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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Work/Life Balance

Erin asks a great question...

Hi, I have been interested in being a vet since I can remember but I just wanted to ask, how do you fit you family life/ love life around your work if you have to work so hard all the time till your about 30 before you've become a proper vet?

If someone finds the ultimate answer to this they can make a living writing books and giving seminars.  Honestly, this is something that is really hard to do.  In my opinion it's about priorities and what you want at any given point in your life.  Also remember that there are very few things you have a "right" to.  I believe in a strong family and know that it's hard to be alone and not have a good love-life.  However, you may have to sacrifice part of this to get what you want and shouldn't feel like you are entitled to such luxuries.  Acquiring an advanced degree is very difficult and takes a great investment of time, money, and effort.  When you're in veterinary school this needs to be your single priority if you want to do well.  You will spend the huge majority of your time attending classes, labs, or studying.  If you shirk these you may not make it through school and therefore may not reach your goals. Thankfully your schedule gets more reasonable once you're a practicing vet.

Now this doesn't mean that you can't have friends, relationships, or any kind of social life.  It just makes it more difficult.  Break-ups and divorces are not uncommon during medical schools because of the immense strains on time and emotion, often leaving little for a significant other.  But with a little balance, you can have life outside of school.

First, always keep in mind that your education is your priority, and make sure your family and potential relationships are aware of this also.  Keep up with your studies (always easy to say and hard to do) so you're not having to cram at the last minute.  Schedule at least an evening of "personal time" every week.  You can't have this time every night, so don't expect it, but you'll go crazy if you don't have some each week.  This personal time can be used for dates, family dinners, social events, or a quiet evening at home.  Keep a calendar and schedule so you can keep everything straight and know when you do and do not have free time.  Thankfully you'll have holidays and summers to get caught up on relationships and rest.  You can also find books that will help with general work/life balance and those can be applied to veterinarians.

One big hint though.  As hard as it is to think about, I advise against trying to start a family and have kids while in veterinary school.  It's hard enough if you already have kids, but if you're dealing with pregnancy and an infant it can make it nearly impossible.  After having stated that I'm fully expecting to get strongly worded comments from female readers and vets.  Note that I'm saying it's not impossible, just very difficult.

Once you're a vet you won't have as much to tie you up after hours since you won't be studying and preparing for exams.  So even though you're working often long hours, it is easier than being in school.  So even as a new vet it's simply the challenges of having a life while working, something that everyone faces.

Erin, this may not have helped much, as this is something I've struggled with myself.  If any readers have any other hints and suggestions, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would love to hear how you've managed to have a life while being a vet.


  1. It's important to consider what kind of veterinarian you'd like to be. I'm a solo large veterinarian practicing in a rural area, and my life is very different from Dr. Bern's. My hours increased after graduation from veterinary school, and increased again when I started my own practice.

    Choose your specialty carefully, and choose your partner wisely.

    Also consider your debt load, which if significant, will affect the next 20-30 years of your life.

  2. That's a very good point, and I'll admit that I was thinking of the average non-owner small animal vet. Other areas of medicine will have greater or lesser time commitments. Anytime you own a practice you're pretty much consumed with it, often to the exclusion of everything else (one of the many reasons I will not own my own practice).


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