My reality falls somewhere in the middle of the other two. I've always loved animals, especially cats and horses. I don't remember expressing the desire to be a veterinarian at any point as a young child, but I settled on it sometime in my sophomore year of college at a private (expensive) college. At that time (1999), I think that the salary of a veterinarian was somewhat balanced with the educational debt accrued. I was also clueless as to what the job actually entailed.
Despite working as a "technician" in several different veterinary offices, I never saw what being a vet actually was. Perhaps I was just in the back, pulling up vaccines. For some reason, I never saw the financial counselor, shrink, priest, etc aspect of it. In fact, I was totally oblivious to that until I finished veterinary school.
As a student, I was a hard worker, but I still had no idea what was coming for me as a veterinarian.
Now, I have been a veterinarian for 4 years. I alternately love and hate my job. My debt load is around $140k, which is pretty standard these days. I make about $125k a year, but I also work emergency. I make a higher salary for my willingness to work long night shifts (15+ hours), weekends, and holidays. If I wanted to be a GP and have "normal" hours, I would have to take a significant pay cut in most areas. This salary is provided to me in return for services as a doctor, a mediator, a financial advisor, a psychologist, a manager of my technicians and other staff, and sometimes a bouncer.
Is it worth it? Depends on what day you catch me. If I've had some sleep and I've made a particularly great save on a patient, then absolutely! If I've been told one too many times that I'm a money grubbing SOB who doesn't give a rat's ass about animals, then no.
I don't recommend to aspiring students that they pursue veterinary medicine. Even if it's a passion - the pay isn't there in most instances (with the exception being ER), people often treat you horribly and expect free care, and you put yourself at risk of being seriously injured EVERY SINGLE day.
There is a glut of veterinarians, and there are no jobs. The economy is killing vets and making owners reluctant to follow even the simplest recommendations (regular physical exams, vaccines, and geriatric testing). Big online pharmacies and doc-in-a-box veterinary clinics are cornering the market and damaging the private practitioner.
On the other hand, there are days I receive heartfelt letters from grateful and happy clients, thanking me for caring for their pets. Some days, I make a difficult diagnosis or perform a challenging surgery and have an excellent outcome. Some days, I love going to work so much I can't stand it.
And some days I wish I was a pharmacist. But most days, I'm pretty happy with my chosen career. It worries me that only 4 years into it, I'm not happy every day with my choice. But maybe I'm lucky. Maybe there are many people who aren't happy with their job ANY day of the week. And I am. That's saying something.