I am an introvert. If you’re reading this post, you might be too. Introverts are abundant in veterinary medicine. Many of us chose this field because animals made us feel connected to the world without the constant “work” of being around people. As it turns out, people are as big a part of this job as animals are. Most days it’s one part cuddling, two parts medicine, three parts grief counseling and four parts customer service. Just look at my typical day:
I walk into the clinic at 8:45 and am immediately bombarded with questions. A boarder has diarrhea, should we start him on ID? Buffy’s Mom is here for a Proin refill but we’re out of stock, what should we do? Once I’ve addressed those, I round on hospitalized patients. I check the EMR and see that I have 14 items in my inbox. I go through them, marking the negative heartworm tests as reviewed and making sure there isn’t anything emergent. I’m left with eight calls to make.
The first appointment is a family with a lab puppy. I get down on the ground and “ooh” and “ahh” with enthusiasm. I ask questions about how long they’ve had the puppy, how the little girl is enjoying her new friend and how the house breaking is going. I give the puppy an exam and begin explaining vaccine protocol and basic preventative care. I talk about feeding and training. Once I’ve answered all the family’s questions, I say good-bye and take a few minutes to write up my records.
The next appointment is a 12 year old Yorkie who’s been coughing. I go over the history and ask a few more questions before starting my exam. He’s got a grade four heart murmur and a heart rate of 180. I tell the client my suspicions but explain the need for chest x-rays to confirm. He’s got a vertebral heart score of 12, an enlarged right atrium and a perihilar interstitial pattern. I put the patient in oxygen while I go back to the exam room to talk to the client. I explain the pathophysiology of congestive heart failure, the treatment and the prognosis. The client already knows most of this because his father passed away three months ago from CHF, he tells me. I give my genuine sympathies and spend a few minutes listening and offering some comforting words before I have to move on. A quick glance at the clock shows me what I already know—I’m falling behind. I put off writing my medical records and head into the next exam room.
I see seven more appointments that morning. I ask detailed histories, go over differential diagnoses, explain the importance of diagnostic tests, go over results, explain pathophysiology, and advise clients on treatment options. I also hear about vacation plans, kids’ graduations and sick family members. I gush over Callie’s unique markings and Jake’s blue eyes.
I finish morning appointments at 12:30, and have only written up four of my medical records. I check my inbox and see I’m back up to 11 calls. Nothing is urgent so I head to the break room and take 30 minutes for lunch.
At one, I head back down to the treatment room to get started on some callbacks. I get through five of them before it’s time to start my cat dental; a break from the abundance of social interactions that morning.
Afterwards, I call the client to let them know surgery went well and that Pineapple is awake. I write up the dental report, then look at my inbox—the six from before the dental are now nine. I alternate returning calls and catching up on my medical records.
My evening is a lot like my morning, except in addition to nine more appointments, I have to discharge the cat dental and the CHF dog who was luckily stable enough to go home. Appointments go smoothly and I managed to finish on time. I called back three clients I hadn’t been able to get ahold of earlier, along with four more that had called over the course of the evening. At 8:45, 12 hours after I arrived at work, I get to head home; physically and mentally beat.
I am not complaining about my job. I am truly interested in making sure my clients understand what’s going on with their pet’s health. I genuinely empathize with their family circumstances. My interest is real but it’s exhausting.
For those of you who aren’t clear what it means to be an introvert, it means that social interactions use up our mental energy. But just because interacting with others is “work” doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.
I can enjoy being around people, but for every hour I spend doing so, I need two hours of alone time to recharge. That means after a 12 hour work day like the one above, I need a full 24 hours of recuperation. And after three or four shifts in a row, I need all weekend to myself. I don’t want to go out to a bar with my friends; even texting them back feels exhausting. And forget dating—I can’t even muster up the energy to type a response to my newest connection on Bumble.
I give my all to my job because I love it. But at the end of a long week, it really does feel like I’ve given it my all. Like I’ve drained myself so thoroughly that I have nothing left to put towards social relationships.
To my friends and family, I hope you can understand and forgive me when I seem to disappear for a while, or take two days to respond to your text. I promise to keep trying to find the balance and do my best to be a better friend.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Dr. Lauren Smith graduated in 2008 from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed her clinical year at Cornell University. Her professional interests include internal medicine, preventative medicine and client education. Dr. Smith lives and practices on Long Island with her cat, Charlie and dog, Frankie and loves to read write and run in her free time. You can check out more of her writing at laurensmithdvm.com