APRIL KUNG, DVM ♦ March 8, 2018
What do you think the best thing about being a veterinarian is? Helping animals? Helping people better care for the animals they love? Being a scientist? Understanding medicine? The incredible diversity of things you can do with a DVM degree – from clinical practice to research and teaching, from public health and government work to running your own business, from the myriad opportunities in the private sector to non-profit work? Despite the long, hard road, the debt and the high rates of burnout and compassion fatigue, it’s still indisputable that there are a lot of really great things about being a veterinarian. But what do you suppose is the very best thing?
“If you ask other veterinarians this question, I’d wager that 9 out of 10 of them would give the very same answer.”
I recently had a group of friends from veterinary school visit me. For a few of them, this was the first time we’d seen each other in over six years. Yet as soon as they arrived, we picked up exactly where we’d left off. Conversations were relaxed and natural, and the laughter came often and easily. There was one moment in particular I remember watching my vet school friends talk and laugh as they sat around my dining room table. The scene filled me with indescribable gratitude that I should be so fortunate as to have friendships like this in my life. Most of the best friends in my life today are veterinarians, whether I met them in vet school or afterwards. So if you ask me, the very best thing about being a veterinarian is… Other veterinarians. And if you ask other veterinarians this question, I’d wager that 9 out of 10 of them would give the very same answer.
I don’t hold this opinion solely because of the veterinarians I know personally, though. When I first launched my podcast, I of course began by interviewing my kind and obliging friends. Soon however, it became necessary to reach out to veterinarians I did not know and had never met. I did so with great trepidation, but have met nothing but generous enthusiasm. Friends and strangers both, many of these people are introverted and very private, yet they’ve been willing to share their experiences, their thoughts and feelings, their failures and sorrows, as well as their successes so that others can benefit. Whether they knew me or not, all of these amazing people granted me so much of their valuable and limited time – purely in hopes that their personal stories might help future veterinarians.
“Maybe it’s because we’ve all experienced the melting of our inner cores in the crucibles of veterinary school…”
I’m not sure why this fellowship exists or how it came to be. Maybe it’s our shared specialized knowledge – we’re bonded because we all know the molecular mechanisms of hepatic lipidosis. Or maybe it’s because we’ve all experienced the melting of our inner cores in the crucibles of veterinary school, and in each of our viscera resides a small piece of the collective understanding that we were all somehow transformed into something different than what we were before. Possibly we are bound together by the Veterinarian’s Oath, or the trials we endured after veterinary school as we struggled to put our academic knowledge to practical use. Perhaps our camaraderie is simply due to the fact that there just aren’t that many veterinarians in the world – although in my heart, I know it’s so much more than this.
“Even if you gain nothing more than merely becoming a part of this remarkable community, it will be worth it.”
I’ve been searching all my life for a group of like-minded people with whom I could feel understood, valued and accepted. I always dreamed of being part of a community filled with smart, hard- working, interesting people of compassion and integrity. Raised as I was by devoted Trekky parents, I longed to find – somewhere, somehow – the same esprit de corps as that which existed between the noble crew members of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. But I failed to find it in high school cliques, on college campuses, in star-crossed love affairs, in corporate culture, with Appalachian Trail through-hikers, at dog parks, or even in social causes. Finally, finally though, I’ve found my people in veterinary medicine. And for the honor of their esteemed and gracious company, I am deeply grateful.
If your dream is to become a veterinarian, I can’t tell you that the road ahead will be easy. I can’t tell you that you won’t face struggles, hardships and heartbreaks more challenging than anything you’ve faced before. I can’t tell you that the process of becoming a veterinarian won’t change you in unpredictable ways. But I can tell you that even if you gain nothing more than merely becoming a part of this remarkable community – it will be worth it.