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A list of the worst veterinary career advice Ive ever received (and promptly discarded)

We present our simple, stress-free system for filing bad advice. (Getty Images)“Don't work in the veterinary field. The hours are long, the pay is small and the clients are difficult.”

Sound familiar? Sure, the job isn't a good fit for everyone, but as long as you are mentally and emotionally prepared, why not go after what you want? Are the hours long? You bet. Can the clients be difficult? Who isn't difficult at times? As for the money-well, if we were paid what we're worth, we could all retire today. But we don't do it for the money. We do it because we're passionate about helping animals and their families. We get out of bed every day and go to work because we know that on the other side of the exam table will be a worried owner who needs our guidance. We skip lunches so we can squeeze in just one more emergency, and we read veterinary journals in our free time because we love what we do.

“Don't worry about continuing education.”

Have you ever worked with someone whose professional development motto sounds something like, “This is how I've done it for 30 years and I'm not gonna change now”? Fun, right? Constantly seeking out new information is critical in the veterinary field because it changes so rapidly. One day brings a new medication, another reveals a new technique and the next delivers new research findings. Taking only a few years off from continuing education can set you back tremendously. With so many CE opportunities available-often for free-you have no excuse. (Hint: Click here for free training for your entire veterinary team). I particularly enjoy going to conferences where I can check out displays and talk to reps in the exhibit hall. (Learn more about CVC here.) CE is everywhere, and many clinics even cover the cost for you. Skipping CE does your clients (and yourself!) a disservice.

“Don't bother taking the Veterinary Technician National Examination.”

Why not? Because you don't want to show how much you know? Because you're not a fan of making money? Most clinics will give technicians a raise immediately upon their passing the national exam, and many clinics will even pay the VTNE fees for you. Becoming a credentialed veterinary technician doesn't just feel good-it demonstrates that you have achieved a certain level of education and knowledge. VTNE credentials are required to perform several specified tasks in some states. Even if credentials aren't required in your state or in your hospital, wouldn't it feel good to have those letters after your name and know that you are not limited by geography? I think so.

“Don't spend too much time with the clients.”

Um … what? I've seen thousands of pets over the years and I have yet to see one who drove himself to the clinic. Loving pets is only half the job. You have to love their owners, too. While they can be difficult, try to put yourself in their shoes. If someone you loved was experiencing health problems, wouldn't you be scared and on edge? People don't always do everything we want them to do, but they want to take care of their pet or they wouldn't have bothered to bring them to us. Our clients are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. Let's give it to them.


“Give your clients whatever they want.”

OK, let's not go overboard. We want to wow our clients, but we must draw a line. I've had clients ask for my personal cell phone number so they can call me if they ever have a question. I know a veterinarian whose neighbors knocked on his door in the middle of the night because their dog's coughing was keeping them awake. We need to find a work-life balance if we want to avoid burnout. Setting boundaries is key. Explain to friends and family that you would love to help them and then give them your business card. Ask them to bring their pets to your clinic where you will answer all their questions and even give them a tour of your facility. If you have someone in your life who won't stop pushing you, ask him or her how many hours a week they work for free.

“You can tell how much clients are able to pay by the way they're dressed.”

This is one of my favorites. I've had clients come to me in stained, torn clothes with the soles flopping off their shoes who paid a $2,000 bill with no hesitation. I've also had clients come in with a Prada purse, Jimmy Choo heels and a fresh manicure who tell me they can't afford a $75 blood panel. It's really easy to judge, but we don't know what's going on in their lives. Maybe the client dressed in rags looks that way because he spends all his money on his pets. We should give the same treatment options to every client, regardless of their perceived financial situation. Let them tell you their limits. I've never had a client refuse to do so.

“Don't give pain meds.”

This one is an oldie. Back in the day, people thought that if you withheld pain meds from an animal they'd stay nice and quiet and heal better. Research has shown the opposite. When an animal is in pain, their body releases higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which means they will heal more slowly-not to mention it's cruel to let an animal be in pain when we have the ability to help. Don't be old school. Give the dog some drugs.

“Dental radiographs are a waste of time.”

That's a big ol' NOPE. Think of it like this: we brush our teeth two or three times a day, we floss once or twice a day (riiiight?), we get our teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year and we still have full-mouth radiographs done at every dental cleaning. Animals eat gross stuff, they lick their butts, very few of them ever get their teeth brushed and they only get a dental cleaning a few times in their life-if they're lucky. They can't tell us where it hurts, so taking radiographs is the only way we can know if there are problems below the gum line like a retained root, fracture or abscess.

“Take the first job that's offered. You might not get another one.”

That makes as much sense as being told to marry the first person you date. We spend about one third of our lives at work. Don't you want to spend that time practicing medicine with people you like? Finding the right clinic is a struggle common to everyone in the veterinary field. At one point, I almost left veterinary medicine completely because I couldn't find a place that felt right. But once you find that right clinic, that family of coworkers that just gets you, you'll be so glad you waited.

So, how about you? What's the worst piece of career advice someone has given you? Tell us in the comments!


Julie Carlson is a freelance author and a certified veterinary technician. She is the winner of the 2015 Hero Veterinary Technician Award from the American Humane Association and the Founder of Vets for Vets' Pets, a nonprofit organization providing medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans.  Julie has five cats, two Chihuahuas and one fish and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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