Becoming a Veterinarian in 2020
My name is Kimmie, and I am a small animal veterinarian practicing in Los Angeles, California. As a new graduate entering the profession during COVID, I hope to offer you a unique perspective into veterinary medicine as it exists today.
I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a little girl. There was no breakthrough or “ah-hah!” moment. I didn’t have any deep, life-changing experiences that brought me onto this path. Nobody in my family was a doctor and nobody pushed me into pursuing medicine. I just simply loved animals at a young age and innately knew that I was meant to work with them. I attended Cal Poly Pomona and graduated with a B.S. in Animal Science. During college, my first job working with animals was actually at a dog daycare. I did that for about 1 year then started working in an animal hospital, first as a kennel attendant then eventually as a veterinary nurse. After I finished my undergraduate studies, I moved to the beautiful state of Arizona where I spent the next 4 years continuing my studies at Midwestern University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
For those who don’t know, veterinary school is extremely competitive as there are only 30 accredited veterinary schools in the US. Some even say the hardest part is getting in, so you could imagine how thrilled I was to have made it in on my first round of applications! I felt unstoppable! Then school started and by week 1, I was already drowning in material and exams to study for. They say that medical school is like “drinking water from a fire hose” because there is just SO much material to learn in what feels like not enough time at all. I actually failed my first 2 exams and was convinced that I was not good enough to make it. I was ready to give up but luckily, I had a strong support system that did not let that happen. The most important part of surviving medical school is surrounding yourself with a strong support system who will uplift you in your weakest moments. I would absolutely be lying if I told you I achieved my dreams on my own. There was an entire village behind me. I met with faculty to improve my test-taking skills, collaborated study material with classmates, and had regular venting sessions with my friends and family. The second most important part of surviving medical school, in my opinion, is practicing resilience. Basically, keep on keeping on. I used positive affirmations daily to remind myself that “I got this.” Thick skin is essential in the medical field, and it is important to learn sooner rather than later how to accept failure as a part of success. My vet school experience was as rewarding as it was challenging. My biggest piece of advice for any medical student would be to work hard, immerse yourself, and have fun! When you get to your clinical year, if possible, travel as much as you can for your rotations and take it upon yourself to immerse yourself in the most unique opportunities. Some of my fondest memories from vet school was during clinical year – I traveled to NYC for a forensics externship, spent multiple nights on a reservation during my shelter medicine externship, and even went home to California to complete a few externships. Your experience is what you make it, so make it good and have fun! Seriously, have fun. It’s not all about the grades. It’s also about maintaining mental health – and sometimes that means not studying. The way I see it… you are going to be working the rest of your life once you’re done with school. In the meantime, a little fun in between a lot of hard work is necessary. Whether it’s grabbing dinner with a friend or volunteering for a community event, it’s important to close the books and take a break every once in a while.
Becoming A Veterinarian In 2020
So fast forward through 8 years of higher education and here I am! I passed my boards, landed an internship, graduated via Zoom, my degree was deferred to me via mail, and just like that I am now a veterinarian. In the midst of a global pandemic. Even though I spent the majority of my life working towards becoming a veterinarian, nothing could have prepared me for the last three months. I entered the field at the same time as veterinary hospitals across the nation became 2-3x busier than usual. Because of COVID, more people were at home paying more attention to their animals. More people were adopting puppies and kittens. And this meant more veterinary visits. The wait time at the ER I work at can sometimes be up to 7 hours. As an emergency veterinarian doing an internship, I am easily working 14 to18 hour shifts. Every day, I am having difficult conversations with people regarding their pet’s health. I am the person pushing the euthanasia drugs into someone’s pet. People are now looking to me for information, guidance, and advice about their family member. People are putting their trust into me, and by the way it’s over the phone. Thanks, COVID. Curbside service is the new normal – this means technicians are running pets in and out of their owner’s cars – and all communication between the doctor and client is through the phone. I am so grateful for the important job that I have, but it is not easy and there are definitely things that they just don’t teach you in vet school. I am still learning every day how to balance work and my mental health. I still get imposter syndrome. And to be honest, some days I am absolutely drained – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
Researchers from the CDC and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health actually published a study in 2019 that collected data from death records for 11,620 veterinarians over a 36-year period. This study concluded that veterinarians are on average about 4x more likely than the general population to commit suicide. This needs to be talked about more because it has been an endemic within my profession for too long. Veterinarians are constantly receiving backlash from clients who think we are “only it in for the money.” Our knowledge and long years spent in school are regularly undermined by clients who would rather take advice from their breeder. We have become eerily comfortable with lives ending as we are the ones doing it on the daily. And there are days where we try so hard and do our best, but it still does not feel like enough. I say all this to urge people from the outside looking in to be kind to your veterinary staff. And to all the people within veterinary medicine, we need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. The global pandemic has increased the global level of anxiety, and it is understandably evident that everyone is more on edge than usual.
To my friends in the medical field, I share this to remind you to be nice to your colleagues and yourself. At the end of the day I ask myself “did I do the best I can do today?” And if the answer is “yes,” then I tell myself that that is enough. Too often, we are our worst critics and sometimes it puts us on this train of negativity that can be hard to get off. As medical professionals, we need to look out for each other and spread positivity because this profession is not easy. We have patients to take care of, but in order to do that we first have to take care of each other and ourselves. This profession is not easy, and there are so many days where I have asked myself “do I even deserve to be a doctor?” Then, I remind myself of all the schooling I went through and all the exams I had to pass in order to achieve my doctorate degree. Some days, I literally look myself in the mirror and tell myself “you work hard, and you deserve this.” My ending piece of advice would be to trust the process and unique path that you are on. If you get discouraged, be reminded by an excerpt from my favorite poem: “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” – Invictus; William Ernest Henley. Basically, the dude is saying to find it within yourself to keep on keeping on. Whether you are a pre-med student, in medical school, or already out there practicing – you got this!