This weekend I attended the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association Convention, where I talked with company representatives, organization presidents, and practicing veterinarians. I ate dinner and joked with the Dean and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at my school, got some advice – solicited and not – from various sources with varying experiences. I saw passion and drive for medicine and mentorship, and genuine camaraderie.
After the MVMA, myself and four other students drove ten hours to Atlanta to attend Veterinary Student Day at the CDC. We listened as public health veterinarians in government, non-governmental organizations, armed forces, and conservation medicine told us how they used veterinary medicine to research zoonotic diseases, fight parasitic transmission (by releasing sterile screwworms in Florida!), save endangered species, and develop new treatments for humans and animals. Some vets had practiced before being pulled in the direction of public health, others haven’t practiced clinical medicine since they graduated from veterinary school – but one thing was clear: not one had a career that matched what they thought they would have when they graduated, but not one would change the career they had chosen.
This weekend was perfect timing for these conventions – my class is currently preferencing electives and clinical block time frames, meaning we are trying to plan out the next two years in a way that will allow us to have the experience required to get the jobs we want after we graduate in 2019. As an indecisive concurrent Master’s student, I also have to fit in an internship somewhere in there, and hopefully get enough hours practicing in a non-hospital clinic to get my Missouri license (Missouri has some of the most stringent requirements for a DVM license, and it’s easiest to get hours in before graduation). I do not know what electives I need to get where I want to go, and there is no guidebook for how to gain employment in public health. What I learned this weekend is that in the end, no matter what path I take, I can work in public health, dentistry, behavior, academia, research, food animal, small animal, exotics – and I can change career paths as I go. There is no single best way to become a public health veterinarian, and that is a beautiful thing.
Ultimately, the best thing to come out of a marathon weekend of little to no studying and skipping class to drive to Georgia is renewal. For the last several months, I have been struggling to remember why I am in veterinary school. The only veterinarians we speak to in school are academics, clinicians, and board certified professionals at the top of their game who haven’t been in a small-town or general practice in years – if they ever were in general practice after graduation. The opportunity to speak to GP veterinarians, small town and city vets, public health veterinarians who haven’t practiced clinically in years, new graduates and leaders in our profession gave me the chance to step back and look at the big picture – radiology exam tomorrow? That’s nothing to what I’ll be doing in five or ten years. The motivation to study that I’ve been missing since second year began is coming back – I have a goal and a purpose, I just needed to remember it.
I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom I learned at the CDC:
“Stop touching bats. They don’t like it, and there is no way to determine if it is consensual…. Also, stop kissing chicks.” (Kids often get salmonella from kissing chicks and reptile pets)
“Have you ever had diarrhea? The next time you have a hard stool, thank a [public health] veterinarian.” (We keep your food safe!)