Experiences of a vet student

My journey into the veterinary industry was far from the usual – I never had a childhood dream of becoming a vet, and never had been priming myself through high school for vet school. As a child, although I loved animals, becoming a vet was never on my radar. Apparently when I was a kid, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always answer “A hairdresser in the morning, a pilot in the afternoon and a doctor at night”. (Never mind having time to sleep!) I guess a doctor is comparable to a vet, but I never explicitly stated that that’s what I wanted to do.

So hear me out, my backstory is a little long-winded but it has a point. In high school, I never took any science papers, and focused on creative subjects, like music and design.  I was doing a lot of music composition at the time which led me to applying for a place as a Composition major at the University of Auckland, under the Bachelor of Music. I thought this was going to ignite my passion for composition even further as I would be studying the thing I absolutely loved to do – writing music – however it had the complete opposite effect and it destroyed my muse. I knew I didn’t want to carry on with this, but I also felt like I had to get some sort of qualification, so I changed to a Bachelor of Property (yes this actually exists!). Real estate and architecture had been an interest of mine whilst growing up so I thought why not – it was a 3 year degree and career prospects were pretty decent following completion. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but I knew inside I was trying to trick myself and others into thinking I loved it because there was no way I could change degrees again. So I stuck it out and graduated with a BProp in 2012. I was 21 by this stage, with four years of student loan and one degree that really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I sucked it up and was able to stick out two years in the industry before I could no longer handle its soul-destroying qualities.

Over the last few months of working in property, I had been toying with the idea of vet school. I had worked at a kennels during university, and always loved being around the animals. I started to watch more ‘vet’ shows on TV, and liked the idea of problem-solving and interacting with clients to try and help their pet. One morning as I was putting on my make-up for work, I looked at my reflection (which all sounds very dramatic but it’s actually how it went down) and knew there was no way I could carry on with what I was doing. So within the space of a week, I quit my job and applied for pre-vet at Massey, for 2015. It was the start of November, so I also enrolled in three summer school papers – Intro chemistry, Intro biology and Intro physics because at that stage, I literally had no idea what a cell was and if I wanted a chance of getting into vet school I had better get learning some basic science!

Fast-forward to mid-year 2015, and I finally got that call that I had been accepted into vet school. Now I’m not going to lie. Pre-vet was an absolute shit-show. I had everything riding on getting in because there was no way I could go back to my old life – and that stress mounted each and every day. I worked my ass off. I had ONE whole day off from study that entire semester. That semester is not time for any work-life balance bullshit. I know everyone is probably going to get all up in arms at me for saying that but honestly, not getting accepted because I took things easy would’ve felt far worse than the burn-out I felt from working so hard that semester. I went hard each and every minute of every day, and got the results. I knew that once I got my place, I could pull back on the throttle. But not much!

So why bother with all that back story. Well, I wanted to make a few points. The first being, is that whilst you should follow something you’re passionate about, doing so through the path least travelled may be the most suitable for you. Don’t feel pressured to do something because that’s what society or your parents want you to do. Not sure if you want to go to vet school but your parents are hounding you saying it’s the right thing for you because you love animals and get good grades? Don’t go. Not straight away anyway. Work at a clinic even if that means just cleaning the floors for a year. Then decide if it’s for you. And you’ll have the added bonus of some money, and more maturity. The second point – it’s never too late to do what you want to do. In this day and age, age itself is not something you can use as an excuse. It has never been more acceptable to follow your dreams, no matter what life stage you are in! Sure, you may have commitments that make it difficult, but there are always ways around that if you really want it. And lastly, you can literally do almost anything, provided you are willing to work hard enough for it.

OK now for the part I was actually meant to write about – my experiences as a vet student. Again, my experience is probably far from the usual. And this is probably a profoundly unpopular opinion, but I really don’t enjoy vet school, and never have. I won’t be one of those people who look back on vet school as one of the most fun times of their life and wish that I could go back. Vet school to me is simply a means to an end. I know, scandalous right?! For a long time this really conflicted me – I was in the position that so many others wished to be in and here I was, so unhappy all the time. It made me think back to music and property – and was vet school just going to turn out to be the same?! But then I realized that whilst I didn’t enjoy the actual experience, I was still grateful to be here and to have this opportunity that would allow me to do what I want when I had done the time.

So what are the main things I don’t enjoy about vet school, and most importantly, what do I do to combat it?

I’ll start with my main reason. The loneliness. Regardless of however many people I hang out with or am around, I’m one of those people who has a select few that I need to be around to feel socially fulfilled. That’s just me. And unfortunately for me, most of my people, (and my dog because she counts too) aren’t in Palmerston North. They’re 6hrs away. Txting and calling just doesn’t deliver on the same feeling as being around them does. It probably sounds stupid to a lot of you – how could anyone possibly feel alone when they are surrounded by others? But for those who do get it, I’m sure you know how isolating it can feel. So what do I do about this? Blogging helps me unpack my emotions about how I’m feeling but to be honest, there’s not a hell of a lot I can do about it except ride it out and try to get up to home as much as I can, and really be grateful and make the most of the time when I am with them.

My second reason – which a fair few will probably be familiar with – the petty competiveness. Don’t get me wrong, I think competition is healthy and is essential for pushing people to achieve their best, but there were many moments where the pettiness just got too much for me. It frustrated me that people were so caught up in the micro and competing against each other rather than just focusing on themselves.  For the first three years of the degree, I did most of my lectures and study at home which worked for me because I was disciplined. And thankfully, it seems to have dwindled as everyone has now realised we are all in this together and things are actually so much better when we support each other, and that celebrating someone else’s success doesn’t actually take away from your success.

Lastly (and I have just written a post on this) – studying and pretending to be enthusiastic about things you aren’t passionate about is like pushing shit uphill. Small animal medicine and surgery is my calling. I absolutely love it. I love being in companion animal clinics and building relationships with clients who have that animal-human bond with their pet. However, feed budgeting and herd health plans make me reconsider the property industry (lol jk, they’re not that bad). There will be others who feel the exact opposite to me. Regardless, trying to muster the energy and enthusiasm into something that makes you feel least energetic and enthusiastic about is flippin’ hard. And a lot of my degree revolves around things I feel this way about. So what do I do about it? Absolutely nothing. I just suck it up and put the time and effort into it anyway and know that getting it over with means getting closer to doing the stuff that I want to be doing. Always gotta keep that end goal insight!

So funnily enough, the things I dislike most about vet school are things that I can’t really do anything about, which I guess is why they remain so – because I can’t change them. Vet school is always going to be challenging and it will require finding ways which work best for you to off-set these challenges. I know it feels taboo to admitting that you don’t enjoy vet school when it’s such a privilege to be here, and especially when everyone else seems to be loving it, but if you struggle with it like I do, know that you are not alone and it will in no way impact your abilities as a vet once you graduate. Be grateful for the opportunity you have, but don’t beat yourself up over how you feel about it – we’re all still going to be kick ass vets!

Hannah Cleary
Hannah Cleary
Hannah Cleary veterinary student, New Zealand. Hannah is a final year vet student studying at New Zealand’s only veterinary school, Massey University. She has a colorful background completely unrelated to the veterinary industry, having studied music and property before following her true calling in veterinary medicine. After completing university at the end of the year, Hannah will be returning to her hometown and working as a small animal GP in Auckland. Hannah has interests in orthopedic surgery and veterinary business management/ownership. She is particularly interested in improving the physical and mental well-being of veterinary professionals, and bringing about change in the industry with regard to veterinarians and veterinary businesses realizing their value and worth, and effectively communicating this with clients and the general public.

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