What does it really take to become a vet?

25 September 2020

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a vet? On one hand, you’d hang out with dogs, cats, and exotic pets all day. On the other, you’d have to ease anxious, frightened pets and their human parents on a daily basis – and, more often than any vet would like, you’d have to make tough choices on whether a pet can have a good quality of life or if the kinder route is to put them to sleep.

It’s hard work, with long office hours (if you have an office at all), a lot of responsibility, and difficult surgeries. It’s also deeply rewarding work with an opportunity to make a difference to humanity’s best friends, whether they purr, hiss, or bark.

Registered vet Tabitha Kucera RVT, CCBC, KPA-CTP spoke to The Spruce Pets about a day in her life. Here’s what we learnt:

1. What she studied

Did you notice all those letters next to Tabitha’s name? They may look like gibberish at first glance, but each one denotes an area of study. Here’s what they mean:

  • RVT = Registered Veterinary Technician

Becoming a vet tech takes four years of study. After obtaining a degree, a vet tech will often also do an apprenticeship specialising in their chosen area.

  • CCBC = Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant

A CCBC will be skilled in analysing, modifying and managing feline behaviour.

  • KPA-CTP = Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner

The Karen Pryor Academy is an accredited dog training academy in Massachusetts, USA. This qualification means that someone has shown a high degree of both technical knowledge and hands-on skills in training dogs.

2. Where she works

Every day is different – sometimes she works at the general practice, emergency or specialist hospitals, sometimes at shelters, zoos, in the bush, or at farms with livestock.

3. What a ‘typical’ day looks like

In the morning, she gives each animal a physical exam, creates or updates a treatment plan and records any new information related to this.

Pets are given elective surgery in the mornings so they can be monitored throughout the day. The vet will have a look at each surgery candidate’s blood work and then the pet will go into surgery.

Then it’s time for appointments. Your vet may take care of routine vaccinations, tick and flea treatment (which our Superior and Ultimate plans help pay for), unwell animals, or emergency walk-ins.

In the afternoon, she may have more appointments and will attend to surgery patients. They are monitored so that if their condition is deteriorating, they can be treated immediately or referred to an emergency hospital or specialist surgeon. They may also be discharged if all goes well.

“A late afternoon break”, Tabitha continues, “is typically available for returning phone calls, authorizing prescriptions, and finalizing medical notes before the day ends.”

It’s a blessing and an ongoing challenge for dedicated veterinary professionals, and it’s a journey full of challenges and lessons.

3 challenges vets face daily

1. Administering compassionate euthanasia.

Nobody wants to put a pet down, especially the vet who chose this profession to help animals – but sometimes, the suffering their ailment or injury brings means that their quality of life is low.  As Dr. Joanne Intile explains to PETMD readers, “Alleviating suffering associated with disease or debilitating conditions is something veterinarians view as an acceptable and necessary “evil”.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s easy, and the strength it takes to practise this compassion is great.

2. Recognition might be rare.

Whether someone is worried about vet bills (which is a worry we can ease) or simply doesn’t understand how hard a vet works, vets often don’t get a pat on the back or a “thank you” – particularly if they’re the bearer of bad news for a stressed pet parent.

3. It costs… A lot.

The path from student to full-qualified professional takes a lot of time, dedication, and money.

Vets study for years to qualify, but it’s not only student fees that are expensive: If a vet wants to open their own veterinary hospital, state-of-the-art technological equipment is pricey. And, as technology rapidly evolves, expensive equipment must be updated regularly.

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