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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Struggling As A Vet

Katrina emailed me and I wanted to respond publicly because this is a very relevant topic, and one I've touched on a few times before.

I've recently discovered your blog and have been really interested in a lot of your posts, views and opinions. I'm a Canadian studying veterinary medicine in the UK. I came here because it didn't take as long to get qualified (6 years as opposed to 8 years in Canada). I liked the idea of coming straight to vet school after finishing high school and not having to complete an undergrad first. 
I'm currently in my fourth year and to be honest, I'm losing the will to carry on.  
I have wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life and when I first came to vet school, I was bursting with enthusiasm and love for the career.. but over the years I have struggled with the immense stress and pressure associated with a course like this, felt disheartened by the realities of the profession; a very stressful and highly demanding job .. and not to mention discouraged by the current employment prospects for newly graduated vets. 

My final two years ahead of me are going to be the most difficult of them all, and I won't succeed unless my heart is completely in it. 
Right now, I feel like giving up.. but I know I might regret this in the future. 

I was just wondering if you had ever encountered difficulties like this.. and how you managed to pull through? 
Or if perhaps you wish you had gone down a different path and pursued a different career? 
And also.. with your career as a vet, do you have time for yourself, your own interests, your family, etc.. or is much of your life "your job" if you know what I mean? 

Going through veterinary school is one of the toughest things a person can do.  It's physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.  I think many of us have points where we wonder if we can go on and make it through. Somehow most of us do so.  Personally, I don't have any real secret.  I'm just so stubborn that I don't seem to know when to stop.  Often when faced with adversity I stop looking at the long view and just concentrate moment to moment, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.  That's how I keep going.

When we enter school we do have a certain rosy attitude, filled with hope and idealism.  As we go through we realize that good intentions aren't enough and it takes a lot of hard work.  The closer you get to graduation the more you realize that you're actually going to have to find a way to pay back the loans and somehow make a living.  Reality comes crashing down and that can be discouraging.

All of this was hard enough 16 years ago when I graduated.  I can't imagine having to deal with it now, as the situation is different and far more challenging.  Heck, I get depressed looking at and talking about the prospects for the profession nowadays, and I have a very good, secure job.  

I have dealt with depression many times and for many years, but am finding ways to overcome it.  Part of that is the stubbornness I mentioned.  A large part of it for me is my faith and reliance on God.  I also have a very loving, supporting family that I could not live without.  Everyone needs support structures like this to survive the difficult periods of life.

Have I wished for a different career?  Yes.  Many, many times.  If I had to do it all over again I wouldn't go into veterinary medicine.  My current thinking is that I would get a PhD in History and become a professor.  But I might be disillusioned with that job if I had chosen it, so it's hard to say.  I also have an amazing wife and kids and being a vet has brought me to this point in my life.  If it means giving all of that up I wouldn't change anything, even though I don't always like my profession.  

I've gone back and forth over the years.  At first I loved my job and was excited every day.  Then for years I struggled and got to the point where I dreaded every moment and wanted to quit every day.  Now I've reached an equilibrium where I don't exactly "love" my job, but I'm also comfortable with it and realize I have a great job and am well respected.  I'm at a point where I no longer hate what I do, even if I would like to do something different, and don't have to dread going to work.

Time outside of work?  It's taken me a long time to find the right work-life balance, and I'm still working on it.  One of the revelations for me was that being a vet is what I do, not who I am.  I try not to think about work much once I'm home, and actively carve out time for my family.  It's not easy to do, but more and more vets want to get away from the 60-80 hour work weeks of a generation or two ago where a vet was on call 24/7.  

I'd love to hear insight from my colleagues and even other students on how they overcome these challenges.