Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Question About Vet School

We at VBB received an interesting letter this last week, asking for opinions on vet school.  We thought it would be most informative to take the questions to our colleagues and get some honest answers.  What you will read in the answers section are responses from real vets, out in practice, out in the "real world", uncut and uncensored.

Hi Vets Behaving Badly!
I absolutely love your blog, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry but all in all it makes me dream of one day walking in your shoes :D

Which leads to my questions: 
1. What did you think of veterinary school? Which one did you go to?
2. Was it worth it? 
3. Would you do it again? The same or differently?

And the best question of all:
4. Would you recommend it?

I am changing careers and have found my passion for animals. So in my hindsight of life, I see where I went wrong and warn people of some nasty pitfalls. 
I am hoping you can do the same for me. Thank you very much.

Responses to these questions:

1. Loved it. Penn. 
2. Yes, would not trade this knowledge for anything. 
3. Yes! Totally would do it again. I love knowing what I know, and building on my knowledge base. 
4. Would recommend the experience to anyone who loves learning about animals & medicine, but would warn them that my recommendation in no way should suggest that the VMD/DVM confers the ability to earn a living wage. That said, I suspect any such degree holder interested in working outside of companion animal practice or even in a nontraditional job (pharm, public health, teaching) can do fine.  I suspect other VBB have very different answers.

Vet school sucked on a daily basis till fourth year. I no longer use the Krebs cycle and not being able to draw the clotting cascade anymore has not impacted my career. Fourth year was fun but long days because of the amount of scut work. It was not worth the debt load that I have, and if I had to do it over again, I would look more closely at PA programs and other human health care fields. Sadly PAs make as much money as vets with half the grad school debt. That said, I love what I do and am at a good place in my career now.

Would I do it again? Yes.   Would I make better decision about how I did it?  Hells yea! The debt load is ridiculous, so you have to really love what you do so tht you are okay living very tightly budgeted for a long time. Also, make sure where you eventually want to live will actually need the kind of vet you want to be when you expect to graduate, the field is completely over-saturated in some areas and finding a good job is going to be hard. I would do this no matter what becasue this is all I have ever wanted, but I am currently trying to encourage my niece to look into other avenues.

What did I think about veterinary school? There wasn't a lot of joy to classes 8 hours a day. It was the necessary thing to get to being a vet. I didn't spend much time thinking about it at all. That said, I wouldn't do it again. I would have been just as happy as a farmer and what I spent on vet school would have allowed me to start out with very littel debt and a nice little farm. I'd still be broke, I'd still be working for myself, I'd still work with animals and I wouldn't have to deal with the public.

Vet school sucked til third year. it was like high school in that you saw the same 100 people all day, ever day-except now 95% of those people are type A women in their early/mid 20's and the added fun of booze being legal really fueled the gossip cycle. Getting into the clinical rotations was more fun, but made for much less sleep and absolute exhaustion-you know you're running your ass off when all you eat every day is a pint of Ben and jerrys once you get home, and you LOSE 10# in 3 weeks.

Was it worth it? I don't know. Today, I'm having a bad day, and I'm going to say no. Some days, I might answer yes. Would I do it again? Nope. I'd stick with public health unless I could get someone else to foot a hefty chunk of the tuition bill for me.

Year one, too many PhDs teaching who'd never examined a patient in their lives, too few DVMs. Years two and three, better, had some great DVM profs; year four, fine, should have had two clinical years instead of one, we wasted way too much time on useless stuff in year one. Way too much gossip and BS from fellow students, several people who should have washed out didn't.   No.

1) A. It was the hardest thing I've done in my life. And like anything, it was what you made it. I had a wonderful time. I most certainly do not miss the workload, and the pressure. But I do miss the people terribly. 
 1) B - LSU
2) For me, it was. It has certainly not been as financially rewarding as I thought. And I do feel that the majority of my colleagues are jerkwads. But I have found enough nuggets amongst my colleagues to make it worthwhile.
3) If I could relive my experience, I'd do it again, warts and all. I would learn a lot more about money a lot earlier. But if I had to do it today, at today's costs, no.
4) Again, with today's costs vs. income, I'd run away. I'd go into exercise equipment or welding or financial planning.

