So You Want to Be a Vet? Here’s What it Takes
My mom got up at 3 a.m. to watch the Royal Wedding; she said all her teacher buddies were doing it. A scant handful of my Facebook friends were up, status updates proclaiming their excitement. In my world, sleep takes precedence over the "wedding of the century." However, I couldn’t ignore the spectacle. I DVR’d the Royal Wedding.
I suspect the whole fairy tale princess aspect of the event enthralled more than a few dewy eyed girls. (My boys had zero interest, I’m afraid.) These fresh faced little girls, dreaming of being swept up out of the crowd by Prince Harry, made me think of the similar looks I get from some little girls at work.
Their parents usually slip into the conversation the fact that their little princess wants to be a vet when she grows up. I remember my mom saying that to my vet when I was a little girl. She told me to get good grades and work for a vet. It’s one of the few memories that has stuck with me.
Well, I followed her advice exactly. I started working for my mom when I was 15, as a lowly kennel worker. I learned the field from the bottom up, as a kennel worker, receptionist, and technician. My grades were good enough to get me into vet school, and here I am.
Over the years I’ve become a bit of a cynic about the sparkly eyed little girl vet wannabes. Aside from the obvious (they think it’s all about puppies and kitties and hearts and flowers), they also often seem to lack the incentive to do the dirty work involved with this field. They just want to come in and "observe," not "work."
I think the experience I got working for the vet clinic all those years ago was priceless. I got to see the cool stuff: the surgeries, the puppies and kittens, the doctors (who all taught me a lot).
I also learned about the not-so-cool stuff:
- Kennel, tech and receptionist work — which is hard (appreciate what your staff does)
- Dogs and cats get sick on the holidays and weekends — suck it up and do the work; they need you
- You see a lot of pus, maggots, poop, pee, blood and gore — and you can’t get sick, you have to deal with it
- People are mean — and yet you have to suck it up and be nice to them anyways
My first day on the job I was bitten, had to clean a TOILET and MOP a floor for the first time! I was horrified.
"I want to be a VET, not a JANITOR!" I yelled at my mom. "Tough," my mom replied. "You have to learn to work. Go back and do what they tell you to do, and do it well." Her final words of wisdom: "You have to start somewhere; pay your dues."
As a 15-year-old know-it-all I was completely mortified, but I did what she said. I now have an excellent work ethic, if I do say so myself.
Still interested in my profession?
Here’s my advice on what you need to become a vet:
- A cast-iron stomach (if you are squeamish, this is not the job for you).
- An interest in science (as an aside: you don’t have to be good at math to be a vet, in case that is a concern for you; it was for me).
- A strong work ethic (and not just for school; try to get a job working for a vet clinic and learn vet med from the bottom up, even though it’s hard work).
- You have to at least like animals. Notice I didn’t say love. Vet school interviewers hate when you say you want to be a vet because you love animals. As a vet, you have to do things to the animals that are not nice. No animal likes to get a shot, be restrained, poked and prodded, etc. Love them too much and you might not be able to stomach the less warm and fuzzy aspects of the job (another aside: it’s okay to be allergic to animals and be a vet, if you are so inclined. There are a lot of us out there; we take shots).
- You have to at least like people, even if it’s just a little. They pay your salary. If you have no people skills, you will have a very difficult time being a practicing veterinarian. God knows there are plenty of vets out there with the bedside manner of a turnip, but they’re usually surgeons, ER vets, behaviorists, zoo/wildlife vets, or have a very small client base. Of course, I’m mostly joking; there are turnips and superstars in every discipline of vet med (please don’t yell at me). Seriously though, I’ve known vets who are absolutely brilliant, but clients hated them because they weren’t nice. And then there were the vets who were complete morons who had legions of clients that swore they were the best vet on the planet. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.
So I think that covers the high points. I didn’t really talk about school grades; that’s pretty much the common denominator. Vet schools aren’t lacking for applicants with good grades and test scores. My goal was to hit the intangible aspects required for the vet skill set. (And maybe weed out some of the princesses — or princes — who show up and quit after the first time they are asked to pick up some dog poop.)
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll