Veterinary Medicine at the Career Fair

In a
nearby small town, the counselor organizes a “career fair” every two
years.  She doesn’t call on the same
professions each time, as she presents the program to the entire body of middle
school and high school students.  No
point hearing about the same career twice, especially
if you didn’t want to hear it the first time. 
And most of them don’t.

 She splits the kids into as many groups as there are
professions represented, ten this week. 
Then each group of thirty kids rotates through, so they all get to hear
every presentation.  Even if they don’t
want to.  Each presenter has twenty
minutes to do his or her spiel… ten times in a row.  I like to talk, but I was a little hoarse by
the time the morning was over.

 The
professionals had lunch together afterwards. Several of them complained about
the inattentiveness of the groups, and even rudeness and disrespect, kids just
talking as though they were on the playground. 
This despite the presence of supervising teachers.  The very large Highway Patrolman was
intimidating enough that he didn’t have much of a problem.  I’m not very intimidating, so I had to take a
different approach.

 The
best way to get in good communication with someone is to find something you
agree on, a shared point of reality – something that is really real to
them.  Fortunately, I had that. Sad to
say, my “hooks” were the facts that I hated school, starting at a very young
age, and that I wanted to leave my small-town home and never come back.  But, as I told them, “never” is a very long time.  Here is what else I told them.

 

Good
morning. I am Dr. Everett Mobley.  I’m a
veterinarian, an animal doctor, from Kennett, Missouri.  I grew up in Kennett, and when I was your
age, I was sure I would get out of there and never go back.  But “never” is a very long time.

Second Grade 3 When I
was seven years old, I began to wonder what I would do when I grew up.  I liked horses, I loved going to the zoo, I
just liked animals.  Maybe I would like
to be a veterinarian.  I asked our
veterinarian what it would take to become an animal doctor. Well, you get out
of high school after twelve years, then four years of regular college, then
another four years of veterinary school. 
That tore it for me.  I was seven
years old, in the second grade, and I hated school already. Four more years?
That was more than half my life.  Spend
an extra four years in school?  Not
likely.  I crossed that career off the
list.  Totally off the table. No way,
never in a million years.  But “never” is
a very long time.

 Fast
forward and I’m a freshman in college.  I
really don’t know what I want to do with my life.  “That’s okay. 
Just get your basics.  You have
plenty of time to make a decision.”  I
did that.

 Now
I’m a sophomore, approaching the halfway mark. 
The halfway mark to what?  Gee, I
don’t know.  Man, if I spend four years
in college, I need to have some marketable skill when I finish.  I don’t want to be just looking for “a
job”.  I need to know how to DO
something.

Scarecrow & diploma Of
course, not everybody has this viewpoint. 
There’s everything from “you need a liberal arts background” to the
General Studies Degree, which is a college degree in nothing.  You spend four years taking classes that
don’t look too hard and graduate with a diploma that is roughly equivalent to
the one the Scarecrow receives from the Wizard of Oz.  That may be okay if your parents really,
really love you, but it won’t be worth much in the job market.

 
Rathbone HolmesThe
theory behind the General Studies Degree is that you have a unique career in
mind and need to design your own curriculum because nobody ever did it
before.  Has anybody read the Sherlock
Holmes stories? [Side note: 3 out of 300 said yes.] That’s what he did.  He was going to be the world’s first
consulting detective and there was no degree program for that.

 Most
people who graduate with a General Studies Degree just have a degree in
partying.  Again, not worth much in the
job market.

 At
this point I revisited my previous choices and found that I still liked working
with animals.  And now, four years
(though a long time), is no longer more than half my life.  So, that’s what I decided to do.

 So,
what do you need to do to become a veterinarian?  It seems obvious that you will need to take a
lot of science courses – you need to understand how the body works and how
drugs work, and there are specific course requirements posted by the colleges
of veterinary medicine.  It will take you
at least two years of undergraduate college to get those knocked out.  Most people have completed a four-year degree
before they apply to veterinary school. 
That’s not bad, since only one in four applicants will get in, and it’s
good to have a “plan B”.

 I
recommend that you take some basic business classes: business law, general
accounting, and economics.  If you ever
have your own practice, you will be de facto a small business owner.  You will have to manage inventory, personnel,
profit and loss, deal with government regulations, and so forth.  Spend eight years learning to be a doctor and
zero years learning to run a business, and you will have a hard time running
your business.  That’s what happened to
me.  You will be hemorrhaging money and
won’t know why or how to fix it.  Then
it’s the school of hard knocks, or taking some business management
courses.  That kind of education is
expensive.

 If you
just plan on working for someone else, you should still take the business  classes. You want to understand what is going
on.  Are you making money for the guy (or
gal), or losing money for him?  If you’re
losing money for him, you will soon lose your job, as well.  If you’re making a lot of money for him, you
can go to him and say how valuable you are, and you need a raise.

 The
admissions committee will look at several things on your application.  The committee will look to see if you have
any experience working in the veterinary field. 
They don’t care if you know how to do technical stuff. They do care
whether you really understand what the profession is about. 

 There
are people who tell me, “I want to be a veterinarian because I like animals and
I don’t like people.”   Good luck with
that.  Animals don’t come in by
themselves.  They come to see you with
their people.  Your job is all about the
relationship between the people and their animals.  It may be the farmer who wants healthy, happy
animals that produce lots of fast-growing, healthy offspring.  It’s how he makes his living.  It may be the person who lives alone and that
cat is their only friend.  If something
is wrong with the only friend you have in the world, that’s a big deal.

 Another
thing they will look at are your grades and test scores.  They will have to be really good.  There are two reasons for that.  One is that it is an objective criterion –
it’s a number.  Either you have a good
number or you don’t.  In our litigious
society, the only thing more common than lawsuits is prescription drug
addiction. “Not happy? Take a pill.”  If
you don’t have the grades, you can’t say you were discriminated against because
you were too tall or too short or too pink or too green.  You don’t have the numbers.

 The
second reason is that if you cannot excel in the undergraduate courses, you
won’t be able to handle the veterinary college curriculum.  Professional schools are so much harder than
regular college. 

 I
thought I was really smart.  I was the
high school valedictorian, National Merit Finalist, blah, blah, blah.  My idea of studying was to attend class, take
notes, turn in my assignments, and review my notes the night before the
test.  I was not prepared for being in
class all day, staying in the library until eleven every night, and still not
getting it all.  “How did I get so dumb
over the summer?”

 I
didn’t really get dumb.  It was just a
LOT harder than anything I had done before, and I hadn’t been slacking,
either.  I carried eighteen credit hours
and had a part time job.  I was either in
class or working from 7:30 AM until 5:00, six days a week the year before
veterinary school.  Veterinary school was
a lot harder than that, and I had to learn some real study habits for the first
time in my life.

 So,
you have to make your grades.

 Veterinary
college admissions are about eighty percent women now, versus eighty percent
men when I was in school.  I don’t really
know why we have this demographic shift. 
Some people think that it is because women are more compassionate and
thus more attracted to the field.  Others
think it is because men look at the amount of time and money that must be
invested in their education and feel that they need a greater return on their
investment than veterinary medicine provides. 
This would mean that making a good living is less important to women
than to men, which doesn’t seem logical to me.

Think
about this.  You spend six to eight years
in college. All this time, you’re not making a salary.  Even a job flipping burgers would make a fair
amount of money in that time.  A decent
job in a factory would have made quite a bit of money.  That income is lost, eight years of your life
that you weren’t making any money.  Plus,
you’ve spent a lot of money on your education. 
The average new veterinarian graduates with around $150,000 in student
debt.  You can’t go to work for minimum
wage and live and service that debt, much less make up for the eight years of
lost income.   Average starting salary
(and average is the best of the worst, the worst of the best) for new graduates
is less than $50,000 per year. The government will take about a third of that
in taxes.

