Behind the Scenes at What Makes an Animal Hospital Run

The Veterinarian

When I was growing up, a veterinarian was nothing more than a doctor to animals. A one man show who gave my dog shots and sent us on our way. It wasn’t until my final year of high school when they asked “what are you going to do with the rest of your life” did I actually start to do some investigating into what kind of workload was involved in attaining specific professions.

Doctors, lawyers, and marketing executives were among those career choices that would take years to achieve and get out into the world. To my surprise, veterinarians were amongst those professions that took just as long, and if not, longer of an education to complete and finish.

The Ontario Veterinary College located in Guelph Ontario is amongst one of four Veterinary Universities in Canada and is held in the highest regard. To even achieve a spot amongst the college, not only requires an undergraduate degree with a minimum of two years dedicated to specific science courses but requires the applicate to write the MCAT exam (medical college application test – the same test medical students have to write) and must obtain an 80% or higher. Failure to attain this grade disqualifies the applicant from the program. The applicant only has three tries to write this exam before being disqualified indefinitely.

The applicant must also have diverse experience working with animals of many different species (cats, dogs, horses, birds etc.), and must also complete an interview with the faculty of the University of Guelph. If the applicant is lucky, he or she will be one of a hundred students to be accepted into the program per year. They will also complete classes with built-in field work and an 8-week externship. Much like a human doctor, they will also complete a fourth-year rotation at the animal hospital of the University of Guelph. At the end of the four-year battle, the veterinarian must then write a National board exam to practice within North American, as well as a licensing exam to work in his or her province. They then take the veterinarian’s oath before being eligible to practice veterinary medicine.

It had always been a dream of mine to work with animals, but the requirements necessary to achieve this put the career at the bottom of my wish list. I took on a new appreciation for the veterinarian who would stick my dog with needles. I had never realized in the past how deep their knowledge for my furry friend really went, and how much I had undervalued his position. When the time came that I made my decision to enter the world of veterinary medicine, I took my first position as a volunteer animal care attendant.

With my eyes now wide open to their vast pool of knowledge of animals, I expected to meet these DVM’s (doctors of veterinary medicine) and discover a sterile, clinical setting of needles and scalpels and stethoscopes. But again, I was misinformed. I can accredit much of my patience and compassion to the first veterinarians I worked with, and even now, I learn something new every day from my peers. They work tirelessly on cases to resolve the discomfort of their patient while trying to find a cure for whatever the ailment may be. They will take the time to call specialists, read different resources and speak to many different doctors. They are usual the first ones in the building in the morning and the last to leave. They oversee treatments, anesthetics, and their utmost concern is always the health and wellness of their patient. They are always on call, and no workload ever seems too much.

Interesting facts about Veterinarians:

Veterinarians Have Unique Specialties: Similar to medical physicians, veterinarians can choose to specialize in certain areas. After receiving their veterinary medicine license, vets can choose to complete intensive training in a veterinary specialty, such as oncology, radiology, animal dentistry, dermatology, cardiology, preventative animal medicine, internal medicine, exotic small animal medicine, and surgery.

Not All Vets Practice Veterinary Medicine: A majority of licensed veterinarians work in private medical practices and see animal patients, but some vets prefer to use their education and skills to do research. Some vets work in basic research, studying about animals and medical science; others work in applied research, where they figure out new methods of using what they know about animals and applying it to humans. Vets who work in clinical research use their knowledge of animals and apply it to human problems.

Veterinarians Don’t Just Take Care for Dogs and Cats: About 77 percent of Canadian veterinarians are in private practices, where they care for dogs, cats, and other animals commonly kept as pets, such as rabbits, ferrets and birds. But 16 percent of vets work in food animal or private mixed practices, and they care for wild animals and farm animals, such as pigs, cattle, sheep and goats. The other 6 percent works only with horses.

Vets Have Tough Work Environments: Being a veterinarian means you have to work long hours in a noisy environment. Vets who work in a group practice often take turns being “on call” at night or on the weekends. Veterinarians who work in private, solo practices often work longer hours, including on the weekends. Vets deal with emotional and critical circumstances on a daily basis. They also face the risk of being injured, bitten, kicked and scratched by frightened or aggressive animals.

Veterinarians Must Take an Oath: When a new vet graduates from a veterinary school in the Canada., they are required to make an oath that swears they will use their scientific knowledge for the benefit and protection of animal health and welfare. They solemnly swear to relieve animal suffering, advance medical knowledge, promote public health, and practice their profession with dignity, conscientious, and abiding by veterinary medical ethics.

Veterinary Burn Out – What is it?: Burnout is on the rise among the helping professions such as human and veterinary medicine, and negatively affects personal and professional wellbeing, and the provision of quality care to clients and animals. Even more significant is that veterinarians are reported to have the highest incidence rate of suicide among all occupations, and twice as high as physicians and dentists. Indeed, 85% of American Veterinary Medical Association convention attendees indicated that stress and burnout (includes compassion fatigue) were the most important wellness issues affecting the veterinary community. To be engaging and responsive to clients often involves intense and constant emotions, along with other forms of verbal and non-verbal communications. This is no easy task, as the skills needed to manage people and emotions, emotionally volatile clients, and the feelings that arise from euthanization require practice, time, and patience. This deep form of caring has a potential to be a risk factor for compassion fatigue and burnout if mental, spiritual, and emotional balance is not maintained. Compassion fatigue then is the emotional burden that occurs as the result of continued and excessive exposure to traumatic events that patients and families experience.

Written by Sam Bruno, RVT