Ever since I watched Doc Brown leap out of a frozen DeLorean and tell Marty McFly they’re going Back….to the Future, I’ve dreamed about all the ways time travel would make my life better.
The trilogy taught me some important lessons: namely, mucking about with gambling winnings is an overall bad strategy, as is meeting your parents and disrupting the fabric of space and time. Taking this into account, I think I would prefer a more subtle approach. Maybe just a few words of wisdom to my younger self to help ease the transition into this whole adulthood and career thing, preferably wearing a compelling disguise.
But, since time travelling DeLoreans and flux capacitors are still but a happy dream, I can settle for the next best thing and write it here, for those still young enough to wonder what the future holds, instead.
One: Lift With Your Legs
I will never forget it: an older clinician in vet school asked me to lift an 80 pound retriever on the table since his own back was wrecked. I did it, with terrible form. He looked at me like I was crazy and told me I would regret lifting with my back. The very next day, I realized he was right.
It was the first of a long line of back pain experiences, unfortunately. Now I’m the older one standing with my hand on my lower back asking the younguns for help. I’m not old-old, just older than I was when I was young and stupid, and now I have the whole rest of my life in orthopedic shoes and a Posturepedic bed to look forward to. We wag our fingers because we care.
Two: Don’t Underestimate the Power of that First Job
Your first job sets the tone for your experience of veterinary medicine, whether you feel you’ve made an awful mistake or the best decision of your life. If you are fortunate enough to find a great one, value it, and the staff. Be kind. They are worth it.
If you got into a not so great first job (it happens to a lot of us!) remember: it does not have to define your career. I was shocked to see how many vets bounce all over the place for various reasons; we live in a different world now. Learn what you want from a job and don’t be afraid to look for a true mentor.
Three: Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
Sorry for the Pinocchio quote, but seriously, it’s true. You will be asked to do things you don’t agree with. You will see things that bother you. You know in your heart what is the right thing to do- that won’t change over time. Effect change if you can, say no when you must, and realize that a job that asks you on a regular basis to do things that feel wrong is not healthy for your mental well-being.
Four: Learn to Float on the Vast Sea of Stupidity
From day one, you will be confronted with articles, “facts”, and assumptions about your work and your motivations, along with a very healthy helping of some of the worst advice known to man. I’ve been working on this one for many years now, but it boils down to this: You are but one person with a bucket looking out on the open ocean. Don’t worry about draining the ocean, just bail out your boat when you need to so you don’t drown. And for god’s sake, don’t go swimming. There’s sharks in them there waters.
Five: Have Whatever Family You Want
If you want kids, have kids even though people tell you that parents make terrible, lackluster veterinarians. If you don’t want kids, don’t have kids even though people tell you your life will feel unfulfilled. If you want to live in a treehouse with your BFFs from vet school and form a new wave commune, go for it even though people tell you to grow up and start acting like an adult.
Point is, no matter what choice you make on this matter, someone’s going to criticize you for it. So ignore them. They’re wrong. Your family is the one who holds you up, helps you out, and makes your life worthwhile. When your back goes out because you didn’t listen to my first bit of advice, they will bring you soup and vacuum for you and love you even if you can’t work for a while. Whatever form that family takes, love it and be proud of it, because they matter more than any other thing you have in your life. Even vet med.
Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.