Veterinary medicine is among the hottest careers going. On average, vets across the nation pull in a not-too-shabby $82,040, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. What's more, it is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S., projected to climb 36 percent by 2020, a speedier rate compared with today's average occupation. You likely know the on-paper requirements you'll need to pursue this career -- a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and a state license. But successful vets rely on more than paper attributes. "The work requires mental and physical strength to withstand long hours, and to carry animals up to 60 pounds or handle delicate newborns," says Dr. Jose Castro, clinical associate instructor at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Flexible Hands, Strong Knees
Veterinary medicine is an active, on-your-feet field. "Having flexible hands helps, to hold large and small animals," says Rhode Island-based Susanne Saslaw, 49, from Wickford Veterinary Clinic. She serves dogs, cats, rats -- even African pygmy hedgehogs. "You have to carry each differently," says Saslaw. Georgia-based Duffy Jones, 39, concurs. "You've got to be strong and agile to handle pets. We do many exams on the floor so having good knees also helps," says the vet of 13 years, who owns Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital. "It's physically demanding," adds Jones, "you're on your feet all day and constantly lifting things."
Completing school is the toughest part, says 37-year-old Catalina Montealegre, a 2007 University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School grad. But you'll need extra stamina for an internship and residency if you plan to specialize or earn board certification, both increasingly common paths, says the emergency vet at New Jersey-based Red Bank Veterinary Hospital who also teaches veterinary technician students at Camden County College. Adjusting to a new clinic is tough, as well. "You've got to win technicians' respect, impress clients and earn your boss money." And don't count on employers to mentor, she adds. "Some grads are told they'll have a senior associate to advise on cases and surgeries, when in reality phone consults aren't even possible." Know that finding the right fit may require switching jobs.
It's empathy that allows you to provide animals with the best possible care, such as you'd want for yourself or a loved one, says Texas-based Katie Luke, 35, chief veterinarian at the Austin Humane Society. "When you can feel deep compassion for an animal you are immediately concerned for that lost and scared pet and are sensitive to its owners, who are also petrified. It brings out the best in all that you do," says the vet of eight years.
Above all, you'll need trust, says Rich Metcalf, 42, an equine vet of seven years, from North-Carolina-based Tryon Equine Hospital, whether in yourself at school, to learn, or on-the-job, to make good decisions based on your education, training and gut. Animals can't talk and provide input, and you'll sometimes be forced to make life-and-death decisions. Trusting colleagues is also a must. "I have to trust the tech holding the horse while I'm doing procedures and the anesthesia tech to ensure the horse won't wake up during surgery." Putting a horse down is always trying, says Metcalf, but it's easier when trusting you're doing the right thing.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Outlook Handbook; veterinarians
- Susanne Saslaw, DVM; Wickford Veterinary Clinic, North Kingstown, Rhode Island
- Duffy Jones, DVM; Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia
- Catalina Montealegre, DVM; Red Bank Veterinary Hospital,Tinton Falls, New Jersey
- Katie Luke, DVM; Austin Humane Society, Austin, Texas
- Rich Metcalf; Tryon Equine Hospital, Columbus, North Carolina
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