People tend to idealize what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great profession and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to go to vet school, graduate, and practice. But I cringe when someone says to me something along the lines of, “Oh, my niece just loves animals and wants to be a vet when she grows up.”

Loving animals is good … but does she also love dealing with owners and their financial considerations, doing what needs to be done even when the patient's owner has a difference of opinion, and often being so busy that you may get home in the evening and realize you never took a break to pee?

The best way for anyone who is interested in a career in veterinary medicine to get an unbiased look at what is actually involved is to volunteer or work in an animal hospital for an extended period of time. Being exposed to the realities of the job has a way of weeding out all but the most dedicated aspirants. This is exactly what we want to happen, what with most graduating veterinary students carrying a debt-load of around $125,000. You want to figure out vet school is not for you before taking out those loans!

I don’t know of any other way for people to really understand what it’s like to be a veterinarian, but the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has come up with a video game that gives it a go.

Here’s how the game is described on the AVMA’s website:

Start out as New Veterinarian and work your way up the ranks to become Chief Veterinarian of AVMA Animal Hospital. The quicker you are at diagnosing and treating the animals, the more points you’ll score. Can’t get to all the animals in time? Just try again and build on your skills. Learn about each animal's ailments, diagnostics, and treatments as you race the clock and treat the animals. During the game you'll have the opportunity to treat dogs, cats, guinea pigs, birds and turtles. Not only is the game a fun way for children in grades 4-8 to learn about veterinary medicine, it's a fun game to play for any animal lover.

I noodled around with the game for a few minutes and I think it might be fun … if I wasn’t already a vet. Give it a try and tell us what you think. What I found most realistic was actually the game’s promotional video. I loved how as the veterinarian’s “day” went on, the speed became increasingly frenetic. The pace of the Associate Veterinarian level felt pretty familiar. All of you owners out there can probably empathize with the “clients” sitting in the overcrowded waiting room.

"AVMA Animal Hospital" is available for iPads and Android tablets and can also be played online.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock