Ask My Vet is a series based on questions I have—and maybe you do, too—about dogs. Katniss’ veterinarian, Dr. Katharine Kennedy of Arbor Animal Clinic here in Austin, provides answers and expertise as a part of this series.
Question: What does it take to be a veterinarian?
Dr. K: If you make it through the academic gamut of the vet school application process and get invited to interview they will always ask you why you want to be a vet. When you are sleep-deprived in your clinical year of vet school and your family hasn’t seen you in months they will ask you why you want to be a vet. And when you finally get your first real job as a vet and are laying awake in the middle of the night worrying about your patients you will ask yourself why you want to be a vet. So what does it take to be a vet?
Academically, it takes excellent grades, strong extracurriculars, one heck of a lot of drive to succeed, and the ability to buckle down for eight years and study your little booty off. This is an excellent moment to point out that there are only 30 vet schools in the country, and the competition is more fierce than that of medical school application because there are far more applicants. Applicants are frequently reminded that if they can’t get into vet school they can always just become people-doctors.
Financially, it takes about $160,000 for vet school itself if you are paying in-state tuition. Let’s say you got your undergraduate degree at a state school and paid $20,000 to $30,000. If you’re paying for this yourself and don’t have a rich uncle to back you expect to graduate with something close to $200,000 in student loans with an interest rate of 6.5 percent and an average starting income of $65,000 annually. Long story short, we’re in this line of work because we love what we do, not because it will make us rich.
Applicants are frequently reminded that if they can’t get into vet school they can always just become people-doctors.
Legally, we are required to pass a National Board Exam for our licensure that encompasses all species, including lizards, goats, race horses and golden Retreivers. We take a state licensure exam as well, covering the legal mumbo jumbo and minutiae. After this point vets will choose an area of focus from the four general categories of species: small animals, food animals, equine or exotics. There are a gifted few that work on all of the above, real-life James Herriots¹ in my opinion. An even smaller few will continue on to become boarded specialists, such as dermatologists, ophthalmologists, neurologists or orthopedists.
Emotionally, where do I start? This job takes a big heart, a thick skin, a strong stomach and a good sense of humor. Vets get peed on, bled on, bitten and infected with ringworm. We have owners scream at us, bake us cookies, write us online reviews for the whole world to see, cry on our shoulders—and sometimes we cry on their shoulders. We save patients, lose patients and we care about all patients. In the end, all the good parts far outweigh the bad parts. Regardless of everything else it takes, the opportunity to heal our animal friends and support their human owners is the reason I love being a vet.
¹Andy says: According to http://www.biography.com, British veterinarian and author James Herriot was actually named James Alfred Wight—Herriot was a pen name. He worked as vet for several decades and published stories about his experiences. His first book, “If Only They Could Talk,” was published in 1970, after which came “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet.” The books were published under the title “All Creatures Great and Small” in 1972 in the U.S. Two movies and a TV show were based on “All Creatures Great and Small.” I had no idea who he was, either, dear reader, but he seems pretty interesting!