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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Too Old For Vet School?

I'm at a conference this week, so I won't have good daily practice experiences to share.  Anticipating this event, I've saved up some emails to answer this week.  The first one is from Jeff....

I have wanted to be a veterinarian every since I can remember even before I knew what a vet did.  I also have taken some detours along the way and now at 36 yo I want to start the journey of becoming one. I do not like working in an office at a computer.  I do import/export for a Customs Broker/Freight Forwarder.  
I know I have a long road ahead of me but I can think of nothing else that I want to do with my life.  I have talked to other vets who discouraged me from doing it because of my age but damn them. I can do this.
Do you think it is worth it?  And no, it is not just because I love animals. There is much more to it than that.
Thoughts, concerns, ideas.  I know I need to get a lot more animal experience, shadowing experience, etc. LOL. 

Jeff, I'm a firm believer that it's never too late to follow a dream.  I know of at least 10 people in my own veterinary class who were over 30 and had previous careers before entering vet school.  One was in the Air Force, one a school teacher, and one worked for IBM.  While 36 is not a traditional age, I certainly don't think that you're too old.

However, you're going to face challenges that your younger classmates might not.  First is a big financial burden.  Even if you're not making much money now you're not going to be able to continue that job in school and will have to survive on a fraction of your current salary.  You'll likely have some pretty intimidating debt loads upon graduation, and a starting salary isn't a great one in this profession, at least considering the amount of debt we rack up.  If you have a family to support, this might not be a viable option.

You'll also have to look at your retirement goals.  At 36 you have less time to build a retirement than at 26, but that also depends on how diligent you have been up to this point.  But you'll also have to worry about your loans, so that is less money to save for retirement.  Those 10 years can make a big difference.

I would peruse this blog for discussions on the current state of the veterinary profession and the financial outlooks.  It's not pretty, and no matter how much you may love it, it's becoming increasingly difficult for new graduates to simply make ends meet.

Lastly, you absolutely need to get some experience working in the veterinary field.  Most clients have no idea what the daily life of a vet is like, which is one of the reasons I started this blog several years ago.  But reading my blog is still no replacement for practical experience.  You may work for a vet and decide that it's not the right option for you after all.  Or you might discover a greater passion.  One of my most recently hired employees has realized that he wants to make a career in this field, even though he is currently a receptionist.  He is learning the realities of the profession and still loves it.  Currently he's planning on gaining some more experience and then working to become a licensed technician.  So working for a vet can help you decide if it's really what you want to do.

Best of luck, Jeff!


  1. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you have to, and it definitely doesn't mean that you should.

    I graduated from vet school in my early 30s, after a number of years in another career I liked but didn't "love". I completed my pre-veterinary credits at night, after work, then took the plunge, figuring I'd be content for the rest of my life. That hasn't happened.

    Veterinary school all but destroyed my carefully designed plan to save for retirement. My debt is a small mortgage, and it's much smaller than the average debt students currently face. After all that, I'm not doing anything close to what I'd planned upon graduation from veterinary school because several years out of school I realized I disliked what I was doing and changed career paths within veterinary medicine entirely. Shadowing is much different from actually doing, IME.

    Now I'm fairly happy with my little corner of veterinary medicine, and reasonably confident I'll be doing it for a while, but those financial choices are forever. I hope I don't face any serious illnesses or injuries in the near future, because there's no way I can retire early or even "on time". It's disconcerting to watch my friends, most of whom are in their 40s and 50s just like me, develop serious illnesses, undergo major surgery, etc. Unlike many of them, I may have to work until I die. That's a sobering thought.

  2. Hi Jenna,

    I feel like my situation could be very similar to yours. I am in a job I don't despise, but definitely don't "love" either. I am highly considering a switch to vet med for the single reason of wanting to love my job, which would have me graduating in my early 30's (i already have all the pre reqs). I have shadowed a ton , but I am terrified I will end up 4 years from now with a lot more debt and a job i still don't absolutely love going into everyday. Some days I think i should just stay with my current comfortable situation, and spend time enjoying my own pets ( a dog, horses, etc) instead of someone elses. Is there anyway I would be able to get ahold of you to ask you a couple more questions.

