The Vet Space Journal

You always have options!

Lisa Schaefer LVT RN | November 4th, 2020

When people ask us why we decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, the initial answer tends to be “I love animals and I love being able to help them.” 

While this is also the case for me, my love for medicine runs a lot deeper than simply wanting to help. Being in and out of the hospital pretty much all my childhood, getting poked with needles and being forced to stay socially distant sometimes for months at a time, learning about mine and other diseases became my survival strategy. Add the fact that animals were my only companions most of the time, and I don’t think it’s hard to understand why my dream to one day become a vet was born very early on. 

Unfortunately, my teenage years got the best of me eventually so my grades ended up not being good enough for veterinary school. Like many others, I decided to become a veterinary technician first and go from there. I started working for a mixed animal vet who happened to be an exceptional GP but unfortunately had very little respect for his staff. 

I admired his incredible knowledge and skills so much I simply ignored all the red flags for an exceptionally long time. It wasn’t until my equine vet came out to do my horse’s teeth one day that I realized his dismissive comments had gotten to me more than I was willing to admit. The way she interacted with her tech, saying please and thank you, and simply her general attitude towards her almost brought me to tears. 

My boss held himself to very high standards so his expectations toward his techs were equally high, despite the fact that we didn’t have vet school and 40+ years of experience under our belts. 

I would be lying if I said I don’t like a good challenge and the amount of responsibility he gave me was very flattering but, looking back now I realize there wasn’t a single day I wasn’t absolutely terrified for reasons that should never be an issue. No tech should ever have to be afraid to call their boss during an emergency. He did farm animals and meat hygiene inspections on top of his small animal practice so it was up to us techs to keep the clinic running smoothly and handle every crisis until he returned which is a huge responsibility in even the best of cases. Knowing you were absolutely screwed if you made even the tiniest mistake doing things that were way above your pay grade made matters a thousand times worse. 

 

There were a lot of things that went wrong but what bothered me the most was being pressured into doing things I was morally opposed to. Now add working up to 14 hours a day with zero extra pay to the list and I think it’s easy to understand that I was both physically and emotionally drained. 

 

Then one major traumatic event pushed me over the edge – losing my own dog. Josy meant the world to me. I got her when I was 13 years old, right around the time when my teenage brain started to kick in. She was my only true friend through some very tough times so needless to say, I was devastated when she got sick at only 9 years old. It all happened very fast. She went from drinking more water than usual to being severely anemic and eventually going into multiple organ failure over the course of just a few weeks. I tried everything to save her, took her to several specialists, ran every diagnostic test in the book, gave her multiple blood transfusions and started her on a very expensive immunosuppressive therapy, hoping her body would stop attacking its own cells. All the tests were inconclusive, nobody could tell me what was going on. I was determined to keep trying as long as she was willing to fight but unfortunately that didn’t last very long. The day I knew she’d had enough, my boss was on vacation and my parents were entirely against euthanizing her so I was completely on my own. 

I don’t remember how I made it through that day. I do remember getting on a plane the next morning to see the ocean and process what had happened. The plan was to use my vacation days I had left to pull myself together, put my shield back on and get myself ready to head back to work but instead I found myself questioning everything. The rough years at the clinic along with the fact that, despite all the hard work I had put in and the sacrifices I had made, I wasn’t able to save my best friend made me feel like I had lost my love for veterinary medicine altogether. 

Despite all the hardships I had endured, I couldn’t see myself not working in a medical field, so I made the decision to leave veterinary medicine behind and pursue a career in nursing instead. 

 

I loved being a nurse. I loved my human patients more than I would have ever imagined possible. I loved the advanced level of care I was able to give and that money was less of an issue. Most importantly though, I loved the way I started to see myself. I realized that after all the years of rigorous training, I was good at my job and ready to take it to the next level. 

 

Working as an RN taught me that finding the right workplace makes all the difference. It also taught me that you are not a bad employee for communicating your concerns and standing up for yourself. 

It took leaving the veterinary field for me to realize it was still where my heart was at. I hadn’t lost my love for it, I had merely poured my time and energy into a place that didn’t appreciate me, and I wasn’t gonna let a few years of bad experiences get in the way of what I had always wanted so I applied to vet school again after all and got in.

Just because you are unhappy where you are right now doesn’t mean there isn’t a place in veterinary medicine for you. There are so many options to explore that there really is no reason to stay somewhere you don’t want to be. 

Please also know that there is absolutely no shame in leaving the field altogether. Working in veterinary medicine is extremely stressful and demanding in even the best of circumstances so it’s absolutely ok to admit that it isn’t for you after all. 

Your physical and mental health are more important than holding onto a dream that no longer serves you.

Lisa is a 4th year vet student at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, Germany. 

Despite growing up around the sunny beaches of the Gold Coast of Florida, her heart will always belong to the vast farmland and wide open spaces of the Midwest. Lisa has a passion for all things farming and medicine. During her time working as an LVT at a small animal clinic and an RN at several different hospitals, she discovered that her main areas of interests are emergency medicine, surgery, and intensive care. 

Outside of veterinary medicine, Lisa loves to ride horses and travel to visit her family and friends that are spread out all over the world. Having moved continents several times, she doesn’t exactly feel tied to a specific place and she’s excited to find out where life is going to take her next after her graduation.

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