Oh, to be a veterinarian…

From the first trip with our labrador to the veterinarian, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to be. Sure, I went through phases of wanting to be a professional ballet dancer, a zoo keeper, a dolphin trainer, an interstate truck driver, an actress. But in the end, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer remained the same – “I want to be a vet”. I remember the looks on the faces of all those grownups; the way they would give my parents secret, or so they thought, side-ways glances and rolling their eyes slightly, hinting to them their clear dismay at how the chances of me ever making it into that course all those years later was pretty much hopeless. Even the brown haired, brown eyed, odd-sock wearing boy at three-year old kinder said to me one day when I brought my pet goat in for show and tell, “only boys can be vets”. I frowned long and hard at him, disbelieving, but distraught at the same time, thinking, “could this be true!?” All the vets I had seen were indeed males. But later on that week, Mzuri, the first IVF chimpanzee, was born. And guess what – the vet looking after her was a woman. From that day forth, I knew that veterinary science was something that I not only wanted to do, but it was what I would spend my life doing. I was right, mostly.

It took me a while to get there. Now here I am, almost at graduation, with a completely different outlook on veterinary science. I’m running scared. The course has worn me down and worn me out. I’ve gone from a high achiever, to an average student, learning that nothing can ever truely please your adversaries or authority figures, no matter how long and hard you try. I have gone from believing that the University of Melbourne is one of the most prestigious and highly regarded Universities, to finally understanding that all it cares about is money, fame and upholding it’s bogus reputation. “Dream large” is its motto. “Dream on” is what most students now believe it should be.

I have worked my butt off pleasing other people. I have struggled through long night-shifts followed by 5am starts, followed by more night shifts. No wages for all this effort, but even more disappointing is that there is absolutely no appreciation. I smile through my tiredness, my aggravation at the system and the University in general – for lack of funds and lack of staff. Putting students on night-shifts – often with no vets (and lucky if you get one!) there to help you if you run into trouble with a clients animal – just to cut costs is a poor way to do business and desperately needs fixing.

The whole University of Melbourne Veterinary Science Faculty has undergone vast changes (and not for the best!) since the hiring of the new Dean. He parades around on his high horse (of course, he is an equine specialist – so it only figures I guess!), and nobody really knows what it is he does exactly on his outrageous salary, except just recently offering career advice to students planning to graduate in a few months and, who, have probably already sent off resumes and job applications months ago. So there’s an idea for cost cutting – let’s cut the Dean’s wages and save a quarter of a million dollars!

Hiring your best mate from University as your “second in charge,” i.e. Director of Clinics and Hospital, has had many people up in arms questioning the nature of his employment. He is yet another person who wanders the hallways aimlessly, trying to find ways to overhaul the system and aggravate both students and staff alike, instead of actually being useful. Of course he should never have been hired, or even considered for the job, as his qualifications are far from adequate – surely he should have stayed in the pharmaceutical world, where, as he keeps reminding us, his services were appreciated and he was respected. I ask him, when was the last time, before now, he stepped into a clinic room and conducted a simple health check on a dog? Probably ten years ago or more. But the Dean wasn’t thinking of that when he hired his side-kick and ally was he?

So basically now everyone is just watching all this apparently marvellous work these new “heads of department” have conducted in the last year or so, and shaking their heads furiously in dismay, and their fists in anger. Where, through all of this departmental shift, has the support and care for staff members and students alike gone? It’s gone not just out the door, but it’s disappeared to the other side of the world, if you ask me. Simple pleasantness has gone from what was once, or so I am lead to believe, a hospitable, friendly, genuinely positive place to work and be a student at. Now you can’t even have a pet in the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary Science College – Kendall Hall, without being evicted and told to find new accommodation. I mean, how ridiculous. And how many students do you think break that rule right under the stupid Warden’s nose without him even knowing. Just change the rules – we are all lovers of animals, and really, if we can’t take care of them properly then who are we to be vets in just a few years time?

And I wonder, through all of this disappointment and anger, whether I made the biggest mistake of my life in deciding to be a vet. Whether, if Mzuri’s vet had been male, I would have just thrown the towel in, and be a far happier Arts/Commerce student? But more than that, I’m wondering if now – just a few months short of graduation – I wouldn’t be far crazier to actually graduate into this world of bigamists and jerks. My experience so far is that vets tend to be egotistical wankers with degrees. Now this is the question – do I really want to be one too…?

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One Response to “Oh, to be a veterinarian…”

  1. josephknecht dvm Says:

    There is a story called appropriately enought THE ANIMALS SCHOOL written by George Reeves, a school administrator in the 1940s. His story encapsulates completely what a veterinary education has become, an education in mediocrity by trying to become all things to everyone and not building on the individual’s strengths. Worldwide veterinary schools are failing to innovate and failing to develop (except those few selected for specialization) the strengths of those students who decide to enter this field. After being a vet for over 17 years and failing to achieve hardly anything I set out to achieve because often the “promised” opportunities of veterinary medicine have evaporated or really were just figments of academic veterinary imagination. Maybe the solution for recent veterinarians and students is to strike the profession. Quit the classes, drop out, do not pay student debts, lobby the media and legislatures on how hollow and mediocre vet education has become. For without students and money, those academics would then have to go out into the “real economy” and learn how tough it can be.

    Joseph Knecht
    Factotum of Veterinary Medicine
    United States of America

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