There are times during every professionals’ working week when they might, in an exasperated moment, despair that they could, and should, be doing something – anything – other than the job that they are doing. We have all been there and you shall as well once you make it out of vet school and into the world of paid veterinary employment.
Being a vet is a stressful job – there is no denying that. Many people think that much of what we do day in and day out is stroke and cuddle cute fluffy kittens and roll around with adorable puppies whilst everyone else has to toil and struggle through the daily grind that is their working lives. The truth is that for most vets, their days are long, frantic and full of stress from start to finish, much like many other people, and this is perhaps something that is not made clear to those of you considering joining our ranks.
So, I thought it would be cathartic, and possibly even a little entertaining, in a dark sort of a way, to take a look at some of the reasons NOT to be a vet. If you’re not put off by the end then you know what, I reckon vet school just might be right for you after all 🙂
Reason 1: You’ll be in debt for most of your life
Studying to become a vet is hideously expensive with tuition fees for undergraduates standing at £9000 per year at most of the UK vet schools and multiples of that if you’re a graduate student looking to train as a vet. One student I have been speaking with recently is facing the dilemma of either accepting a place which will require them to find funding to the tune of about £27k per annum (£120k in total!!!) or forfeit their place and try reapplying to those vet schools charging graduates less. It is easy for politicians to dismiss the cost of going to university by pointing out that “you’ll only pay it back once you’re earning,” but the fact is that debt is corrosive to the soul and starting your working life so heavily indebted has a negative effect. For a profession that wants to widen access and encourage more applicants from poorer, under-represented sections of society to attend vet school, we have a tough sell if the costs of training to become a vet continue to remain as high as they are, especially when clever, motivated and ambitious young people see peers in other professions and industries earning significantly more for apparently as skilled, or less skilled, work. On the flip side, everyone will assume you get paid a fortune, drive a fleet of sports cars and live in a palace. So it’s not all bad.
Reason 2: Grumpy, Unreasonable Clients
About 80% of a vet’s clients are wonderful, easy to deal with, reasonable human beings who listen to the sage advice offered and act as directed by their vet, who is, after all, a trained medical professional and so does actually know what they’re talking about (gasps of shock ensue!). Sadly not every one of the clients that cross over our clinic thresholds is such a joy to deal with and there are some individuals who seem set on being difficult from the start regardless of how professional, knowledgable and nice you might be. They will be the people who turn up late then whinge about having to wait. Or expect to drop in and for their pet’s repeat prescription to be issued there and then regardless of the fact the vet is actually with other clients. They will be the people who quibble over the bill in spite of lengthy discussions at the outset about potential costs and estimates, and regular updates. Or perhaps the ones who will only see one specific vet and will then be downright rude to all when they find themselves in the position of having to see another vet, in spite of them being as qualified and capable as any. We all know them and we all deal with them, and they can make our working days a nightmare. But they do provide good anecdotes, so perhaps every cloud.
Reason 3: Aggressive Animals
It personally makes my blood boil when people chuckle in response to a vet or nurse getting bitten and say the immortal words, “well, it is part of the job.” No. It is not part of the job. In the same way that getting electrocuted is not an acceptable part of an electrical engineer’s job, or being run over isn’t part of a mechanic’s job, being mauled by our patients is not part and parcel of carrying out our duties. There will be times, unfortunately, when you may receive a bite or a scratch that simply could not be avoided. In fact, only the other day one of my nurses had to (very carefully) remove a cat who had decided that my chest made for a wonderful climbing wall, an outcome that was nobody’s fault but the cat’s. What is possible, however, is to do everything reasonable to reduce the chances of our patients getting at us, and that includes pet owners giving fair warning about their animals’ behaviour. It is not acceptable to let a vet assume that a pet dog or cat is friendly (the default position thankfully for most of our charges) only to point out that actually Fluffy does have a problem with vets as he has his jaws clamped around said vet’s hand. Animal bites are horrible. Cat bites often require hospital treatment and can, in extreme cases, ruin careers. Be warned: you will have to deal with some really shitty patients so be vigilent and if it’s a career free of any bite risks that you’re seeking then become an undertaker instead.
Reason 4: Animal Cruelty & Suffering
We go into the profession to prevent animal suffering and to ensure that, as far as is possible, we fix and protect animals under our care. Unfortunately there are times when we see the very worst that people can be and do to animals. Whether it be dog fighting and the horrific wounds that result, irresponsible breeding for the sake of making “easy money”, or abandonment and neglect cases, which every vet will have tales of, it is always staggering just how shit some people can be to animals and how little regard they can give to the fact that as humans we have incredible powers to either do what’s right or intensify suffering. It is important to be aware of the fact that during your veterinary career you will see things that will make you fume and despair at how awful people have the potential to be, and if this is something you will not be able to cope with then think hard about your career options. Thankfully, however, the vast majority of our experiences are the right kind of animal-human interactions, focusing on caring for and curing, as it should be.
I hope that this post hasn’t come across as being too miserable and whingy. As we all know, it is cathartic to unload sometimes and if my examples of some of the challenges we face as practicing vets serve to prepare you more fully for an application to join our profession then it has been a useful exercise. At any rate, I feel a bit better for having vented a little so thanks 🙂 In all seriousness, the veterinary profession does have a shamefully high level of both alcohol abuse and suicide amongst it’s members, all borne, I am convinced, of the sorts of trials and tribulations described above. It is important to have people you know and trust to talk to about any problems you might have and to not let them get to the point of causing long-term damage. Organisations such as the Veterinary Benevolent Fund are on hand to offer advice, guidance and just a friendly ear should it be needed.
Right, I’m off to find a kitten to stroke.
Awesome! Really useful for interview as people may be asked what’s bad about being a vet, good to understand the downsides of the job 🙂
Many thanks for your incisive and thoughtful post. As a practicing vet of 40 years, I could not agree with you more.
Why do we do it?
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This is stupid… vets are not just about making money… they are about saving the animals that need help. If you are just doing it for money… Just wow…
Err… have you actually read this post or are you simply choosing to comment blindly? I actually have no idea what your comment is even referring to.
Every job has its pros and cons, and the enticing silver lining of being a vet usually hypnotizes people into thinking being a vet is a breeze. I am not a vet, although i aspire to be one in th near future, regardless of the negatives that come along with it. I am so glad to know that–even after you were faced with the troubles of being a vet–you stuck to helping animals, and when it comes down to it, that’s what being a vet is all about.