Like many of the individuals with which I share this profession, I want to be a veterinarian because not only do I love animals, but I have experienced for myself the human-animal bond and want to foster that for my future clients. I know everyone who works in the field has made some variation of the joke that if we were in it for the money, we would have gone the human medicine route (plus, the patients listen better!). But what I want to talk about is not the salary, but the lack of boundaries we as a veterinary community have been expected to have.
This past week I had a day that started like any other day of a vet student. Woke up early, reviewed my notes, watched 3 lectures, took a quiz. I decided to reward my morning efforts with a workout. For me, turning off the clinical pathology parameters running through my head is not easy, but a pump-up playlist and my short drive to the gym did just the trick. As I was exercising, I felt my Apple Watch vibrating with texts that I assumed was my friend group discussing the previous night’s Bachelor episode, which I had to push to the weekend to study for my morning quiz. When I got to my car feeling very relaxed, I noticed a plethora of text messages from a classmate in undergrad I hadn’t spoken to since probably the day we took our biochemistry final. I always really liked this classmate, (and still do!) we follow each other on social media. The text ended up being a video of her pet doing something weird, with a quick history of when it all began. Not a hello or ask of how I’m doing. Just the classic “emergency text to my vet student friend.”
Boundaries and intentionality are something I struggle with, and knowing I couldn’t do anything from where I was (which is definitely a sign of growth for me!), I replied that I was sorry her pet wasn’t acting well and recommended she see her veterinarian. I felt a little guilty that I hadn’t even watched the video but was frustrated at the nature of the text. This wasn’t even the first time THIS WEEK I’d been bombarded with animal questions on my social media accounts. It made me think of how absolutely frowned upon it would be if you opened your mouth up to a dentist at a party for them to look at a toothache, or sent a picture of your W2 to your friend who was working toward an MBA because “hiring an accountant is so expensive!” I was met with a passive comment about the cost of the vet bill but was assured her pet was okay and the hope that I was “doing well!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy to answer questions to friends and family about what pet food I recommend, questions about pet insurance, the benefits of spay or neuter for their puppy. I also realize millennials, more than any other generation, view their pets as family, and as such the line of asking for suggestions and medical advice becomes blurred. But this degree is hard. It is a doctorate degree with incredibly high standards of application to get into. I am working harder than I ever imagined to earn this degree, which I am so excited about–it is quite literally my dream come true! But at some point, veterinary professionals need to own their worth. That degree is valuable, there is no shame in taking ownership and pride in that value and the sad reality is that many veterinarians and technicians are guilted, sometimes berated, into feeling shame for charging prices for our expertise when the intention of every veterinary professional I know is so pure..to help pets and the people who love them. You probably wouldn’t want your doctor to make a diagnosis over text message without even seeing you, the same expectation should be held for your pet’s health! Boundaries are a good thing–we are not free telehealth. I know I am not the only person who experiences this, and I wish I knew a better solution to this problem, but when I am a doctor, I plan on only offering my very best self, the best medicine I can offer, to each of my patients. I cannot do that (especially with only half of my degree) over a text message. I also plan to continue working on being at work 100% when I am clocked in working with my patients, and when I am not on the clock investing my heart and headspace to the many other people and things I love. I hope this is a standard my generation of veterinary professionals can work to maintain.