“Oh my gosh! Your job is so cool! I wish I could play with puppies and kittens all day! You must just love it!”
Secretly, I roll my eyes.
This is the typical response you receive after announcing your profession is in veterinary practice. It is usually followed up by “I could never do that though! I couldn’t stand to see them put to sleep!” Again, eye roll.
Realistically, the general public is very sheltered from what the true life of a veterinarian entails. People envision us dramatically saving lives, snuggling puppies and kittens all day.
What do you like about what you do?
I like the challenge of diagnostics. I like the satisfaction of saving an animal’s life. I like the things that we do to make animals live longer, live more productive lives, spaying and neutering, and all healthcare.
If I am honest, if the money wasn’t in small animal veterinary care, I would have done large animal[care]. To me, large animal[care] was rewarding; delivering calves and treating sick animals, and the farm visits were a passion point, but there was no money in it at the time I chose my specialisation. And still today, there never is any money in it.
Why are they paid different amounts?
Well, I think it is nature of animal’s ‘purpose’ to the owner that determines how much they will pay for its treatment. Larger animals are typically work animals, or a commodity for trade – they are always going to assess your fees on an economic basis. Where as, a family of four who are all emotionally attached to one dog, care for its health with a different set of eyes.
For a small animal veterinarian, disease prevention, vaccinations, routine healthcare is probably where most of the income is generated. Second to that is the sale of healthcare products: flea products, heartworm preventions, even prescription dog foods.
What is the most rewarding part of the job?
The animal has very little ability to tell you where it hurts; whether they’re feeling better or whether you’re doing the right thing…Diagnosing sick animals is the most challenging part of it all… but of course it is also one of the most rewarding.
But I think probably the biggest perk is the true friendships that you develop with the people because what you’ve done for their animals, pets are often an intrinsic part of a family unit, and as a vet you need to understand this before you practice.
What have you learnt on the job?
Being a vet tech is dirty. You get covered in every type of bodily fluid that exists. You know how people take their dog to the vet and the dog pees on the technician, and the owner apologises over and over for their dog’s overactive bladder? I am here to tell you that if urine is the only thing we get on us in a day, its a really, really good day.
Our patients are not always well behaved. Every dog that walks through the door has not heard of obedience school. Blood, urine, vomit, saliva, anal glands, and diarrhoea are the bodily fluids that most vets navigate through on a daily basis.
What did you need to study?
A person should like sciences, they should like maths, and they should like to work hard considering the course takes between 7 years to complete.
I did a three year degree, a Bachelor of Agriculture with perquisites subjects in biology and in biochemistry. After graduation I had to complete my DVM; which is the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine to qualify me as a veterinarian.
DVM is very different to an undergraduate course. Don’t be afraid that, just be prepared to handle it. Getting through DVM is difficult and very content heavy so I would recommend being involved in clubs.
And finally, what advice would you give?
I have spoken a lot about the realities of this career – especially that it isn’t all kittens and puppies – but while trying to silence that expectation I don’t want students to think that a career in Vet is not exciting – because I love my job everyday!
When I was doing large animal; obstetrics, delivering calves, doing that was the most exciting part of the practice. Because every one was different!
Today, the most exciting part of what I enjoy doing more than anything in this practice is surgery, whether it’s general surgery or whether it’s emergency.
You are able to save lives and make lives better.