My daughter, the veterinary student
As Brooke crossed the floor and headed up the stairs a few months ago, I was in a haze. I was awestruck that my daughter was about to receive her white coat, signifying her entry into the professional curriculum at the Carlsen College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. When the college’s dean, Dr. Susan Tornquist, put the coat on Brooke, her name embroidered on the bright white background, the old eyes got a little moist, I must admit.
As executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, I know of many colleagues with offspring in the profession. I also hear other colleagues say they would never encourage anybody — family, friends, acquaintances, enemies — to become a veterinarian. These comments were played out in the 2018 Merck well-being study:
- Only 41% of veterinarians who responded to the survey indicated that they would recommend the profession to a friend or family member.
- 33% would not recommend it.
- 26% were unsure.
The major reasons for not recommending the profession were related to compensation, high student debt and the personal toll that practicing veterinary medicine takes on an individual.
At no point did I encourage Brooke to become a veterinarian. In fact, she was only 4 when I sold my practice. Unlike many second-generation veterinarians, she wasn’t raised in a stainless steel cage or run, she didn’t come in on weekends to do treatments, nor did she see recovering or extremely ill animals at home for overnight care. Much of her exposure came secondhand or thirdhand. Nature vs. nurture? A little of both. It helped that my wife is a zookeeper and Brooke had opportunities to see what that life was all about. And Sundance, her golden retriever, gave her a lifetime of love. Brooke made the decision on her own, and when she told us what she wanted to be when she grew up, I smiled big on the outside and was truly giddy on the inside.
At no point did I discourage Brooke from becoming a veterinarian. Despite knowing, understanding, coaching, consulting, empathizing and experiencing many of the issues that cause negativity toward a career in veterinary medicine, influencing her decision never crossed my mind. Over the years, Brooke was privileged to discussions on many of the challenges that veterinarians face. She learned early on about the cost of education, stress, substance abuse, suicide, debt and salaries. She decided to pursue her passion on her own free will.
When people ask me what I do as executive director, I tell them I am the advocate and cheerleader for the veterinary profession. I promote to the community all the great things that veterinarians and their teams do for animals and people.
With that in mind, as you personally face our profession’s challenges — they are real — help find solutions rather than bemoaning the problems. Advocate for the profession and be a part of the solution. Join and be active in your local, regional or national association, or another veterinary organization.
If the challenges have done to you what the Dementors did in Harry Potter — feed on human happiness and extract one’s soul — seek help. Find professional resources. Also, surround yourself with positive colleagues who can help you see the good in what we do despite the challenges. Business coach Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time.
As Brooke goes through the four years of earning that DVM degree, I will be there vicariously every step of the way. And if it’s someone else’s child, I will reveal the truth: all the great things that veterinarians do, all the late nights and early mornings, and all the heartwarming, lifesaving, client-hugging, tear-jerking experiences that I had. I will talk about the hard work, perseverance, dedication, commitment and aggravation that makes veterinarians who we are.
I am so proud of Brooke. And I am proud of every veterinary student, veterinarian, animal caretaker, client service representative, animal assistant, licensed technician, practice manager and others in the veterinary field who do what they do for all the right reasons.
Be proud of your profession. We aren’t perfect, but what we do makes the world a better place for animals and people.
Dr. Peter Weinstein, a frequent contributor to Today’s Veterinary Business, owns PAW Consulting and is executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.