I have heard it so many times. People find out I am a veterinarian and what follows is always the same. The typical responses all veterinary professionals experience when the public find out you are in the veterinary industry. You know them: “What is wrong with my pet.” “Let me share with you the best pet I ever had that I had to euthanize.” “My vet screwed up my pet let me tell you all about it.” “OMG my daughter wants to be a vet.” I am proud to be a veterinary professional, yet I cringe telling people I am. Not for those 4 typical responses because I have learned how to embrace each of them in my own way. But it is for what comes next; I am asked where I practice. At this point I explain that I don’t practice anymore. Then I hear it and they are unaware that the next statement out of their mouth fills me with so much pain and emotion;
Why not, you must miss it?
But – You worked so hard to be a vet.
What a shame you aren’t utilizing your education.
I don’t know about you, but boy do I want to jump out of my skin and just punch them in the throat. The anger that comes over me I know is a secondary emotion. What I truly feel is shame. The same shame I felt when I made the decision to leave practice. I do have a news flash to the public, I am still a veterinarian and I don’t regret taking a path away from practice.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against practicing veterinary medicine in a standard hospital setting. I was initially pulled away for health reasons, but in the end I am truly in the place I was meant to be. In fact, there are so many positions you can carry with a veterinary degree outside practicing in a clinical setting yet society, and much ourselves, defines success through this standard impression that everyone needs to be practicing like the days of James Harriot.
I know that these responses come from a place where society puts our profession up on this unrealistic, unsustainable, pedestal, almost martyr status, we are uncapable of living up to. Much of it driven from the strong human animal bond for which if that bond did not exist our industry would look extremely different. Absent of the James Harriot idealistic societal image. I don’t like being placed on that pedestal, yet I need to find a place to forgive myself for not living up to it. Without it, society may see animals as completely disposable.
I have worked hard to find that space to “forgive” myself for not having a career path where I work as a clinical veterinarian. I think of the time, energy, and money that went into becoming a veterinarian, and I then walked away from practicing in a hospital setting. With it bringing feelings that I have disappointed my family and friends that supported me. Disappointed my mentors and educators. Disappointed my fellow practicing colleagues. That I am a general disappointment. – I am here to say that in fact – I am NOT a disappointment.
Why did I feel the need to write this? Because I have talked to so many people looking at different career paths and opportunities and they too have felt this same way. Please hear me when I say – for all of you that are not following a standard practicing medicine position, you ARE a veterinarian, you ARE also a valued member to this industry, and you are NOT alone. I stand by you as you follow your unique path in how you honor your degree. We are each a valued member to our industry.
Let us each celebrate all the ways in which we utilize this education. Celebrate the diversity of positions we all hold as veterinarians. Where ever your path your career has taken, you are not a disappointment and I am proud to call you a colleague.