The majority of veterinarians choose their professional vocation because of an inherent desire to help animals. And, not surprisingly, that lifelong choice is made well before adolescence, and often by the time they are 13 years.
For a minority, the decision is rarely so simple, lucid or arbitrary. They arrive at this decision after years of adolescent ruminating, perhaps making a decision based on nefarious factors such as familial strife, opportunity to break free of their immediate family or social moors, attaining a social 'rite of passage' into the intellectual 'stratosphere', or self-empowerment through perceived higher social esteem by others. Medicine is a faculty inherently prone to attracting intelligent aspirants rife with cognitive dissonance yet who are intellectually capable of meeting undergraduate needs but poorly equipped to deal with post-graduate 'real life' scenarios. Veterinary science, is for better or worse, a very grounding science, if not downright humbling. The opportunity to enter veterinary college, if offered, requires a huge commitment to endure the rigors of university curricular activities, as well as adjustments to a future professional life of hard physical and mental work; one which a young student often does not appreciate the gravity thereof.
The myriad adolescent motivations that bend an aspiring student to veterinary science are complex, but what keeps a veterinarian continuing to serve the general public long after the halcyon days of university life has ended, rapidly change as the person gains more and more life experience. That the majority still want to help animals is de rigeur, but it is not enough to sustain the daily trials and tribulations of this highly demanding profession.
Generally speaking, veterinarians who remain in general practise have found a niche workplace that meets their emotional, social, spiritual, financial or intellectual needs. Likewise, veterinary educators, such as university lecturers chose an alternate lifestyle where their academic challenges satisfy a need for higher learning. The notion of a student wanting a Jame's Herriot-like lifestyle are relatively rare in suburban practise, and the idyll of a relaxed professorial position at a tertiary institution have long since evaporated in the economic turmoil of global economics.
Many contemporary veterinarians have more than five employment positions throughout their career, which is markedly different to how it was 20 or 30 years ago, when one job lasted the life of the veterinarian. Many vacillate between self-employment, locum work, research and part-time employment, some still looking for the ideal veterinary job well into their 40s and 50s. Veterinary science is a vocation that demands, in many cases, enormous self-sacrifice; both emotionally, financially and spiritually. The image of the financially succesful practitioner is not as common as perceived by the general public. Far more veterinarians admit that they would make more money in a less qualified job; perhaps a school teacher, electrician or plumber. Add to this the expectations of an increasingly internet-educated and litigious general public, compulsory continuing education demands and compassion fatigue associated with long hours and it's no wonder more than 40% of young veterinarians have chosen an exit stategy within 10 years post-graduation, be that a new job, drug abuse or suicide. But the reason many stay in this healing profession relates to the tremendous potential for intellectual and personal reward; a healing vocation that requires personal sacrifice in exchange for deep joy beyond the ken of most academic careers.
- Heath T, Lynch-Blosse M, Lanyon A. (1996) A longitudinal study of veterinary students and recent graduates 1. Backgrounds, plans and subsequent employment. Aust Vet J 74:291–296
- Dr Jim Euclid (2010), pers comm
- Heath TJ. (1998) What factors influence the career paths of veterinarians? Aust Vet Pract 28:116–118
- Rasmussen, L., (1998) After alternatives. Alternatives in Veterinary Medical Education 7:1-6