Loved vet school. It was like boot camp, a living hell, pressure/pressure/pressure. I thrived on it and on the camaraderie. I went to UGA and graduated in '85.

I loved vet school. Wish I could have stayed in academia. Looking back though I think I would have chosen another profession.

With the debt I accrued, would I do it again? No. But what else would I do? Since I can't answer that, then yes, I would do it again.
I think I would be way, way smarter with money.
I could've worked in vet school. It would have SUCKED, but I could have done it.

It did suck. I did it. I remember one night of driving home at the end of a shift at the ER (an hour from school) after working all weekend and hallucinating that the white lines on the highway were rabbits jumping at me. And I remember more than once barely making it through an 8AM exam after an overnight shift. But I was young and it didn't occur to me that what I was asking of myself was superhuman.

Year 1&2 sucked and pretty much completely changed me. I did well and love my classmates, but fuck I don't like gossip so I became a loner. Natural extrovert going in, forced to become introvert.
I change my mind daily on if I would do it again. Money wise, hell no. Not sure what I would do instead.

I'd probably do it again if I had to live life over again. Though if I was 22 and considering applying today I'd think twice now because of the money. I can't see how you can escape the crushing debt unless you put your life on hold to pay off the debt, live like a pauper as a degreed professional, or somehow have family money or win the lottery. It's not like you can work and even make a dent in the debt while in school these days.

If it was 1985, yes, I would do it again. Today? If I was bound and determined, I'd join the Army and let Uncle Sam pay for it. VS was a necessary evil. I hated the back-biting (and some of it came from the Interns and Residents). Friday night kegs kept me sane (and I usually wasn't even drinking {much}). UGA rarely gets $$$ from me, but I cover at least 1 keg at Alpha Psi each year.

I had a love/hate relationship with vet school.   I loved parts of it and hated parts of it.  There were a lot of very condescending residents and PhDs who were awful to deal with, and I realized as a fourth year student you aren't really there to learn, you are there to provide support to the DVMs on staff.  I didn't *really* learn to be a vet until I got out into private practice.   But, overall, I enjoyed vet school, despite the stress and pressures of it all.  Would I trade it?   There was never anything else I wanted to do, but now that I know what I know, I'd never go.  The profession is in decline, salaries are dropping and costs are going up, so earning a living as a vet is going to get harder and harder.  I'm just thankful I'm on this side of the fence and not just starting out.   Oh yea - LSU, 2003.


  1. 1. Didn't hate it all, didn't like it all. Fourth year sucked less than first year, which sucked most of all. I mostly liked being a fourth year vet student more than I like being a vet.
    2. No. I should have stayed in the career I already had. I wouldn't love my job, but I never hated it as much as I hate vet med on bad days. I'd also be earning the same salary or even more, without the student loans.
    3. No. See above.
    4. No, especially if you're older and don't have the means to graduate without loans.

    The job market is horrific, which was not the case when I graduated.

  2. 1st year was an adrenaline rush (OMG I got in!! I'm here!!) Second year sucked (all class, no animals), third year was ok, and fourth year was fun for the most part. I agree with one of the answerers above who said that you don't really learn how to be a vet in vet school. It was grueling, intense, but also fun. I don't think I've been out long enough to say whether it was worth it or not, but I know I could never go through that again. That said, I never imagined doing anything else and still can't. With the current market, it is not a good career to enter into, but then what is? Get as much real experience as you can (IE not just observing, actually get in there and do things) so you learn whether it is really something that you want to do or not.

  3. I went to UF. Most of it was tolerable. Lots of lecture and studying followed by lots of scut work in the clinics. One of the biggest things I learned between 3rd and 4th year rotations was to finally let go of the need to try and be perfect and make straight As (which I wasn't) and focus instead on my patients and learning to be a better doctor which made me happier and more productive and less apt to cry at night.

    Most days I feel it was worth it. I like my job. I help people and I'm not rich but I've certainly been poorer.

