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Friday, April 17, 2009

The Viability Of Veterinary Medicine

Here's the first of several questions from a reader, Jessica. She has some good ones that merit discussion so I'll split them up and answer each in turn over the next couple of days.

Hi! My name's Jessica and right now I'm eighteen years old, trying to decide my future and all that... haha.

I've been considering going into some sort of medicine for some time now, and I think veterinary school would be a good option for me. I've always grown up with animals and loved animals, and I would like to make a difference in animals' lives and in the lives of their owners. So, I've been thinking a lot about being a veterinarian. But I was wondering if you could answer a couple of my questions on it.

First... do you think it's easy to find a job and a practice to join right out of veterinary college (assuming I don't take an internship or residency?). Also, my mom is wary on this path because she thinks with the economy, it would be hard to find a job, since "people won't be as willing to take their dogs to the vet" etc. Do you think that's true?

Actually, it's very easy to find a job as a vet, especially if you have some flexibility about where you live and practice. There is a lot of talk about shortages of veterinarians in various parts of the US (I can't say about other countries), so depending on where you want to go, you could get something quickly. If you have any interest in large animal medicine or public health, these are the areas where there is the most need. I've never known a veterinarian to be unemployed because of lack of opportunities.

The aspect of the economy is actually an interesting one, and something that's being discussed a lot here in the US. Interestingly, people tend to take their pets to a vet MORE in economic hard times. They may not have a lot to spend, but their pets are a source of great comfort, and they want to take care of them. Yes, many vets have seen reductions in their client numbers, but it's not everyone. My own practice has been open about 2 1/2 years. In 2008 we saw a 59% increase in our business compared to 2007. So far in 2009 we are averaging about an 80% growth over the same period in 2008! You definitely can't look at my location and tell that there is a recession anywhere nearby. I'm practicing north of Atlanta, in an area on the border between suburban and rural, so I'm not in a high income area. My situation may not be the rule, but it's also not the exception.

I feel that there is no concern about going into veterinary medicine because of economy situations. In fact, a veterinary degree is a great thing to have, as it's extremely versatile. You can do everything from private practice (large and small animal) to research, specialty to general practice, working for a government (federal or state), teaching, and just about anything else. There are always opportunities for a vet with the right skills and interests.

Here's a suggestion I have about looking for a job. First, find an area that you want to practice. Then find the address of every single veterinary practice in the area you are considering. Send all of them a resume and letter of introduction. Follow that up with a call to the hiring manager or practice owner. You'll be surprised at what might happen! I did this before I graduated and sent out about 40 letters, calling each of them. I ended up with about a dozen face-to-face interviews. That led to offers from three different practices, and I got to pick the one I liked best. What is most interesting is that the one I eventually chose (and worked at for almost 2 years) had never advertised for a new vet!

Jessica, also keep in mind that you won't be graduating from veterinary school for at least 7-8 years assuming everything goes well and you get in on your first attempt (something not everyone does). A lot can change with the economy during that time, and we may be having a completely different conversation in 2017.

More of Jessica's questions tomorrow!