Jessica emailed with the following....
I'm an undergrad student at Allegheny College. I have wanted to be a vet for years, and after getting a work-study position working for a wildlife rehabilitation center, I can't see myself doing anything else besides working with animals.
However, I'm told that being a veterinarian doesn't allow for any free time. Is this true? I love being busy and consumed by what I'm doing, but I would like to take some vacations from time to time.
This is a common concern of veterinarians, but I don't think that it's as bleak as you may have been told, Jessica. Much of this opinion comes from older vets who are used to being on call day and night, putting in 50-60 hours per week. And as a practice-owner and single doctor, it really is hard to take time off. But I'd summarize the answer as "it depends".
One of the changes that has been discussed about the recent generation of veterinarians is that they are not driven in their careers as much as previous generations might have been. Vets who graduated in the last decade or so will work very hard, but are concerned about the work-life balance. They want to put in solid, busy days at work, and then have time to have and enjoy a family. Newer vets want to work hard for 40 hours per week and then have time off. They're not lazy, they just realize that there is more to life than work and want to have time to use their hard-earned money.
If you work in a multi-doctor clinic you can likely have the opportunity to take vacations and have regular days off. I'm in such a situation and work four days per week, putting in 10-11 hour days. That means that though I have long days, I get three days off per week, as well as getting over two weeks paid time off per year. I do feel that I get enough time to have a life outside of work.
As I mentioned first, if you are a single doctor and a practice owner, your options are much more limited. It will likely be years before you have built up to the point where you can regularly take time for yourself, though that certainly isn't always the case. This is the more difficult route to go, but can lead to greater long-term rewards if you're a good business leader and manager.
How much free time you have also depends on how well you can leave your work at the office. I'm always trying to teach younger vets to avoid looking up cases at home, researching things every night. While that may be necessary at times, it can lead to burn-out if done too often. Everyone deserves to have time for themselves to forget their job and be something else. This is a learned skill and something that can take years to master (if you ever do). But it's important to try and develop the ability to leave work behind.
So Jessica, whether or not you get much free time depends on your personality and circumstances. Being a vet is hard work and often long hours, but it doesn't have to consume your every waking moment.