    Would I do it again: I don't know. On bad days I still daydream about running away and making cupcakes for a living and I often think the if I had simply gone through a culinary program and opened a bakery I might be equally happy but in a lot less debt...however, I wouldn't quit now and the good days are extremely rewarding.

    Is it worth it? I still feel it was for me but if you go down this road, as many other have said you must be prepared for the debt and also for the fact that you're a scientist working in a service industry. People skills are as important as medical skills, while many of your clients will be friendly animal-loving kindred spirits others will be distrustful, resentful, or callous and you will have to work 10 times as hard to help their animals. Some of those people and animals will break your heart and then you'll have to go into the next room fresh and ready to try again like nothing happened and be quick about it because this is a business and you can't take all day.

    When I was in undergrad, one of our profs had various colleagues come in to talk to us about the profession. I remember being surprised at how many had mixed feelings about their jobs. Couldn't my professor have found more happy vets to talk to us? Now that I am one, I realize that it's a job that you do because you love it, but it takes a lot from you. However, no career is perfect and perhaps if I was a baker I'd be complaining about clients who flip out because I didn't perfectly match the shade of pink they wanted on their frosting.

  4. 1) Most of vet school was useless. 80% of what I needed to know, I learned in my internship. Even clinics were basically there as hazing. Most of the students have the emotional maturity of high school students. But of course, if you want to be a vet, there isn't another option. University of Minnesota, 2009.

    2) Not worth it. I know a lot of people say "debt," but let me spell it out. The monthly INTEREST on my loans (not my payment, the interest) = 70% of my monthly take home. If I'm lucky, I will die before I become disabled or too old to work, because I will never be able to retire. If I can't work, I will probably end up under a bridge. In 25 years, my remaining student loans will be "forgiven," by which I mean, they will become taxable income, so instead of paying the Department of Education, I will be paying the Department of the Treasury. I will never own a home.

    3) No. I would not do it again. I would get an unfulfilling, boring, but secure desk job and develop some interesting hobbies.

    4) I would recommend it to anyone who is independently wealthy or has a sugar daddy. Not to everyone else.

    If you are considering vet school, talk to a lot of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 grads. 2008 was the year everything went to shit. Anyone 2012 or newer doesn't have enough perspective to draw a conclusion yet. And make sure you know how they are paying for vet school. It changes everything.

    But I'm not bitter.

  5. I am currently a second year vet student at Liverpool University in the UK.

    I am really enjoying going to Vet School here in the UK. My year is a bit clique sometimes, but I've now found my own niche and am very happy this year.

    Debt seems to pervade all the above posts from US graduates. I feel quite fortunate that, as a UK student, there is more financial support available to us. I take out a loan for my tuition fees and accommodation costs. I also get support from the University - my grades and low household income merit a non-repayable scholarship. When I graduate I only have to pay 10% of my wage above a £15 threshold to pay my interest & loans. Interest for me is very low, too. And if I don't pay it off it gets wiped after 30 years post graduation so it will not be looming above my head all of the time. I feel very fortunate for my debt not to be such a big burden on me as it sounds for US grads.

    In the UK vets complain about the low wages too. However, to be honest, I'm not really put off by this. I feel it is a very rewarding job and I wouldn't do anything else! Perhaps if you compare this to other health professionals wages are not comparable, but it's still much more than some of my grad friends earn and above the average salary so I don't see how I can complain even if hours are long and stress is high at times.

  6. I'm finishing my PhD in Animal Science and applied this round to veterinary school. I didn't get into my first choice school (number crunching on my GPA snafu, I ended up being 0.08 below the out of state cutoff, arg!), so am planning on moving down to be an in state student and applying again.

    I could be totally wrong on this, but I kind of get the impression that much of the issues with classes and grunt work is part of the soul sucking nature of graduate school in the sciences in general. I mean, you get the professors who just want to rake you over the coals because that's what happened to them, the first year students who think they're god's gift to the field, and mostly just hours upon hours upon hours reading and being in the lab. It's awful, and either you suck it up and do the best you can, or you drop out. The only difference is that veterinary school comes with a crushing debt burden. Anyone else care to weigh in on this?