 This
means that veterinary medicine is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  You can make a decent living, but you choose
this career because you want to do the work. And what is the work?

 If you
grow up here, you see your veterinarian as a sort of pet repairman.  If you grew up in central Missouri, you’d see
something totally different.  Most of
Missouri doesn’t look like the flat land around here – it’s rolling hills and
pastures.  We are the second largest
cattle producing state after Texas.  If
you grew up there, you’d think of your veterinarian as the doctor who comes to
the farm for occasional emergencies, and who helps your dad plan the herd
health program and evaluate production statistics.

Hamburger recall There
are lots of other careers in veterinary medicine.  Your education will be broad-based enough
that you can do lots of things.  There
are jobs in industry, research, the military, and public health.  Inspecting meat doesn’t sound very glamorous,
but keeping a safe food supply is important. 
It sounds a lot more important when about nine million pounds of
hamburger gets recalled.

 You
really don’t want some googly, nasty carcass ground up into your
hamburger.  If you saw a roast in the
supermarket with a big, nasty, yucky glob on it, you’d pass it by.  Once it’s ground into hamburger, it all just
looks like hamburger.

 It’s a
good thing that you get a broad-based education in veterinary school, because
you might change your mind about your career goals.  Very few students begin their application
with their dreams of inspecting a meat-packing plant.  Yet many change their goals. I had planned to
do nothing but horses, but family matters led me to return home (remember that
“never” is a very long time).  In
Kennett, I do a little bit of everything, but it’s mostly dogs and cats, and I
enjoy that.  I’m also well equipped to do
it.

 One of
my classmates was certain that dairy medicine was his destiny.  He talked of nothing else, just dairy, dairy,
dairy. That was his plan and he didn’t have a “plan B”. 

 For
two years, you have intensive study of basic sciences, like anatomy,
physiology, biochemistry and microbiology. 
Then for the next two years you have clinical studies in two-month
blocks.  For two months you study small
animal surgery, two months of horse medicine, two months in the clinical
pathology laboratories, and so forth. 
You also have “free blocks” where you undertake a preceptorship or
externship – you work in a veterinary practice to get first-hand practical
experience. 

 With
two months until graduation, Doctor Dairy finally had a preceptorship in a
dairy practice in Wisconsin, dairy capital of America.  He hated it. 
It was the same thing, day after day: milking problems, stomach
problems, retained afterbirths.  Fortunately,
he had a broad-based education.  He took
a job in a very high-quality small animal practice.  But doggone it, he had to be on call three
nights a week – his time was not his own. And he couldn’t practice the medicine
he knew. “We can fix this.”  Except
sometimes people couldn’t afford it, and they euthanized the pet.  It drove him crazy.

 He
decided he’d get a government job – regular hours, no emergencies, good
benefits. He’d be a meat inspector.  He
hated that so much that he didn’t even finish the training.  What he wound up doing was going back to
school and becoming a pathologist, and he became an authority on the bacteria
E. coli. That may not sound impressive, but remember that nine million pounds
of hamburger?  My classmate was on
television, because he was (as he said) “E. coli when E. coli wasn’t cool”.  He was in demand to speak all over the
world.  It was a long way from the dairy.

 I like
what I do. My days are never the same, they are never boring.  If you like animals and people, veterinary
medicine is a great education and a lot of great careers.

 

2 thoughts on “Veterinary Medicine at the Career Fair

  1. E Garris says:

    Thanks for that. I had always wondered what it would be like to go to vet school — which I had considered. But I’m not good at math, which is why I work with words instead.

  2. Doc says:

    Hello, Jovita,

    Most veterinary schools require you to have taken a Physics class before entry. You will have to be able to do algebra and trigonometry to pass physics.

    In daily practice you will need to do simple math, like figuring out drug doses. If the dose is 25mg per kilogram, and the dog weighs 44 pounds, what size pill do you give? Or how much injection, etc.

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