Excitement is in the air, buzzing like electricity. August is here and August means the first day of school. There is always a noticeable change in the hospital every year at this time. When the high school, college and veterinary students that have been employed for the Summer head back to school, they take some of their enthusiasm with them.
Their excitement helps to remind me (Dr. Perry Jamison), and hopefully all of us who have graduated from veterinary school) why we got into the field in the first place. They also remind us of all the hard work and dedication it took to get us here.
While everyone wants to make a good living, the bottom line is that the majority of us want to enjoy what we do and actually like going to work every day.
I have been a veterinarian for more than 20 years and I have never met anyone who went to veterinary school for financial prosperity. Certainly over time priorities shift and some stay in it for what it can give them, but I think this is the exception, not the rule.
When I ask my colleagues what got them into this career, I hear a myriad of answers: “I was raised on a farm and I have had pets my whole life” or “My father was a veterinarian.”
No matter what other reason they might give, it always comes back to “I love animals”.
For me, I did not think about veterinary medicine as a career until I started college. The sequence of job choices progressed from FBI agent, farmer, and when I started college, forester.
I remember not being convinced during my first semester at North Carolina State University that this was the right choice. My Aunt Joyce knew I was struggling to decide, and I still remember her saying, ”Perry you should be a veterinarian, you like science, you enjoy logically figuring out problems and you love animals.”
The next step was figuring out what it would take to accomplish this goal. There were prerequisite courses that had to be taken in chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, zoology, animal husbandry, genetics and nutrition. And simply completing the course was not enough. Since there are only 28 veterinary colleges in the United States, the competition is fierce. You have to be in the top of your class to be accepted.
Exposure to the veterinary field is almost a requirement when the acceptance committee is looking at an applicant. In addition to experience, you also need three personal recommendations, two of which must be from veterinarians. Once I set my sights on being a veterinarian, I began working every summer and holiday for Dr. Thomas Huddleston in Newport News, Va.
I worked hard to impress him. Dr. Huddleston started me out working in the kennels cleaning cages and bathing dogs. Those were the cleanest kennels in the state by the time I was finished ... for about five minutes anyway!
Over the years, he and his technicians gradually taught me new skills such as how to draw blood, take radiographs (X-rays), prep for surgery and to fill prescriptions.
Once I had some experience, letters of recommendation, excelled in the prerequisite classes, the final step was to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). This test assesses your skills in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking.
A good score is required to even be considered. I can still recall the stress I felt the Saturday of the exam knowing how much was riding on this one morning. It took several weeks for the letter with my scores to arrive (no Internet in the early 1980s) and I was scared to open it. Obviously I did OK!
Once my college transcripts, GRE scores and recommendations were submitted, it was out of my hands and a matter of waiting to hear from the acceptance committee. Would I get in or would I have to wait and apply again next year? I still have the letter congratulating me on being accepted into the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine, class of 1991.
After starting veterinary school, I would still work for Dr. Huddleston when home for the summer or holidays. The fun now was applying all that I was learning in school to my job!
Even after 22 years of practice, I am glad with the choice I made. It is easy for me to get out of bed in the morning knowing that I get to go into work and spend the day helping animals.
Unfortunately, one of the difficulties for today’s prospective veterinary students is the rising cost of tuition and resulting financial debt.
Depending on the school, it may cost anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 over the course of four years. This is in addition to debt obtained during the previous four years obtaining an undergraduate degree.
To spend this amount of money (or take on this much financial debt), it is imperative that the end result be something you will enjoy doing, and getting veterinary exposure before applying is the best way.
To be a veterinarian, it is not enough to just love animals, you must also enjoy working with people.
I have seen too many veterinarians who love the animals but have trouble communicating with their parents. I spend the majority of my time communicating with people, guiding them through difficult decisions, celebrating successes, and even being a shoulder to cry on when needed. If you do not like interacting with people, this is a miserable job.
Whenever I am asked by visiting high school students what it takes to become a veterinarian, I retrace my steps and remember the hard work and dedication it took to get here.
While it was not an easy road, I know it was the right one for me. Seeing their enthusiasm as they head off to college reminds me of how fortunate I am to be a veterinarian.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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