    1. I think this is very true. My frustrations in vet school weren't much different than my friends' in grad school. I think it also has a bit to do with funding. A fair amount of our grunt work was also due to the fact that staffing technicians to do those tasks was more expensive than making vet students do it (and pay do do it) despite the minimal educational value of checking fluid pumps for 8 hours overnight in ICU.

      I guess whether or not you can put up with it proves how much you want to be in the field or something.

  7. I think I wholeheartedly agree with you, Annie. I was a little older when I went back to vet school and I was very put off by the youngsters who were acting like high schoolers and disgusted by the professors with ridiculous egos. But it did get better and by the time I graduated, we had become a relatively close knit bunch. I think grad school can suck no matter what, and I agree about the crushing debt. I do everything I can to steer people away from vet school... but they won't listen. I know one now who is planning to borrow her way through (and it will be over $200K) because she is all doe-eyed about the profession and thinks it's gonna be so rewarding and the like. Well the reality is that it's rewarding for the first year, and then you realize that people suck, you can't afford a house, you can't afford to raise a family and you won't retire until you're 90 (when you die)- that's when the doe-eyes get poked out. Granted, I'm jaded and bitter and not all suffer like this, but those who think they are gonna just gut it out and not worry about the debt are creating their own personal hell.

    1. Yeah I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about that. I'm hoping to only borrow for tuition, personally, but we'll have to see. Actually not getting in this year seems to be a good thing - I can hopefully find a job and pad up the bank account a bit before I dive back into school. I'd really like to work for APHIS, and feel like I'm lacking the clinical expertise to pursue those sorts of jobs with the degree I have, which is why I'm applying. There's no way I'd want to go into private practice - the places they need large animal vets are the places they can't pay them.

    2. You're right on the large animal front. If you go for a govt job, you will have the advantage of having you debt cleared tax-free after 10 years.

  8. 1. What did you think of veterinary school? Which one did you go to?
    Vet school was amazing. Can't believe I learned so much in 4 years. I don't get the folks that didn't enjoy basic science. It's what everything else is built upon. Learning is fun for me. Suck it up buttercup. Auburn grad, almost 34 years ago...

    2. Was it worth it?
    Absolutely. I've been able to do things I would not have ever done otherwise. There have been sacrifices.

    3. Would you do it again? The same or differently?
    Absolutely, if it was 1975 again. Now? Not sure about that. I'd pay more attention to my finances and work to acquire a practice at an earlier age. Or try to get on with a wildlife dept(my first love)

    And the best question of all:
    4. Would you recommend it?
    Only IF you have it fully funded. The schools are graduating far more vets than there will ever be good paying jobs to work. At least if you can't find a decent job you won't be in debt.

  9. I'm at that point in my learning (I'm a 4th year at RVC in the UK, with about a year and a half to go) where I'm not regretting my choice of profession, but I'm definitely questioning where my brain was when I decided to apply to vet school. I love RVC (even through they can be a bit quirky), and I'm glad I went with an international school, but right now it's making my future hope of doing an internship a nightmare. I'm terrified about the job market and that I won't be able to find one right out of school if I can't get an internship, I don't know how I'll be able to pay back my substantial debt I've incurred, and I feel a bit helpless about what the future holds (which I've never done well with).

    So basically, if I could turn back time, I don't know if I'd choose vet med again.

  10. 1. It was challenging and fun. Ohio State (2006).
    2. Yes.
    3. Yes.
    4. Maybe. If you're hell-bent on being a vet, then go for it--It's a fun and very rewarding career. However, there is a growing trend of more people graduating from vet school than there are jobs. It seems like the jobs are out there, but they may not be your "first choice" of employment after graduation. Every financial situation is different, and I ended up with ~$100,000 in loans to pay back, something to keep in mind.

