Three Things I Wish I'd Known When I Left Veterinary School

Students performing mock veterinary operation
Joushua Wainwright / Alamy

Every spring, our veterinary schools and colleges send another class of young veterinarians out into the world. Although my graduation from the Washington State College of Veterinary Medicine was more than 30 years ago, I will never forget how I felt that day — a mix of excitement and nervousness, of knowing I knew a lot but that I would never know it all. And like most of my colleagues, I’ve never stopped trying to learn more.

While much of what I’ve learned in the last 30 years is new information from the bleeding edge of medicine, some of what I’ve picked up is more about common sense. And while I suspect those lessons are the kind of thing only time can teach, I want to share the three things I most wish I’d known when I graduated.

Veterinarians Are Not Clairvoyant

Veterinarians should approach every new client on equal terms and never assume knowledge of the depth and breadth of The Bond people share with their pets. Early in my career, I fell into the trap of making assumptions about the love people had for their pets, how responsible they were as pet owners and how much they were willing to invest in the pet's health and well-being based on the breed of pet (purebred vs. mutt), where they lived (there's always a poorer part of town and a more affluent one) and how the pet owners were dressed or groomed.

To my surprise and delight, I found that many of the people I thought wouldn't or couldn't do the best by their pet did. Conversely, to my dismay and disappointment, those I would have sworn could lavish time and money on optimal pet care often didn't — or wouldn't.

It wasn't long before I stopped making assumptions about pet owners and began to practice by the adage "I'm always going to recommend the highest level of care, and only the pet owner can decrease that level, not me. I'm a pet advocate in the exam room."


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