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Friday, July 10, 2015

Decisions, Decisions.....Veterinary Specialties And Choices

Here's an email from a very excited reader..........

 My name is Alexis and I am currently in high school, going to my second year.  I am contacting you because I am in desperate need of advice and guidance! I know I have 3 years to still figure things out but I do not want to miss classes that could ruin everything for me. I want to be like you and become a Veterinarian. My love for animals is unbelievable and I always want to help them in their time of need because they are my life's passion! However, my mother has talked me into veterinary practice. I do wish to specialize but the problem is that thier are just so many things I'm willing to do. I really dont know how to explain this so please, bare with me. I was looking at this website at what I could do and saw some things that caught my eye. Zoology,  medicine, surgery, horses, and working with the ordinary household pets! I really want to do all those things, just not sure if I can speciaize in more than one thing. 

First, Alexis, spend some time searching my blog for "student", as I've posted many times on answering questions about what it takes to become a vet and what veterinarians go through.  A major point of my blog is to show what daily life as a vet is like, so really go through and see if what I post is what you want to do with your life.  Also, be VERY aware of the financial challenges of being a vet, as it's not easy to survive with the amount of debt we have.

Now on to your main questions.

Veterinary medicine is an incredibly varied profession.  Humans are the only animals on the planet that we are not allowed to practice on!  So that leaves all of the rest of animal life open for you to consider. Those choices can be overwhelming, because there are so many of them.  At some point you'll have to make a decision, but that's likely nearly 10 years in your future.

The large majority of veterinarians become small animal general practitioners.  This is a good fit for most of us because we get to do a little of everything.  Every day I see dogs and cats, but almost every week I'll see hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, reptiles, and other small pets.  I do surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, cardiology, radiology, internal medicine, behavior, and just about everything else.  However, I and other GPs are "jacks of all trades and masters of none."  While I'm a good surgeon, I'm nowhere near the skills of a specialist.  While I can handle many kinds of skin disorders, I'm certainly not a dermatologist.  I can read most x-rays, but miss subtleties that a radiologist would catch easily.  

If you want to dabble in large animals and livestock, but don't want to give up the pets, you could go into mixed practice.  These vets do a little of everything and have probably some of the broadest knowledge and patients of anyone in private practice.  However, it's a very rough life as the demands of working with farm animals keep it from being a 9-5 job.

When I went into vet school I knew that I only wanted to work with pets.  Growing up I had an interest in zoo animals, but later found out how competitive and hard that job was.  During vet school I considered specialties in cardiology, surgery, and behavior, but eventually decided against these options because I didn't want to do more training and school, as well as the fact that I wanted to work with healthy pets some of the time.  It would have taken another six or more years to get that additional education, and tens of thousands of more dollars in debt (back in the 1990s....more expensive nowadays).  To me it wasn't worth it, especially when I could do most of that in general practice.

How do you decide?

If you're a sophomore in high school, you have at least 11 years until you graduate vet school, assuming that everything goes smooth for you.  Believe me, that's plenty of time, and you'll change a lot over the next seven years before you start that part of your training.  You'll learn a lot about yourself during that time, including what you really want to do.  Truthfully, don't spend time trying to figure it out now.  By the time I started vet school I was a very different person than I was in high school, with different goals and interests.  

Get a job working for vets.  I had experience both in small and mixed animal practices before I graduated college, and it gave me a good taste of what I might be able to do.  There is no better way to get a feel for what life as a vet is like.  In fact, most veterinary schools require that you've worked in the field before you will be accepted as a student.

And finally, you'll not really know what you want to do until you're actually in vet school.  Most of my classmates changed their minds at least once during those four years, or at least entertained the idea of a specialty.  Until you're actually doing the work you're not going to have a good feel for whether or not you'll like it.

You have plenty of time, Alexis!