  3. >>Some days I think i should just stay with my current comfortable situation, and spend time enjoying my own pets ( a dog, horses, etc) instead of someone elses.>>

    This. I am now working mostly in a regulatory capacity. What I do is fairly clear-cut. Perhaps I enjoy this job more than my original career, but what I do was literally never mentioned as a career option in veterinary school. Financially, veterinary school was an incredibly stupid decision, and keep in mind I graduated over a decade ago, with much less debt than the average student graduating in 2013. Had I stayed in my old career, I'd have been making at least what I make now as a veterinarian, and probably more, with nothing but a bachelor's degree in English, years of experience and my brain. Oh, and with no student loan debt.

    Looking back, I'd thought I'd be working in a rural mixed practice, and I did for a while. It was a miserable experience. Working with other people's animals isn't as much fun as it looks from the outside. I sure don't miss those "I love my pet like a family member, but I can only scrape together $100 for this serious/annoying/longstanding problem. Can you help me at or below cost because I'm a nice person, and can you hold my hand on the phone twice a day, half an hour each conversation, for the next month?" or, "I am not a nice person, I didn't follow any of your suggestions, my animal has been suffering for days because I didn't want to be charged an emergency fee because that's a rip-off, but will you hug me and cry with me after you euthanize my pet, because you should, because you're supposed to love animals, and what do you mean euthanasia costs that much - I'll shoot it instead, which means I'll resentfully allow you to euthanize it, comfort me, then bounce the check."

    Those classes on burnout and compassion fatigue did nothing to prevent me from developing both, though I could easily recognize the symptoms and self-diagnose. A good thing, because my health insurance plan in private practice didn't cover mental health services. Having left full-time clinical practice I no longer require mental health services. Go figure.

    Overall, I don't recommend veterinary school to anyone who does not have the means to pay for most of it and graduate with less than $100K in debt. If you're older, you will have fewer working years to pay back those loans and accumulate savings for retirement. You'll also be giving up four years of your prime working life to veterinary school, so there's an opportunity cost there.

    If you have any specific questions, ask away here. Mine isn't the only opinion out there, and a number of practicing veterinarians often post here.

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  5. Im in my 30's and working on trying to obtain my bachelors degree, I received my associates degree when I was 27, I took a year off of school after that. then continued. The pre-veterinary courses are the hardest. There were several classes I had to retake over and over again, But I say if this is your dream go for it. I'm not giving up.

  6. Hi
    Ok I'm terrified of he answers I may get.
    But I'm only considering. I'm 42. Have an associates degree and prob about 1.5 away from a bachelors. My life has considerably changed in the past year. I was trained as a vet tech in the late 90's. Where I worked in a 10+ dr practice. After I left that I started up my own pet sitting biz where I had 40+ of variety of pets I took care of for 11years. I'm a volunteer at a rescue where I care for he horses and the cats there. I am a volunteer at our local zoo preparing the animals daily meals. Just a year and a half ago I started to work for a mobile vet, one doc 3 part time techs. I love it. The good the bad the ugly the gross the cute ect. But I want more. Ever since I was 8 I wanted to be a vet.
    .., so honestly is it too late?.... should I just go and finish being a CVT?

    1. The biggest concern with your age would be your debt load. By the time you graduate and start practicing you'll be nearly 50. Average debt load coming out of vet school is over $150,000 and increasing rapidly every year. Unless you are a superb financial planner or have enough savings to not incur debt, you will be 70-80 years old before you pay off your loans and can retire. If this fits into your life plans, go for it. But I would seriously sit down with a professional financial advisor before making this decision.


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