You have decided to go to veterinary school. Maybe you are still in high school or have gotten to that point in undergrad where you are applying our wondrous world. Because the market is changing, many veterinarians are discouraging students from joining the veterinary workforce. They are being blunt and taking their own experiences and projecting them onto students who are just wanting to pursue their dreams. If you are like me, that type of advice is just going to make you want to prove others wrong and work extra hard to obtain your goals. For those aspiring veterinarians here is some advice to make your veterinary adventure more profitable in happiness and success.

1 – Gain as much experience at veterinary clinics before applying to vet school.

Some clinics will hire high school students to work kennels but unfortunately some may not. Finding a clinic that will let you volunteer or job shadow will greatly improve your knowledge of how a veterinary clinic runs and will give you insight to the challenges that veterinarians face daily. Start young- it helps!

2 – Take advantage of volunteer programs, spay/neuter days, and summer jobs during veterinary school.

I learned so much volunteering my time at the schools wildlife clinic and still use a lot of those skills today. A summer job can help you gain some extra money while still having a social life. I was able to work a few summers at the ASPCA Poison Control Center and it was an amazing experience. As far as surgery, in veterinary school you might only get a few spays/neuters before going out into practice but if you volunteer at spay/neuter clinics you can gain a lot more experience and feel more comfortable your first year out.

Cute Dog Looking Up

3 – Face facts and know you aren’t going to be making a ton of money.

The veterinary field is trying to change and compensation for our time/work is gradually improving, but it’s going to take time before we see major improvements. Most of us are aware of this fact but it hits us hard when we get out of veterinary school. Be prepared to have a plan for finances.

4 – Be careful with your student loans!

Unfortunately due to a shift in how student loans are shelled out, the student now has a huge burden when they graduate. Many of us are graduating with 200,000-400,000k worth of student loans from veterinary school alone. One thing I can advise is if you have the choice between in state tuition and choosing to go out of state, always choose in state. Your education is going to be almost exactly the same and it can save you 20-60k per year in student loan debt.

5 – Value yourself but don’t push for more money based on your student debt.

A lot of newer grads are feeling the burn when they graduate and start paying back those student loans. When you are job hunting, find a job that is fair in their evaluation of you and what you are worth to the clinic. You may have to put in some grunt work, do on call hours, etc- but a good clinic will give you the opportunity for a raise within 6-12 months if you are doing a good job.

6 – Find a good financial advisor that understands what type of debt you have.

My first financial advisor told me to treat my loans like a mortgage and pay them off as soon as possible. This is not the way to go if you want to save for retirement, buy a house, buy into a clinic, etc. Take advantage of the Income Based Repayment Plans or Pay As You Earn. They are helpful at creating a lower payment and giving you more wiggle room with your paycheck.

Two dogs run happily on the beach together

7 – Find your hobby and don’t let it go.

Veterinarians tend to get wrapped up in their work and it hits us hard emotionally and physically. We stop making time for the things we love and it can cripple our spirit. Always remember to find time to do the things you fancy and to take your mind off your stressful day.

8 – Accept the fact that you will never be able to save every animal and you will make mistakes.

We all walk out of vet school thinking we know everything and the first year hits us extra hard. But once we realize we will make mistakes, we still have to deal with the fact that our patients will die eventually. The best advice I can give is to continue to practice high quality medicine and accept that fact that some cases will decompensate despite your best efforts…and that is normal and okay. Don’t let that aspect of the job deter your dream. Keep pushing forward and don’t back down.

Veterinary school isn’t for everyone, but it can be a rewarding experience once you obtain that doctorate. Don’t let the grumpy veterinarians bring you down when it comes to your dreams but remember to be realistic.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


About the Author

Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school, where she currently is still employed. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.