Want to be a veterinarian? Kachka gives honest advice

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The minute the doctor walked into the room, you felt a sense of relief.

Soon, the pain will be gone, and you might finally get some rest. You could even have a name for the illness causing all these problems. Soon, your ailing pet will feel better, life will return to normal and in “Becoming a Veterinarian” by Boris Kachka, you’ll see what goes into the making of an animal doctor.

Who wouldn’t want to cuddle puppies and kittens for work? Who could resist watching the birth of a calf or a litter of piglets? Not you, so you’ve been considering becoming a veterinarian but first, forget those sugary images. Says Boris Kachka, being a vet means “years of training, high debt, relatively low pay, (and) frequent euthanasia…”

It also means long hours and, though you might think you’ll spend all your time with animals, there are people involved, too. To find out what real veterinarians think of their jobs, Kachka visited with vets from around the country.

The first thing he learned is that today’s “typical” veterinarian is a woman who graduated with the same amount of debt as a “human doctor,” but she’ll make a fraction of an M.D.’s salary. She may be a general veterinarian who cares for all sizes and types of animals, or she could specialize in any number of ways.

Her workplace might be in a traditional clinic with rotating on-call status, or she may work at a large-city ER or a site within a retail store. She might also be an entrepreneur with her own office; a mobile clinic; or a battered, well-stocked pickup truck.

“Veterinarians,” says Kachka, “are as varied as the animals they rescue…”

Each of those above situations has benefits and flexibility, but there are downsides: aside from fierce competition for college acceptance, one study showed that veterinarians suffered exceedingly high rates of burnout, suicide, and depression.

So is becoming a veterinarian worth all that? Most of Kachka’s subjects thought so, but they also mentioned cautions…

All your life, you’ve had animals around. You love puppies and kittens, horses and llamas. But are you ready for the good and the bad of working with them? Find out by reading “Becoming a Veterinarian.”

Beware, though, that this book may reveal that you don’t have what it takes. Indeed, author Boris Kachka gives readers plenty of chances to talk themselves out of taking a path that’s long and arduous but rewarding, and he does it through interviews gotten during hours of surgery, field calls, and clinic appointments. These case studies read like quick-paced fiction (although very un-Herriot-like), and appear to be well-representative of the field, although Kachka is sometimes unforgiving of his subjects’ habits.

Still, this books’ true-life tales should thrill the right student-to-be – whether she’s 16 and heading to college for the first time; or he’s 40 and craving a career change. For the pet lover, “Becoming a Veterinarian” is an enjoyable read but for a future vet, its honesty may offer a sense of relief.

(“Becoming a Veterinarian” by Boris Kachka, c.2019, Simon & Schuster $18/$25 Canada, 176 pages.)

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