and had to put food on the table? It’s a sure thing he could have made a reasonable argument that he needed profit to keep his business sustainable, or to pay his employee’s benefits, etc, but the only message anyone took away from that comment is “wow, that whacko is so out of touch with reality.”

    Yes, as a vet, my financial picture is terrible. My net worth is hugely negative, and I put over half of my after-tax income straight towards my student loans. But no– I am not struggling to put food on the table, and the chances are excellent that I never will be. Let’s keep the suggestion of starvation out of these discussions.

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