I get many parents telling me their children want to be veterinarians when they grow up. I wanted to be a veterinarian from the time I was five years old and it has worked out very well for me. I love my profession and it continues to be a fascinating way to earn a living. My advice to all these potential new vets is that they need to love animals first and foremost but that they also need to realise they are going to have to work with people as well.
A few years ago, the Ontario Veterinary College surveyed us old and wise veterinarians to find out what we thought of the graduating veterinarians. The findings revealed a few things. Most importantly, the experienced vets universally felt that new graduates were coming out of school with excellent medical knowledge. They seem to really know their stuff. Problematically though, we felt the new vets lacked communication skills and often had unrealistic expectations about what their careers were going to involve.
These new graduates were coming out of school with very little ability to communicate with the public. This represents a big problem because as of yet, I have not had a single patient purchase their own medication, agree to their own laboratory tests or book their own surgery appointment. Their owners do these things and we have to be able to let people know the reasons we are suggesting they bring their pets to us. If we can not express our reasons for the things we recommend, nothing would get done.
Another important communication landmine is the topic of money. I would love to have subsidized health care for my patients. In that dream, I could treat all patients with the full range of techniques and modalities available to veterinary medicine and rest assured that I had done everything possible. The unfortunate reality is that owners have to pay for the services I provide in order to allow me to continue providing the services I do. This brings money into the equation and it has been my experience that when money gets involved, things can become interesting. This is why communication is critical in this area.
So, for the college survey and for those parents of aspiring veterinarians my advice is simple. Love animals but be prepared to work with the public. This is not a job where you get to hide away and avoid people. I love animals, but I also love talking (often to my wife's impatience) so this career is perfect for me.
Dr. Chris Chamandy