I’ve never been good at imagining what the future might hold, so to make up for it I’ve become a fervent planner. However, the approach to my clinical year has made me more anxious, because there are so many unknowns ahead of me, all boiling down to one question—What kind of a vet do I want to be?
There are lots of stresses in vet school—long days, abundant difficult material, making mistakes in the clinic—but one stress that’s not talked about much is planning for the future. After these 4 years, we’ll all be doctors, but the type of medicine we practice and the species we treat will vary depending on our job. Large animal veterinarians will see mainly cows, goats, sheep, llamas, and pigs, and will do a lot of production medicine and husbandry counseling. Industry veterinarians evaluate food animal health before slaughter to protect the food supply, and help poultry and pig producers resolve disease outbreaks. Small animal vets in general practice will work closely with owners doing wellness and emergency care, while small animal specialists will help diagnose and manage more involved diseases. Vets also work in public health, either at home or abroad, helping to reduce disease in humans by treating animals. Vets also are involved in teaching, research, shelter medicine, zoo medicine, and pharmaceutical production, among other things. There are so many different things I could do with so many different species, and I have no idea where to start.
So many things need to be planned and done before I officially start my veterinary career. For example, I need to register for the board exams in the state where I want to practice—so I have to decide where I want to live and work. We fill 16 weeks of our clinical year with elective rotations, based on what parts of medicine we wish to pursue—so I have decide which of my many interests I am most likely to pursue. Internship applications open in the fall, right around when we’re all studying for the board exams—so I have to decide if I’m doing an internship (because there are pros and cons) and if so, where. We would all like to have secured jobs by the time we graduate—so I have to decide where I want to live, what medicine I want to practice, and what clinic culture I want to join.
Those are the biggies, and I know rationally that it’s no use trying to figure them all out at once, especially since I should wait to experience the hands-on aspect before deciding anything. But it’s hard not to compare myself with classmates, some of whom have known for years what they want to pursue.