One of our area’s well-respected vets just sold her hospital and retired from practice—a typical scenario were it not for her success, her youth (she’s in her early forties) and the reason for her retirement: she had finally yielded to her increasingly unmanageable allergies…to cats.

Ironically, this vet had been regarded especially for her devotion to cat medicine. We in the profession will surely miss her, more so her clients, and not least of all, her patients, who will have to accustom themselves to a vet perhaps less attuned to the peccadilloes of their species. Yet from my point of view no one is likely to lament her retirement more than she will. I can’t believe anyone that good ever wants to hang it up.

The paradox in practical vet medicine is that an increasing percentage of vets suffer from allergies to pets, mirroring the significant rise in the incidence of allergic disease throughout the US in recent decades.

Before I had my first (and only) child eight years ago I, too, suffered from severe allergic rhinitis (hay fever) to cat dander and dust mites. Before this miracle of my fickle immune system, I was well acquainted with every known variety of allergy meds—Benadryl, Atarax, Seldane, Claritin, Allegra, and a few others whose names I can’t remember. Allergy vaccines were ineffective.

It sucked. I often had to leave an exam room during a sneezing fit. Surgery was commonly a two pair of gloves and two mask adventure when my eyes and nose would run uncontrollably.

During my vet school years I’d expected never to make it in practice as a result of my allergies. I applied to the MBA program at the Wharton school (a unique VMD/MBA program) so I’d have the choice to use my vet degree in non-clinical settings (such as government and the pharmaceutical industry).

It was during my two years in business school (when I decided its demands were not so heavy as vet school’s) that I accepted a full-time position at an emergency hospital and learned that life as a clinician was indeed manageable for me. I fell in love with practicing medicine.

Now when I hear people lament their inability to enter the veterinary field–my area vet’s early retirement notwithstanding—I urge them to reconsider. If their allergies are not too severe, it’s still a potential reality for them. Even if they never work with animals directly, they’ll still have the ability to help the lives of animals in ways unique to a veterinary professional, often to greater effect than those of us in traditional practice.