I have a confession to make:
Practicing veterinary medicine is not my favorite thing to do.
It’s hard sometimes, being surrounded by people who say things like “It’s my calling” and “I’ve never wanted to do anything else” and “I can’t imagine my life if I were not a veterinarian.” I don’t feel that way at all. I was a “nontraditional” vet student with an art history degree and a few years of post-college life under my belt. I needed to find a profession that would keep me interested and challenged for the rest of my working life. I loved vet school and have been largely very lucky in the jobs I’ve had as a small animal general practitioner. I enjoy my work, feel I’m reasonably good at it, and have a very strong drive to get better, learn more, and be the best I can be at what I’m expected to do every day.
But I’m that way with pretty much everything I do. It’s still just a job to me.
It’s a good job. I love the feeling when things go well. I like to pull diseased teeth. I like seeing puppies and kittens grow up and sick animals get a new lease on life. I love our motivated, compassionate staff and the clients who have lost a dog that come back to see me with their new puppy because they can’t imagine having anyone else take care of their pets. But if something happened where I couldn’t be a vet anymore, I’d be sad for a while, but I have no doubt that I’d find something else to do and have a similar drive to be good at that too.
There are about a million things I’m interested in. I can’t remember ever being bored – ever. There is never enough time to do everything I want to do. But for several years I was really unhappy. Work burned me out, and I started to become a person I didn’t like very much. I tore my ACL and had surgery, and while I was getting back to working full time I realized I was a whole lot happier with just a little bit less time at the office.
So I went to a rehab gym to get stronger post-op, and stayed there learning to do things like Zercher squats and sled pushes. I discovered I can do pull-ups. I ride horses. I got certified to teach two group fitness classes and now I have a regular Tuesday night class that nothing at work that day can keep me from. I read – everything from novels to history to social psychology. I love podcasts and listen ALL the time – I’m constantly inspired.
I’ve become a running junkie and half marathoner. I’ve turned out to be our clinic’s biggest advocate for Fear Free practice methods, reducing compassion fatigue, and using social media to encourage more client engagement and loyalty. My actual job, seeing appointments and prescribing medications and talking to clients on the phone, is fine. I like it. I get positive feelings from doing it well. But it’s not who I am. It’s not what lights my fire and gets me out of bed in the morning. All the other stuff is what does that. And because that fire is lit, I am happier and better at work.
In our profession, as in many others, it often seems understood that we are to live and breathe our jobs and that we took them on because we felt we barely had a choice. We were MEANT to do what we do. Maybe that’s the case for some people, but I don’t envy them. I love that I have so many passions and have made peace with the fact that seeing appointments all day is not one of them. It does not lessen my skill or my compassion, or make me any less a veterinarian than the person who hasn’t considered another career since she was 6 years old.
So, to vet students, new grads, recent grads in the 5-year slump, and veterans who keep thinking, “Is this all there is? When do I get a break?” – I’m telling you. It’s OK to do other things, and to love them, and to love them more than your job. At the end of your life you will not wish you were more obsessed with work. You will wonder what you could have done if you had been less obsessed, or if you had let go of the expectation of obsession. Life is short. Choose joy. Live what you love – whatever that is.
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. Katie Berlin is a small animal general practitioner in Mechanicsburg, PA. She is also a reader, a rider, a runner, a lifter, a teacher, and an art lover. She graduated from Williams College in 2000 with a degree in Art History and worked in art museums before going back to school and earning her DVM from Cornell in 2009. She is an avid supporter of Fear Free practice and the battle against compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession.