What is it like to be a veterinarian?
This is a question that I am asked constantly – usually by young folk who have watched the TV shows that centre on some young good looking vet who leaps the fence of some poor suffering owner whilst the vet is carrying a medicine box in the left hand, a stethoscope around the neck, a bottle of penicillin in the top pocket and a mobile ultrasound machine in his right hand.
The vet charges up to the door, rings the bell and is greeted like a “long lost brother”. The animal wanders out, the vet takes one look, opens “his bag of tricks”, and with the help of a magic book of Diagnosis and Instant Treatment (that comes with a magic wand) and the vet waves the wand, the animal is instantly better and the owner vocalises his or her love for the vet and then stands at the door as the vet charges out of the house to attend the next case.
As he disappears into the distance the owner is heard to say “Thank you Dr Veterinarian – you have saved our lives. If you are ever in the area, please drop in and marry my daughter/son and have free access to my bank account”.
According to the television – veterinary life is one of excitement, love, laughter, hope and understanding, everyone is your friend and no animal ever bites or hurts you. The vet does not have to ask for payment and the owner never has to part with any money – that mystical world of “make believe” pays for everything.
It amazes me that TV vets usually do not need a nurse, a receptionist, a manager, kennel nurses or any other person to assist them. No wonder they don’t need money – there are no expenses!
If only real life was like TV – I would be happy, I would have a full head of hair, the belt that holds my pants up and I would be getting invitations from the Queen to come and treat her Corgies.
My wife has banned me from watching any vet shows anymore because I have a habit of snorting, making rude sounds, yelling out “Bull…t” a lot and otherwise ruining the show for anyone else who is unlucky enough to be in the room or the house with me at the time of viewing.
I think lawyers, police, ambulance workers, gardeners, builders etc. must feel the same way at times when they watch shows that predict their line of work. I’m positive there are lots of “builders” that get sick of explaining to the average client that they cannot build a fence, develop a garden, lay a concrete pathway, remove two walls of the house and extend the house from a 3 bedroom abode to a 5 bedroom abode with built in cupboards and its own bathroom as well as make the garage into a “granny flat” over the weekend.
That fact that “a TV personality who has a name that starts with Jamie” can do all the above in an hour does not mean that that is real – it is called “the world of make-believe”.
The real world of veterinary science “on the front line” – that is vets who have to deal with sick and injured animals as well as dealing with preventative care, is far removed from that “magic world”. There are times of laughter; there are times of joy and feeling proud of what you have done. But there are times of sadness, of being mentally and physically tired, disappointed, frustrated, and angry.
Our world is a roller coaster of emotions – we can sit with a sick animal all night, struggling to keep the animal alive and then in the morning have the owner question the account. We can be associated with an euthanasia of an old animal when the owners are rightfully upset and then have to walk into the next consultation room and do a vaccination of a puppy where the owners are laughing and enjoying the thrill of a new friend entering their lives.
We can work tirelessly for days on end trying to cure an animal with poisoning only to have the animal die and then the owner question our expertise. We can take an animal that is presented close to death and work for days and save the animal and the owner wants to name their child after us.
Owners have watched television and expect every veterinary hospital to have every piece of equipment and have every piece of information about every disease known to mankind but then make the comment “You cost more than my doctor” – even though the doctor does not have the equipment and will refer you to specialists once their world get tough.
There is a huge “drop out” of vets once they have graduated for 7 years (over 70% vets who graduate are not working front line vets after that time) because of the long hours and the huge emotional drain it has on them. We have one of the highest suicide rates per profession in the world. The profession can be very rewarding and it can be very desponding.
So why do we do it?
Every person has their own reasons, but for me – I believe every animal has the right to a healthy and happy life and every animal needs “a hero”. Someone who will speak up for them when they are injured or sick, someone who will “care” and someone who will “be there” when things get tough.
Is this profession for everyone? No it is not. As they say “It is a tough gig” and if you are in it for the money or the accolades – then do not start.
For anyone who is thinking of taking up this profession – have a talk to your local vet and really listen to what they say. Me – I am going to recommend that you should really think about another profession that will offer more financial rewards and more regular time for a normal life. I personally feel that you have to be a bit “weird” to became a front line vet and enjoy it.
I do enjoy being a vet and yes – I do think I am a bit weird.
So – I will continue to yell at the television and I will continue to roll my eyes every time an owner comes into the consultation room and tells me “I have Googled what is wrong with my dog”.
I will also continue to do the very best I can for every animal under my care and I will continue to train my staff so that collectively we can offer a haven of healing and safety for all animals that enter our building.
In the meantime I will start to go to the gym and “working out” to develop “a six pack”, I will go Bungy Jumping hoping to stretch my body another meter in length, I will go to Jenny Craig and try to lose 30kg, I will look at getting a hair transplant, I will investigate trying to acquire around 500mls Botox (to get rid of the life lines on my face) and I will write numerous letters to the television companies to see if they have need of one ageing, overworked, under appreciated, stressed, financially embarrassed veterinarian.
As long as they do not want me to jump over high fences, move fast, take my shirt off, swing on jungle vines and swim in wild rivers full of dangerous animals – then I am their man (it will also help if we only visit houses with ramps and non slip floors).