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What is it like to be a veterinarian?

Posted in Our Community @ Nov 14th 2016 - By Dr David Challen, East Bundaberg Veterinary Hospital
What Is It Like To Be A Veterinarian

I'm sure this is a question you've all been asked.. a lot! This is what Dr David Challen thinks....

Now there is a question that I am asked lots and lots of times – usually by young folk who have watched some of the TV shows that usually centre on some young, good looking vet who leaps the fence of some poor suffering owner whilst carrying a medicine box in the left hand, a stethoscope around the neck, a bottle of penicillin in the top pocket and a mobile ultrasound machine in his right hand. 

Just like it is on TV?

The vet charges up to the door, rings the bell and the owner comes and greets him like a long lost brother. The animal wanders out, the vet takes one look, opens his 'bag of tricks', looks at his magic book of 'Diagnosis and Instant Treatment' (that comes with a magic wand) and waves the wand. The animal is instantly better and the owner vocalises his or her love for the vet and stands at the door as the vet charges out of the house to attend the next case.

As the vet disappears into the distance the owner is heard to say “Thank you Veterinary – you have saved our lives. If you are ever in the area, please drop in and marry my daughter/son and have free access to my bank account”.

A life of excitement, love, laughter, hope and understanding....???

According to the television – veterinary life is one of excitement, love, laughter, hope and understanding. Everyone is your friend and no animal bites or damages you. The vet does not have to ask for payment and the owner never has to part with any money – that mystical world of 'make believe' pays for everything.

All owners love us, all owners listen to our every word, all owners follow our instructions to the letter and all animals respond wonderfully well and are soon 'tip toeing through the tulips' after we have waved our magic wands and made all the injuries and the illnesses go away.

You don't really need anyone else do you?

It also amazes me that each vet usually does not need a nurse, a receptionist, a manager, kennel nurses or any other person to assist them. No wonder they do not need money – there is no expenses.

If only real life was like the television story – I would be happy, I would have a full head of hair, the belt that holds my pants up would be 20ccm shorter and I would be getting invitations from the Queen to come and treat her Corgies.

I'm banned from watching vet shows on TV 

My wife has banned me from watching any vet shows on the television because I have a habit of snorting, making rude sounds, yelling out “Bull…t”, using the word “C..p” a lot and otherwise ruining the show for anyone else who is unlucky enough to be in the room or the house with me at the time of viewing.

I think lawyers, police, ambulance workers, gardeners, builders etc. must feel the same way at times when they watch shows that predict their line of work. I am sure there are lots of builders who get sick of explaining to the average client that they cannot build a fence, develop a garden, lay a concrete pathway, remove two walls of the house and extend the house from a 3 bedroom abode to a 5 bedroom abode with built in cupboards, extra bathroom as well as make the garage into a granny flat over the weekend. That fact that 'a TV personality who has a name that starts with Jamie' can do all the above in an hour does not mean that it is real – it is called 'the world of make-believe'.

Being on the 'front line' is a lot different

The real world of veterinary science on the 'front line' – that is vets who have to deal with sick and injured animals as well as dealing with preventative care, is far removed from that magic world. There are times of laughter; there are times of joy and feeling proud of what you have done. But there are also times of sadness, of being mentally and physically tired, of disappointment, frustration and anger.

Our world is a roller coaster of emotions – we can sit with a sick animal all night, struggling to keep the animal alive and then in the morning have the owner question the account. We can be associated with an euthanasia of an old animal when the owners are rightfully upset and then have to walk into the next consultation room and do a vaccination of a puppy where the owners are laughing and enjoying the thrill of a new friend entering their lives.

We can work tirelessly for days on end trying to cure an animal with poisoning only to have the animal die and then the owner question our expertise. We can take an animal that is presented close to death and work for days saving the animal and the owner wants to name their child after us.

Owners have watched television and expect every veterinary hospital to have every piece of equipment and have every piece of information about every disease known to mankind but then make the comment “You cost more than my doctor” – even though their doctor does not have all the equipment and will refer them to specialists once their world get tough.

It can be tough...

There is a huge drop out of vets once they have graduated for 7 years (over 70% vets who graduate are not working, front line vets after that time) because of the long hours and the huge emotional drain it has on them. We have one of the highest suicide rates per profession in the world (a lot to do with the stress and the easy access we have to drugs that can cause death).

The profession can be very rewarding and can be very desponding. 

So why do we do it?

Every person has their own reasons, but for me – I believe every animal has the right to a healthy and happy life and every animal needs 'a hero'. Someone who will speak up for them when they are injured or sick, someone who will care and someone who will be there when things get tough.

Is this profession for everyone? No it is not. As they say “It is a tough gig” and if you are in it for the money or the accolades – then do not start.

Thinking of becoming a vet?

For anyone who is thinking of taking up this profession – go and have a talk to your local vet and really listen to what they say. Me – I am going to recommend that you should really think about another profession that will offer more financial rewards and more regular time for a normal life. I personally feel that you have to be a bit 'weird' to became a front line vet and enjoy it. 

I do enjoy being a vet and yes – I do think I am a bit weird.

So in the meantime – I will continue to yell at the television and I will continue to roll my eyes every time an owner comes into the consultation room and tells me “I have Googled what is wrong with my dog”. 

And I will continue to do the very best I can for every animal under my care. I will continue to train my staff so that collectively we can offer a haven of healing and safety for all animals that enter our building. 

In the meantime I will start to go to the gym and working out to develop a six pack, I will go Bungy Jumping hoping to stretch my body another meter in length, I will go to Jenny Craig and try to lose 30kg, I will look at getting a hair transplant, I will investigate trying to acquire around 500mls Botox (to get rid of the life lines on my face) and I will write numerous letters to the television companies to see if they have need of one ageing, overworked, under appreciated, stressed, financially embarrassed veterinarian.

As long as they do not want me to jump high fences, move fast, take my shirt off, swing on jungle vines and swim in wild rivers full of dangerous animals – then I am their man (it will also help if we only visit houses with ramps and non slip floors).


Kaye Browne @ Nov 18th 2016 9:18am
Thank-you Vetanswers and Dr Challen for a brilliant article that so succinctly tells the 'true' reality of being a vet as opposed to the tele-visular version. You made me laugh out loud...and you've given everyone some new pearls of wisdom the next time someone asks 'what's it like being a vet?'
Judy @ Nov 18th 2016 2:00pm
Thanks Kaye - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I also admire David's ability to tell the (sometimes harsh) truth by wrapping it in humour and I always look forward to publishing a post from him :)
Cathy Warburton @ Dec 1st 2016 2:51pm
Hmm... I am guessing that David won't get a call from a TV network anytime soon. If his self-characterization is correct - he doesn't quite fit the bill. This is a great and humorously written summary of some of the difficulties of our profession. Despite that, I stayed on the front-line for close to 25 years. Maybe I am a bit weird too!
Judy @ Dec 2nd 2016 11:40am
I've met David, Cathy & I think he'd be perfect for TV - well he'd certainly shake them up a bit! ;-)

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