  11. I would echo the recommendations from recent grads to think long and hard about going to vet school. I'm a Tufts 2007 grad, now a boarded specialist in private referral practice. While I enjoy my life now, I'm not sure it was worth the journey. Besides the soul-crushing debt alluded to by several already, the profession is not helped by the myth propagated by the AVMA that there is a shortage of vets in the US. While it may be true that economically depressed rural areas don't have enough food/fiber vets to service them (and even that may be questionable), the urban, suburban, and otherwise desirable locations are saturated. Many vet students in 2009 were applying to internships not primarily to further their training, but because a $20,000 job is better than no job. I know new Internal Med and ECC grads looking at general practice and overnight ER jobs, because that's all they can find where they want/need to live (and think about that if you're a GP or ER vet, now competing with boarded specialists for those jobs).

    For Annie Nelson, your situation may be different, since you're not looking to go into clinical practice. I would, however, strongly advise you to research whether the job(s) you dream of require a DVM, or whether you could arrive at the same goal more quickly and cheaply (MPH?). Keep in mind that for 4 years of stress and soul-crushing debt, you will probably only gain a couple months of relevant clinical experience that would be applicable to an APHIS job. The rest of it is spent studying and going through various small animal rotations.

  12. 1. I went to the University of Minnesota, class of 2006. Overall, I enjoyed vet school. I worked in the diagnostic laboratory all four years, so when we started our clinical rotations senior year, I already had an idea as to how the hospital worked. I also got lucky in that our class was comprised of some fantastic people.

    2. No. I met some wonderful people, but after a few years of clinical practice, I couldn't take it anymore. So now, I have a crushing amount of debt for a career I no longer want. I miss the medicine aspect a lot, but to practice high-quality medicine, you need a client who is willing and able to pay for it. Without that, you just end up doing things half-assed and dealing with an owner who screams at you when it doesn't work.

    3. No. See #2.

    4. Not to anyone, even my worst enemy.

  13. 1. It was THE hardest thing I've ever done in my life---thus it helped my self confidence and determination grow. I realized if I could get through vet school, I could get through anything.

    2. Nope. Not worth it.

    3. Absolutely not. I should've just owned a bunch of animals and then went to med school-at least I would be fairly compensated for the amount of mental illness, misdirected anger, and energy vampirism I experience on a regular basis :) I'm not even kidding.

    4. At this point in my life---Nope. Not at all. I feel like I gave this career my all (11 years). Gave the clients my all. Not all of them are bad, but I have encountered enough of what I described in #3 to make me hang up my white coat and stethoscope and find another way to use my degree (hopefully). I refuse to allow the bad apples to force me to accompany them into the realm of either borderline or full blown insanity. Have you seen the stats for the veterinary suicide rates? You may wanna check that out. I will not encourage my children or anyone else to go down this path. It cost too much financially, mentally, and emotionally. Not to mention you get paid peanuts unless you specialize or own your own practice, Yeah, I know it's not supposed to be about the money, but that's why we are in the current economic mess we are in as a field, because we don't care ENOUGH about money---I digress. You give your all to your clients, only to realize that that loyalty is unfortunately more often than not one sided. In of right now...I hate my job…due to the crazy people I have to deal with, (but at least I actually still love the animals). Wish me luck in finding a new career.

  14. I think an important question to ask is how the reality of being a vet differs from the perception you had as a potential or actual vet student.

    Most vets, I would guess, got into this business because they like the idea of being a "doctor for animals". Hopefully all or most practicing clinical vets still find this aspect of their job fulfilling. The reality, though, is that our clients are not dogs and cats (and horses and cows and birds). Our clients are people. And while they see the white coat, and the stethscope, and the "Dr." on our name tags, what they actually see is a mechanic, or a carpenter, or a technician whose job it is to fix a piece of property. And unlike a car which cost tens of thousands of dollars, or a house which cost hundreds of thousands, most people paid between zero to perhaps a couple thousand dollars for their pets. Veterinary medical bills ultimately dwarf the initial purchase price of a pet, but many owners have difficulty letting go of that perception that their dog only "cost" them a few hundred dollars, so how can their vet bills be so high. Then they accuse the vet of "only being in it for money" and "not caring about their dog". To be fair, many (probably most) owners are more than willing to spend whatever it takes to make/keep their pets healthy, but I think that overall a vet's career satisfaction is often based on the ratio of good vs. bad owners among their clientele. For some vets the good clients outweigh the bad, but for others the bad clients simply make it not worth the effort.

