The Role of a Veterinarian

Many veterinarians have had a passion for animals since childhood, providing the spark in pursuing the career. Whilst a love for animals is important, a great mind and a keen interest in science is also required for this challenging job.

Most people think veterinarians only work in private clinical practices and treat illnesses or injuries of pets or other animals. Though this is primarily true there are also specialised areas one can work in. Examples can include equine, farming, education (ie university lecturer) food safety and inspection, pharmaceutical, public health, government research, agriculture or other veterinary based services.

Within the veterinary practice environment, excellent communication skills are a huge part of the job. Being able to build trusting relationships with the owners of the animals is of paramount importance to a successful and sustainable career. Communication skills might not be something that comes naturally to everyone – but these can be developed and refined over time. A veterinarian must learn to conduct insightful interviews with pet owners, observe and read animal body language and use strong deductive reasoning and apply the rational application of tests to evaluate the best course of action for a pet’s health.

Veterinarians are ‘jacks-of-all-trades’ in investigating illness or treating an injury, especially as their patients cannot verbalise their condition. This contrasts greatly with human medicine, where human doctors can gain insight from the patients themselves about where it hurts, or how they are feeling.
Veterinarians treat many different species, with different anatomies, digestive and reproductive systems and species-specific issues. In human medicine, functions such as surgery or anaesthesia must be referred to specialist doctors, whereas veterinarians perform a multitude of tasks – often with no waiting times, in the same hospital.

Depending on the type and location of a veterinary practice, the work hours as a veterinarian can be gruelling. It is not uncommon for a vet practice to maintain standard operating hours from 9am to 6pm during the weekdays, as well as be on-call for emergencies after hours and on the weekends. This is amplified if there are fewer vets serving a location. For this reason, the work-life balance of a veterinarian is highly variable depending on scheduling and demand for their services.

Pros of Being a Veterinarian

  • Versatile degree with different industry applications, daily responsibilities, and mobility.
  • Possibility of owning your own practice.
  • Possibility of becoming a specialist in one particular area (surgery, medicine, oncology) etc.
  • In animal practice, you can be an anaesthetist, surgeon, or obstetrician all at once, depending on what the day brings you.
  • You’ll be working with your passion everyday – animals!
  • It is rewarding and fulfilling to diagnose, treat, and make animals feel better.
  • Providing education to pet owners, ensuring they get to enjoy as much time with their ‘besties’ as possible!

 Cons of Being a Veterinarian

  • **Potential burnout and compassion fatigue
  • Long hours in the practice and on-call during weekends and evenings
  • Work-life balance struggles
  • Income – the average salary for a veterinarian in Australia is $62,000 (1-4yrs experience), $75,000 (5 – 9yrs experience), $80,000 (10 – 18yrs experience) per year.
  • Being a veterinarian can be dangerous! Animals may protest and you might get bitten, scratched, or kicked.
  • You might end up with a menagerie of ‘broken’ pets at your place!

**Love Your Pet, Love Your Vet!
Veterinarians can suffer from compassion fatigue. Generally described as the gradual lessening of compassion over time, people experiencing compassion fatigue can become emotionally drained or be unable to recover from the slightest events – or feel numb about their patients and life outside of work. Recent research suggests that veterinarians in practice are four times more likely than the general population, and twice as likely than other medical professionals, to commit suicide.

Being a vet isn’t easy – but it is fulfilling.

It is an emotional, humbling, challenging profession – and you won’t be rich.  But, you will belong to a group of highly trained professionals that have the ability to make a real difference in the lives of animals and people.

And that’s pretty cool!