Recently I received this email from Maia...
I am a high school student in Colorado.
I am very interested in veterinary medicine, and have been ever since I was little. Last summer, I reached out to a few of the veterinary clinics local to me, asking about possible volunteer opportunities, and finally found one. I have been volunteering there once a week (6 hours/week) for around four months.
I read your little "About Me" blurb on your blog, and saw that you got your first veterinary job at the age of fourteen.
Might you be able to tell me a little more about that? In particular, I am wondering what kinds of jobs in the veterinary field are available for fourteen-fifteen year-olds.
The first vet clinic I worked at was a relatively new one in our town. It hadn't been open long and the owner, Dr. John Strasser, was looking for some help. He already had a receptionist and an assistant, but not much else beyond that. Since I didn't have any experience I started in the kennels, and that's where I worked for the first few years.
This was definitely not a glamorous job! I walked dogs outside, cleaned up poop and pee, cleaned kennels and runs, and bathed pets. I also swept and mopped the clinic, took out trash, and just about any odd, "dirty" job there was. No, that part wasn't much fun. But I was working at a vet clinic! I got to see surgeries. I saw pets treated for numerous diseases. I learned how to hold pets for wound care, and various other treatments. Between being a "super-dooper pooper-scooper" and all-around grunt and "go-fer" I got to see what it was like to be a vet and treat pets. I got hands-on experience in the profession and started seeing things that would develop me over the years. Sure, I got lots of feces, urine, blood, and other "unmentionables" on me, but I also gained a lot of knowledge that helped me stay at it for so long.
I also learned a strong work ethic. My parents always pushed me to do my best and work hard, but having a job at such a young age, and one where I really did have to put in a lot of work, taught me how to be a good worker. I learned that I would get out of something what I put into it, and that being diligent and responsible would pay dividends over time. I learned that hard work was always worthwhile, and that there was nothing demeaning about cleaning up dog poo.
It took me a few years to work my way through the treatment area, to the reception desk, and to assisting in rooms and surgery. I worked off and on for that same practice for 13 years and it played a large part in getting me into and through vet school, as well as helped shape the vet that I am today. It was an invaluable experience.
Maia, you may have a harder time finding a paying job in a vet clinic nowadays. Labor laws have changed since the 1980s when I was hired, and liability towards minors is a bigger issue. Working in a veterinary clinic exposes you to certain diseases and injuries, and many employers aren't eager to take that risk. My own clinic doesn't hire anyone under 16, and limits what they can do until they are 18. Other clinics may be willing to hire younger, so look around. The fact that I started so young was an aberration and shouldn't be seen as the expectation.
I would also have your parents look into volunteer rules. I don't want someone to take advantage of you and use you as free labor just because you are eager to get your foot in the door of a vet clinic.
Also, look over my blog for questions from students I've answered over the years, starting here.