  15. 1. Vet school, particularly Ohio State, was okay. I enjoyed lots of it, I hated some parts of it, but I understand why it is how it is. I look back with more fond memories than anything else.

    2. "Was it worth it?" Wow... that's a big question. For me, yes. My family helped me with tuition and living, so I emerged with little debt. The lifestyle that veterinary medicine is providing me is exactly what I wanted at the outset. Had the debt situation been different, my answer would be very, very different.

    3. I wouldn't change a thing. Of course I'd do it again... if I could do it the same way. If any of the variables were changed, I'm not sure I'd do it again.

    4. I recommend veterinary medicine for those who have a passion for animal medicine who simultaneously have a way to pay for the education without amassing mounds of debt. Proverbs 22:7 tells us that, "the borrower is slave to the lender." Slaves don't often enjoy what they do, and I don't know that I'd enjoy veterinary medicine if I knew I had to write a huge check every month in addition to my mortgage that was equal or even similar to my mortgage.

    Nobody makes it rich from veterinary medicine directly. And many veterinarians aren't even 100% content with where they end up. To naively think, as a Isn't-Life-Great-Rainbows-And-Unicorns Applicant, that you're going to beat the odds, get exactly the job/internship/residency/faculty position you want with little resistance and have everything your heart ever desired is simply not compatible with reality. Going into veterinary medicine with a realistic mindset, gained by having honest conversations with multiple vets, will serve you well. Let's face it, some should be discouraged from the profession, and I'm not so sure it's a small number.

  16. 1. It was hard, but not as bad as i imagined. MU 2004.
    2. No
    3. If I did it again I would go on to a clin path residency. Or else med school and pursue pathology.
    4. No

  17. ugh this is depressing to read as a 3rd year vet student :(
    1. UCD (University College Dublin, not UC Davis ;) C/O 2014
    Love the people and experiences outside the classroom I've had. Absolutely HATE the school part after 3 years, too many hours, too much studying, my brain is almost at its limit ... I just have to survive the next 12 weeks to make it to 4th year ... I won't mind the rotation hours, I rather be up and working than sitting at my desk for one more minute even if its just scut work. Vet school is like boot camp you have to survive the experience to get where you want to be ... you don't learn to be a vet until you actually are one for at least 5 years
    2. Money wise - no f***ing way! Experience wise - maybe I'll you know in 10 years
    3. Unfortunately I would probably do it again ... I've two engineering degrees (a BSEE and an MS in Biomed) I've wanted to be a vet since I was 4 ... I really tried to listen and go do something else, I did, I was miserable, I couldn't not try it in the end. But if I had to I'd have someone tell me at 16 I could have gone to vet school in europe and graduated at 22 with way less debt and already been a doctor ... that might have helped :-\
    4. I pretty much tell everyone to stay far, far away unless they've got the money to cover the ALL the costs ... and that's super depressing because its really going to skew future vet demographics (not that we aren't already screwed)
    I spend most of my free time trying to figure out how I'm going to get a decent job and am banking on those engineering degrees to help me out ... if I have to go work at some boring company doing research to pay off my loans, I will, in the hopes that I can pick up a few weekend shifts in a clinic whose clients won't totally bum me out.
    **here's to hoping**

  18. 1. It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do, as well as the best 5 years of my life. I felt like a slave, and the luckiest person alive. Royal Veterinary College
    2. Yes. I wake-up and love what I do everyday.
    3. I would do it the same, loved getting my degree in a foreign country!
    4. I would recommend it of course, but you have to be sure its what you want to do in life.

  19. Like in all professions there's a certain group which is better known as Rip-offs! Ripp-offs know the art of extracting all the money in your pocket or even your bank account but it applies to those of us who may start believing all that their wicked vets want them to believe hence getting cheated.

    veterinary online CE

  20. You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and found most individuals will go along with your opinion. Thanks!
    driving lessons Liverpool

  21. I am currently a 1st year and it is so overwhelming. They ask way too much out of us and truly, I don't think they realize that we are real people with lives. I won't drop out, but I wish I never applied.