There’s a saying that goes “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life”, or something like that. I know some people disagree, that even a job you love can still entail work. And others who agree emphatically, saying that if you love your career then even the tedium is enjoyable.
I’m somewhere in the middle, I guess. I genuinely love what I do. I am a doctor for animals. I am their advocate, caregiver, health provider, and oftentimes interpreter. I get to see new puppies and kittens when they come in for their very first wellness visits and start them on a preventative care health plan. I get to ease the transition from this world over the Rainbow Bridge for the elderly and feeble patients that are ready for their pain to end. I get to help old dogs feel young again by diagnosing and treating diseases and ailments. I get to keep young dogs healthy and prevent disease with vaccinations and surgeries that are proven effective. And, I get to influence and strengthen the human-animal bond on the daily. It’s all a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with the care and keeping of other people’s companions.
But there are things I don’t love. I don’t love when there are monetary restrictions to treating disease. I don’t love when a diagnosis eludes me because the tests are all within normal limits but the patient is obviously ill. I don’t love when the obvious solution is either not available to myself or my clinic, or veterinary medicine as a whole. And I especially don’t love when I get blamed for these things, which any reasonable person would see is not any one person’s fault.
And yet, often times when people are devastated by a poor prognosis or outcome at their veterinary clinic, they decide to blame the veterinarian. In their mind, it’s the vet’s fault the price of treating their pet’s disease is unaffordable. It’s the vet’s fault the right diagnosis cannot be found with the tests performed thus far. It’s the vet’s fault that a treatment option isn’t available. It’s the vet’s fault that the known experimental procedure failed. It’s the vet’s fault the patient died under anesthesia. It’s the vet’s fault when anything goes wrong.
It’s hard to carry this much blame. It’s hard to let the obviously false accusations roll off your back when they keep coming, day after day. It’s hard to explain that if the owners had brought their pet in when they first noted the symptoms of illness, the outcome may have been more favorable. If the owner had been approved for Care Credit or had been able to borrow money from someone, the necessary treatment could have been done. If studies in human medicine could easily be transferred to veterinary medicine, more options might be available. If we didn’t have overhead hospital costs and equipment to pay for and staff to compensate and medications to buy to have on hand then we would GLADLY treat our patients for free. If, if, if…
It’s no wonder veterinarians have one of the highest rates of suicide. In the last 6 days, 3 of my colleagues have taken their own lives. Things like depression, burnout, perfectionism, social media attacks, and a lack of work-life balance contribute to the risks we face. I’ve written about this before, and it’s a commonly documented and reported phenomenon. NBC news, Time magazine, Washington Post, the AVMA, the CDC, and more have reported on this in the last 6 months, with reports on the trends and sobering statistics going back as far the 70’s.
And yet, ask a vet if he or she loves their job, and you will get a resounding YES. We do. We love our careers. We love all the different places we can take a veterinary degree– large animal ambulatory services, exotics, small animal specialty surgery, marine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, infectious disease surveillance and prevention, medical research, and more, all the way to general companion animal care. It’s an exciting and ever-changing and challenging field. It’s full of reminders of why we chose this path over icky human medicine (no offense, MDs…). And usually, for every negative social media blast, there are at least ten more positive reviews and gratitude posts.
I do love my job. I love helping people with their precious pets and valuable livestock. I love being able to help a friend at 10:30 pm see if she really needs to take her pup to the ER for bloat, or if it’s something else that isn’t emergent. I love being able to sit with friends and family members as their pets cross the Rainbow Bridge and reminisce about the long, full, loving lives they shared with their beloved companion, even if it was just earlier that same day when they shared some steak and a romp in the backyard with the kids. I love welcoming new furry additions to families and teaching them how to ensure their fluffball grows up to be the sweetest and best and healthiest version she can be. I love using my degree and knowledge to help strengthen the human-animal bond on every level possible. (And yes, I and other vets have done a lot of these things for no charge, but we can’t do everything for free, any more than you can do your job for free.)
I’ve written about this before, and I will probably write about it again, because it bears repeating. Be kind. Be sympathetic. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Not just veterinarians, but anyone who is trying their hardest to help, no matter what the outcome is. No one wakes up in the morning and looks for ways to ruin someone else’s day, unless you are a Disney or Marvel villain, so I beseech you to try to see the intention and heart of the person before you blame them.
“Love what you do” is nice, but I’m more about loving others regardless of what they do.
Grace and Peace,