Everyone tells you that you will learn more in your first year as a veterinarian than your year on the clinic floor in veterinary school. They tell you about the long hours, the mountain of debt, the anxiety and the high rate of substance abuse and suicide, but we are not warned about the loneliness.
The first year out is tough.
This is what we’ve always wanted, but it is something we have never experienced. It is disorienting to transition from a set schedule, with cut and dry goals (exams, classes, semesters) to an open-ended span of days, weeks, years where you just… work.
Many new jobs involve a big move. This move can be far from the home you’ve known for the past four to eight years – new roads, new stores, new culture. Not only are you far from home, but you are also far from friends and family. After graduation, the friends who were just minutes away are now hundreds of miles away. The fellow vets you’ve shared blood, sweat and cow manure with now may go months to years without seeing one another. Contact dwindles down in some cases and isolation can set in.
As working veterinarians, our schedules are both unpredictable and predictable. We can predict that we may be late to functions, may have to cancel plans or that we may be in bed by 9 pm on a weekend. But we can never predict what will come through the clinic door at any time. This lifestyle can make it difficult to make new friends as young professionals. We are typically tired, often poor and once we reveal our job we are asked for free vet advice rather than cultivating new and lasting friendships.
Your words have meaning.
In the workplace, we have to maintain professional boundaries with staff members. As a veterinarian in the clinic, my mentor impressed on me that my words have meaning. What I say matters, so make sure it needs to be said. As a student for over 18 years, combined with being at the bottom of the hospital food chain during clinics, my words have rarely held weight as they do now. This responsibility brings with it anxiety over things I say or have said. Missing the friendships from school, I talk to the fellow animal-lovers in the clinic. These wonderful human-beings are often my own age and are experiencing similar life changes like moving, getting engaged/married, starting a family and even losing loved ones. I love to talk and have to actively stop myself from engaging in certain conversations during the work-day as I feel that can be a distraction to the staff. When we have a job to do, I need to know that my words will carry meaning so that we as a team can accomplish the tasks at hand.
Our significant others are the most resilient of humans.
Many journeyed through school by our side. They braved the late nights of studying, the tears, the rants, the mini-breakdowns over finals and stressful rotations. Out in the world, they now brave the working veterinarian with an unpredictable schedule and emotionally taxing work life. I feel guilty for unloading my frustrations of problematic clients, difficult cases or co-worker interactions on my fiancé during the week, so many times I keep things to myself. I feel that venting about my job is a form of failure on my part. That I am somehow failing my clients, my employer, my colleagues and myself. I feel guilt that I am belly-aching about something I have worked so hard for. Something that I finally get to do.
Practicing medicine can make you feel alone.
Wracking your brain for the mechanism of action of a drug, trying to remember how a certain disease will impact the rest of the body, figuring out what the weird gray shape on that radiograph is – my mentor has termed it “growing pains.” It is this period of organizing your brain to function from an academic and test setting to a clinical and practical setting. You also have to sharpen your maturity to be more “professional.” The problem is, I have no real idea on how to be professional. Not yet, anyway. I’m a 26-year-old with the license to wield a scalpel who also binge watches Game of Thrones and eats ice cream out of the container. I have somehow gained the knowledge base to graduate and pass state and national licensing exams but when it comes to being in the “real world,” I’m still figuring it out. Impostor syndrome is real. It is so easy to be wounded by the one negative client than it is to experience the fulfillment and joy of the countless wonderful clients and patients. It will take time and effort, and the “growing pains” may change along the way, but hopefully, I can find a healthy balance of being a flawed human being who also practices veterinary medicine.
No one prepares you for the loneliness.
I know that I have the support in this career field to do what I love. I have my family that loves unconditionally, my fiancé who can always make me laugh and feel loved and my classmates who are also experiencing the first-year out of school. I have my mentors who know what I am going through and who look out for me and my well-being. Veterinary medicine can be full of stubborn people, myself included and I am determined to let others know that they are not alone in feeling isolated. Our job can be hard, it doesn’t mean our lives have to be. Someone out there is feeling the same way you do. So, tell someone.
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
Ashley DeAtley is a 2018 graduate of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. After eight years in Alabama for her undergraduate degree and veterinary school, she moved across the country to southern California for her first job as an associate veterinarian. When she isn’t working, she can be found sleeping, going to the beach, watching Netflix on the couch with her fiance and loving on her two cats Atlas and Ecko.