This article may include affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Is being a vet your dream job?
I’ve worked as a vet for more years than I care to remember. I was just like you: Animal obsessed as a child, eagerly consuming books, articles, or information on anything or everything to do with animals. When I shared my dream with parents and teachers, their reaction was cautious but encouraging. From an early age I ‘saw practice’ at a local vets, volunteered at stables, and milked cows. Out of sheer determination I studied hard, got the grades, and achieved my dream.
There’s nothing special about me. I’m averagely intelligent but no genius, but I do have grit and determination by the bucket load. If I can achieve my dream then so can you.
However, being a vet is not all sunshine and roses. Rather than talk about entrance requirements (which you can get from the websites of the relevant veterinary governing body) I want to give you an insider’s view on what the job involves.
Now is a step through moment to choose the right career that matches your strengths so I’m not going to pull any punches.
Working and training can be physically demanding. Vet school covers all species and you are expected to work with large animals such as cattle and horses, not just small furries or companion animals. This physicality continues into your working life where you may need to lift a 90 kg (198 pound) mastiff onto an operating table or carry a heavy cat basket from a client’s car to the clinic.
You mustn’t mind be scratched, bitten, peed and pooped on, and be prepared for clients to think it’s funny when their dog bites your ankle. OK, so you can cope with that, but what about after a busy night on call with little sleep and your patience is wearing thin?
This is balanced against legions of loving pet owners who are truly appreciative of your efforts on behalf of their fur-family member, and whose dedication to the pet is humbling and inspirational.
A professional has to be courteous, polite, and helpful no matter how tired or frustrated you are feeling. Does this sound like you?
One of the issues of modern veterinary education is that it tends to select students for their intellectual ability (after all, you need stellar grades to gain entry) which can mean some empathetic young people with a way with animals don’t make the grade.
If you’re not keen on people and prefer to text or email someone rather than speak face-to-face, then you may struggle as a vet. You need awesome powers of communication and to be a mix of detective, counsellor, and scientist to get an accurate patient history from a distressed owner. Then you need simple, clear language to explain what the options are.
This is balanced against making a real difference. You can give the owner a better understanding and ease their distress through the words you use. This is amazingly satisfying.
Can you learn to ‘read’ people: To understand what it is they’re NOT saying as much as what they are? If yes, you will make a great vet. Or do you consider people an inconvenience attached to the animals; if so, think again about your career choice.
Emotional Roller Coaster
How strong are you emotionally?
Vets need to be compassionate and caring; and the day you aren’t affected by euthanising an animal is the day you should change career. The emotions a vet feels range from elation at solving a tricky case, to anger at how cruelty and ignorance inflicts unnecessary suffering on gentle creatures that deserve better.
You also need to be able to cope with stress and have a life outside of being a vet.
Stress and Suicide
Being a vet is stressful. The hopes and fears of pet parents rest squarely on your shoulders. Not everyone understands that paying for treatment does not guarantee a happy outcome. Clients cope with loss and bereavement differently, from hysteria to aggression, and it’s you on the receiving end.
If this sounds overly dramatic you should realize that the veterinary profession has the dubious record of having the highest suicide rate of any job or career. A combination of student debt, threat of litigation, and disillusionment all have their part to play.
Debts and Income
Become a vet because you love animals, are great with people, and want to heal. Do not become a vet if you want to become rich. All those years of training mean you emerge from University with a huge debt to pay off. In addition, contrary to popular opinion, vets are not amongst the top earners. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants all pull wages that are multiple times higher than a vet. Indeed, in the United States a busy dog walker can earn more than a general practice vet. So if money is your motivation consider a different career.
And finally, don’t get me wrong I love being a vet, but my approach to advising prospective vet students is a grounded one.
This puts me in mind of one particular school boy in the practice on work experience. He was a serious chap, debating between becoming an economist or a vet. He asked what being a vet was like, so I talked through the high and lows, the jubilations and heart-ache, the sense of achievement and frustration, the mental challenges and sleep deprivation. He listened thoughtfully. I then suggested he got my colleague’s perspective. “I did,” he replied, “all he said was ‘I’m living the dream.'”
I know that in England to get into the best veterinary collage you need BETTER results that you do to get into the best human medical school. It’s tough – there’s nothing like iit but man it must be so tough.
Sweet Purrfections says
I had no idea the suicide rate was so high with vets. I remember asking my vet when she had to euthanize Sweet Praline how they remained so unemotional. She assured me that she had plenty of tears away from the humans.
Very important post – thank you for sharing. It is important to ensure the health of the people that take care of one of the most important family members we have!
Talent Hounds says
I remember being surprised that vets, dentists and psychiatrists are all dream jobs for many but terrible suicide rates apparently. Great article as important to do your research when choosing your career. Everything has pluses and minuses. I still kind of wish I had finished medicine or vet school.
This was a great article. It was very interesting to get the inside scoop! I am sad to learn that vet’s have a high suicide rate.
Elizabeth Keene says
Oh, lawd, the bunny! ♥ I love that the author has been so candid here. I mentioned on Facebook that I wanted to be a vet badly when I was young. Back then, I had no idea how hard things could be in the profession. Life had other plans for me, though. Certainly have a new appreciation for those who take care of my pets.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
I read about how vets have the highest suicide rate. It’s very sad. People are organizing compassion fatigue workshops and other things to try to help vets here.
Miss Molly Says says
I would love to have became a vet. I have heard how grueling the studying and the work is, but the part that stopped me was the emotional side. I feel I could handle all the happy ,healthy and minor troubles, but emotionally, I could never handle the seriously wounded or terminal pets.
Great post! Like many animal lovers, I really wanted to be a vet when I was a kid. When I got to college and started considering it much more seriously I decided that perhaps it wasn’t for me. I love animals and think I would have been great at caring for them, but am not a people person at all. I don’t think I’d be very good at dealing with pet owners and I know what a big part of the job that is.
Wonderful post! I think people forget that being a vet is more than a day filled with puppies and kittens. It’s making difficult decisions and dealing with pet owners that can be overwhelmed with emotions that their pets are ill. I am grateful to my vet for being there for me and my pets, in good health and not so good health.
Cathy Armato says
I would have loved to be a Veterinarian, but I was not good at Science. I knew that would be a big hindrance so I never pursued it. I can’t believe they have a high suicide rate, I thought Dentists had the highest rate. That is so sad, people who help animals and other people shouldn’t feel badly about themselves, they should be full of pride!
Sometimes Cats Herd You says
There’s so much more to being a vet than those of us on the other side of the table often realize. Thanks for reminding us that it’s not all inoculations and treats.
Being a vet is hard, hard work, and I have to raise a paw to those who do it well! It’s a profession my human knows she could never do – she does not have the fortitude and bodily functions, when unpleasant, can make her physically ill.