To the veterinary class of 2019: Dreams dont work unless you do

2019-06-05
Dani McVety, DVM

A commencement address to this years newly minted DVMs.

Congratulations, graduates! Don't let your foot off the gas yet. Patti Worden/stock.adobe.com

Editor's note: Dani McVety, DVM, University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine class of 2009, gave the commencement address to the 2019 graduating class at UF this past month. We are repurposing her speech here with the idea that her inspiring message applies to new veterinarians around the country. Dr. McVety's address has been edited and condensed.

For almost my entire life, the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was simple: A veterinarian. I didn't have much of a vision of what that actually meant. Upon graduation my ambitions were simple-to pay back my student loans, remember the dose of Clavamox, have a family and live a generally happy life. 

I imagine most of you are in that same boat. Well, my friends, reality is heading your way.

If there's one piece of advice you take from me, it's this: You are in charge of what happens next. If you're unhappy, it's not veterinary school's fault. If you're not making enough money, it's not your boss's fault. And if you're feeling burned out, it's not your client's fault. That's like being mad at the gym because you haven't lost weight. Everything that happens from here on out is on you.

And the crazy thing is, it's been “on you” all along. You see, you cannot walk across a stage, accept your diploma and

Dr. Dani McVety expect the land of honey. The hard work you've put into your life so far cannot, will not, must not, stop now. The world needs you to stand up and deliver back to society your gifts, even if you don't yet know what those gifts are. 

Ten years ago, the economy was crashing. Veterinary clinics stopped hiring, fearing pet owners would stop spending money at their hospitals. Many of my classmates graduated without jobs. My ideal job went to another classmate. And yet looking back, I firmly believe that the lack of opportunities available to me during that formative first postgrad year cleared my path for new ideas. 

As you may know, just three months after I began my life as a veterinarian, I was inspired to start a business after a client requested that I leave her pet on her lap during a euthanasia.

In the nine years since Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice was started, we have helped over 150,000 families, earning us a place on the INC 5000 list. My student loans are long paid off, my family is spiritually and emotionally happy and I absolutely love going to work! 

But remember-I had no idea this would happen when I was sitting in your place. And I wonder which of you will be part of movements, innovations, changes, new ideas, new businesses in our profession? Which of you will be standing here in 10 years, speaking to the class of 2029? 

As you exit academia and enter the “real world,” there are two main characteristics I'd like you to remember, that set you apart from most of the population:

A high intellect

The ability to delay gratification for a greater good

High intellect

Yes, you are very smart. And from here on out, no one will care how smart you are, but rather, how you are smart. Will you listen to those around you? Will you put the needs of your clients and patients above your own opinions? Will you see opportunities no one else sees? Will you push forward, even if you're scared?

Right now you can recall all the clotting factors, you can identify interstitial lung patterns and you even know what “pharmacodynamics” actually means. There will be many things you don't yet know, however, that will be key to your success in the future. 

Intelligence means learning from your mistakes. My first mistake came freshman year of veterinary school, when I procrastinated my study time away (some of you may understand that more than others) and failed nutrition. I repeated my freshman year, ultimately spending five, not four, years in veterinary school. But it didn't end there. I failed my first board exam, failed to get the job I really wanted, I even failed to wire the down payment for our house to the right bank account … it went to a hacker instead. And, on my third night as a doctor, I injected a dog with 8mL of Benadryl instead of 0.8mL (luckily, he lived).

Each time, instead of crumbling, dropping out or giving up, I applied the lessons I learned to ensure those mistakes never happened again. Failure is meant to humble and eventually inspire. And I assure you, my greatest achievements have come from the lessons I learned from my greatest failures. To me, the ability to learn and re-learn is what intelligence actually is. 

Grit

You each have something else that sets you apart from most of society. No, it's not the slight odor of formaldehyde, or the brown stains on your jeans from FARM rotations … it's the ability to delay gratification. To sacrifice your time and money in the moment for a greater payoff down the road. 

This is “grit.” It's a trend of excellence, an attitude that makes you put your head down and keep studying-even when the coffee has run out and your brain is saying it can't force one more piece of information in. It's a trend of good decision-making.

You may think that this payoff you've been waiting for comes now. But if you want to be happy for decades to come, enjoy your success without changing your work ethic. 

Your class will graduate with an estimated $150,000 in student debt. One in five of you will graduate with over $200,000 in debt. Sure, you're a doctor, but at this moment you're a broke doctor. And here's the deal: your average starting salary will be around $80,000. If you live within your means, apply your signing bonuses to your student debt, keep driving that old car and avoid racking up those credit cards, you could actually pay off your student loans in four or five years. 

Really think about that for a moment. if you kept living the way you've been living for just four more years, spending like a student instead of like a “doctor,” you could negate the No. 1 complaint our profession has right now-mounting student debt. 

To help you remember what's possible, I've brought you each a small gift. This metal card is the size of a credit card, with our veterinary caduceus on one side and my favorite quote on the other: “Dreams don't work unless you do.”

I hope you place it in your wallet where your credit card usually goes. And every time you think about charging something that might delay your ability to pay back your loans or live the life you truly dream about, I want you to remember that those dreams don't work unless you have grit and determination make them work. 

Parting thoughts

As you prepare to add those cherished two letters in front of your name, I wish you both comfort and discomfort. Comfort enough to inspire hope and discomfort enough to motivate change. 

I also hope you share your talents with the world and that you won't hide the fact that you're a veterinarian simply because you don't want to see someone's pet photos. I hope you will choose to speak up, show up, stand up, lean in, sit in, vote, help, volunteer, lend a hand, offer your hand … and that you will radically transform whatever situation you are in because you are a veterinarian. 

And, lastly, I hope you will always remember, “Dreams don't work unless you do.”