The Secret Lives of Veterinary Doctors

There are dozens of peculiar and fascinating things about your veterinarian that you’ve probably never considered. And certainly these aren’t concepts they would ever bring up with you in routine conversation. As with most professions, the perception of a typical “day in the life” of a veterinarian differs greatly from what transpires in reality.


Here’ a list of five things I think will help you to better understand your veterinarian and provide insight into some of their typical daily struggles, some of which are just a tiny bit larger than others.


1) Your veterinarian has a lot of debt.


If you are lucky enough to have a recent graduate as your vet, you are probably thrilled with knowing they are trained in the most current available diagnostic and therapeutic options.


What you may not be aware of is that your newly minted doctor is likely saddled with a huge student loan burden that adds a tremendous amount of stress to his or her daily life.


New grads exit veterinary school with an average of $165,000 in debt. Payments on such loans can surpass those of a monthly mortgage. Starting salaries rarely compensate for this. The tenuous financial situation for most veterinarians is our profession’s worst secret. 


2) Your veterinarian is a master multi-tasker.


Nearly every successful vet I know is adept at juggling at least 4 to 5 different “crises” at a time, while maintaining an air of confidence and calmness.


Primary care vets are expected to be radiologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, dentists, endocrinologists, and often psychologists.


This can entail trying to unscramble a backed up appointment schedule because an owner showed up 45 minutes late for their appointment, while simultaneously taking the time to console a distraught owner who has just received devastating news, and disciplining feuding staff members.


We can exit an exam room after euthanizing a beloved aged companion we’ve known since puppyhood and within a minute regain our composure and move on to seeing an excited family and their new puppy coming in for its first exam.


Our capacity for multi-tasking is remarkable and, all too often, understated.


3) Your veterinarian is not an animal psychologist/communicator!


Inevitably, when someone I’ve only just met finds out I’m a veterinarian they will ask me a question about why their pet engages in a particularly peculiar activity or behavior.


Vets receive rudimentary training in animal behavior in veterinary school and we learn the basics of how to help owners cope with things like separation anxiety, aggression, and basic obedience training. For most of us, veterinary specialists who pursued board certification in veterinary behavior are our “go to people” for all things behavior related.


However, neither the general practitioner nor the specialist are able to enter the mind of your dog or cat or horse or guinea pig and tell you why it is they engage in activities you are concerned are unusual or abnormal. 


Think of all the weird behaviors your friends and family members have  would you expect anyone to be able to explain them?


4) Veterinarians take their work home with them.


OK, maybe not in a literal sense. If we really took your pets home with us, it would be quite counterproductive to our livelihood; and yes, it would be very illegal. However, rest assured, we constantly worry about your pets.


As a veterinarian married to another veterinarian I can tell you that at least 75 percent of my conversations with my husband revolve around work related topics and discussions about cases we’ve seen.


We bring home the good (success stories about the pets we’ve helped feel better, fractures we’ve repaired, patients we’ve deemed cancer free) and the bad (those that became sick from treatment, those we couldn’t help, those who died). 


We wake up in the middle of the night and call to check in on our cases. We work during our vacations and holidays.


We carry our work burden far beyond the hallways of the hospitals where we work and willingly bring it directly into our homes. And we envy those who can leave their work at work.


5) Your veterinarian never stopped studying after graduation.


Many states require veterinarians to maintain a certain amount of continuing education credits in order to keep their license to practice up to date. This entails attending large-scale conferences and smaller local lectures, reading articles and textbooks, and in some cases, even taking exams! 


We do this because we have to, but in many cases, we also do it because we want to. 


We understand veterinary medicine is an ever-changing field and that in order to offer our patients the most current diagnostic and treatment options, we ourselves must stay current on the research that offers that information.


We truly embody the definition of being lifelong learners.


Veterinarians are interesting people... when we’re not worrying about time, money, lawsuits, or inadvertently upsetting an owner.


We’ll never stop worrying about our patients though. It’s practically ingrained in our DNA.


But that’s something you probably already knew about us.



Dr. Joanne Intile



Image: XiXinXing / Shutterstock

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