Translate This Blog

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is It Worth It?

Jessica sends in this timely question...

I came across your veterinary blog the other day when I was searching the internet, and I happened across a post discussing if you could do everything over again would you go to veterinary school again? From the post it sounded as if there were many times when you regretted your decision for various reasons. The reason I am emailing you is that my situation is unique, I had planned on being a veterinarian most of my life (I love animals and come from a family of professionals), but ended up switching for various reasons (e-calls and long hours being one reason) to optometry once I got to college. To make a long story short I got accepted to optometry school and not long after decided that it wasn't everything I thought it was, and thought that I would really miss not having any animal interaction. Unfortunately I was already in the middle of a large amount of school debt and decided I better finish my degree so that I would have a way to pay off my debt in case vet didn't work out for some reason. I am now in my last year and will graduate this coming May. I am in the process of deciding if I want to apply for vet school this application period. I am now spending time shadowing vets on the weekends to try to make a decision about if veterinary is something that I really want to pursue. (I don't want to get another expensive, time-consuming degree, if I am not 100% sure this time). I am trying to get all the opinions and viewpoints on the career I can, which is why I am emailing you.

Unfortunately when I was shadowing optometrists before I applied, they all made it sound like the perfect career, and didn't talk about any of the downsides. As with any job optometry has plenty of downsides, including e-calls and a very repetitive nature. If you get a chance I would be interested to hear why you often regret your decision. I know in your blog you said that you wouldn't be the person you are without the career. I can understand that, but disregarding everyone you've met etc. because of the career, would you still become a vet again?

 My main thing is that I like the science etc. behind optometry ( I like diagnosing, treating, ocular disease etc.), I just miss the fact that there is no animal interaction, and optometry tends to get very repetitive/boring very fast. I know its a good career overall, but I know as an optometrist I will never look forward to going into the clinic everyday, and will count down the hours until I get out at the end of the day. Do you enjoy going into work as a vet everyday, or is it just a job? I get annoyed if I have to stay late for patients in optometry, and I know that every pet has an owner and that there is a lot more people skills involved in veterinary that most people think, but I feel like staying late for an animal would be much more tolerable.

I would really appreciate if you wouldn't mind giving me your insight into the career without any sugar coating. Any viewpoints help, since I don't want to put myself into more debt and take 4 more years of my life getting a degree that I just find mediocre once I'm done.

I've actually been putting off answering this letter because I wanted to make a more objective reply.  However, this week I've had cranky clients and aggressive pets and haven't reached that point.  So I thought rather than delaying further I'd give an honest answer.  Now there are several points to reply to, so I'll take each one in turn.

First of all is the financial reality.  Jessica, if you're already in a lot of debt, it wouldn't be a good idea to go straight into veterinary college.  The average debt load of a newly graduated vet is quickly pushing $90-100,000, and the average starting salary is around $55,000.  Now total your existing debt from ophthalmology school and see if you can live off that salary.  You'll be spending thousands of dollars each month in loan repayments, making basic living a challenge.  In fact, this is one of the biggest problems facing veterinary medicine right now, as we have a higher debt-to-income ration than any other medical professional and it's only getting worse.  Veterinarians make about 1/3 of what a physician with the same experience will make.  You have to be realistic about this and decide if you can make your loan repayments after graduation, keeping in mind that even a bankruptcy filing won't eliminate student loans.

Staying late for animals can be just as annoying as staying late for humans.  When you've been working a 10+ hour day, you just want to go home, relax, and spend time with friends or family.  No job is more important that your loved ones, and a veterinary career can interfere with it just as much as any other medical job.  Believe me, you'll get tired of those clients who come in at the last minute for "sudden emergencies" that have been going on for a week and could have waited until the next morning.  As you stated, you'll be dealing with people just as much as you would in any other aspect of medicine, and they're the ones that will annoy you regardless of what field you're in.

Being very honest and blunt, this is a job to me.  Almost every day I'd rather be anywhere else than at work, and enjoy the days when I don't need to be there.  Now there are certainly things I enjoy about being at work, and it's not like every single moment is dreadful.  I started feeling this way about three years into practice, and it hasn't improved in the 10 years since then.  I still get excited about certain things, and do have fun with my staff.  But yes, this is a way to pay bills and put food on the table, no longer a calling or something I'm very passionate about.

Taking away every other aspect of my life and who I am?  Well, that's hard to do, as I am who I am today because of what has happened in my life, including my job.  But if I could wave a magic wand and keep everything the same except for my job, would I still be a vet?  Truthfully, no.  I have discovered that my passion lies much more in teaching than in practicing medicine.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd likely take a course to being a college professor.  Yes, I know this had its downsides also, as I've actually taught at a local college.  But that job was the best one I've ever had, even with the challenges and hassles.  I hated leaving it and going back into practice.

Jessica, please realize that I am very much in the minority in my opinions.  I read a study several years ago that looked at job satisfaction among US veterinarians.  Only about 20% didn't like their career choice, and 80% were satisfied or very satisfied with their job.  There are a lot of great things to be said about being a vet, and it can be an excellent career choice.  I wouldn't want you to avoid becoming a vet on my opinion alone if this is your true passion.

Pros:  Good salary compared to many professions.  Respect from most people (surveys have ranked vets in the top 5-10 professions that people trust most, and above any other medical professional other than nurses).  Interesting and varied cases.  Great interaction with animals.  Lots of career options.  Most vets find it to be a true calling and a satisfying job choice.  Great intellectual challenges.  Opportunities to own your own practice (if this interests you).

Cons:  Low salary compared to debt load.  Often long hours.  Risk of physical injury every day from aggressive animals.  Having to be responsible for life-or-death decisions.  Having pressure to be perfect every time in every case.  Sometimes difficult clients.

Jessica, I hope this helps in your decision, though I strongly advise you to continue to get lots of opinions.  I'm sure some of my veterinary readers will chime in with their own opinions, which are always welcome.  And hopefully I haven't tarnished my image to my readers, as there are still many interesting things to share about the realities of life as a veterinarian.