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Friday, January 18, 2013

Human Or Veterinary Medicine?

Nick emailed me....

I was wondering what advice or insight you could give to a student who is currently trying to decide between veterinary or human medicine as a profession. I currently work as a biomedical engineer in an academic research setting; I'm planning to go back to school in the next few years. I had always planned to practice human medicine, but I really love animals and it would make me very happy to be around them and help them for my work. 

Snarky answer:  
Do you want to make good money and have a decent quality of life?  Choose human medicine.  Do you want to barely survive and have a hard time paying back overwhelming debt?  Choose veterinary medicine.

Real answer:
Don't choose veterinary medicine just because you love animals.  You will be faced with many difficult situations on a daily basis where you are unable to help the pets because the client can't afford it or decided not to do anything.  You'll have your hands tied by clients when you know you could do more.  And you're going to see animals suffer.  It's not easy, but neither is human medicine.  At least in human medicine you don't typically have as many limits on your diagnostics and treatments.  

In veterinary medicine you will have patients biting and scratching at you every day, and will routinely get feces, pus, blood, urine, and other random bodily fluids on you.  We don't have to worry as much about transmission of disease to us from our patients, which is a big concern with human doctors.  But it's still not pleasant and I don't think the human medical professionals have to worry as much about bodily injury in routine work.

Despite my attempt at humor, the financial prospects are much better for human doctors than veterinarians.  Take a scan through the past six months of my blog and you'll see lots of discussions on this topic, most of which will be disheartening for those wanting to enter the profession.

Really it boils down to what interests you the most and where your passions lie.  I could never do human medicine as I find it rather gross and repulsive.  Strange, right?  All of the things I see and do every day would make me sick if I saw it on a person.  I'll even pass out if I have to have my own blood collected!  So you may find yourself in a similar situation, finding one aspect less appealing than another.

Also keep in mind that you can be a human doctor and still work around animals.  You can volunteer at an animal shelter, support a rescue organization, or even help with programs that allow pets to come in hospitals as part of therapy.  You won't be a doctor for them, but you can still help them and continue that love.

Best of luck, Nick!


  1. I currently work in a lab at a medical school as a technician. It's amazing what some of the MDs get to do with animals. I know of an otolaryngologist who does cochlear implants in people and in monkeys. I also saw a presentation about a project collaboration between the research veterinarians and plastic surgeons, in which the plastic surgeon performed facial reconstruction surgery on a rhesus macaque. If research is something that interests you, maybe you could look into being a clinician-scientist (although it seems like these professional have the longest hours since they see human patients throughout the day and have all the responsibilities of a doctor, but still have to make time to go to the lab).

    There's many ways in which you can combine both of your passions, whether one is more of a hobby or both are part of your work, and now is the best time to explore those options. Plus when you go in for interviews for either school interviewers may ask things like "why don't you choose such and such career instead if you are so passionate about that?" or "are you willing to give up such and such hobby/interest to meet the demands of becoming a doctor/vet?"

  2. Thank you and I saw and read your post! I am thinking which would I choose, because we have a clinic business. I am currently a med lab sci student, and one year to go I will graduate. At first I decided to pursue doctor of medicine, but as days pass by I slowly realize that this is not what I am passionate about. I do love animals, and so I want to be a veterinarian. But the sad part is my parents assumed I will handle our business because they thought I will pursue medicine. I am so confused right now :(


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