An open letter from a disillusioned veterinary school graduate


An open letter from a disillusioned veterinary school graduate

While the financial problems plaguing veterinary education may hog the spotlight, this young veterinarian says it’s time to talk about the other issues—those that occur behind closed doors and within closed minds—that are making students sour.
May 26, 2017
By staff

Isaeva Anna/Shutterstock.comRecently I had an interesting conversation with a technician at work. She's bright, motivated, diligent and interested. She wanted to be a veterinarian when she was younger, but those dreams went by the wayside due to life circumstances and finances. Her father asked her if, since she's now working in a veterinary hospital, her old desires had been rekindled. Did she still want to be a vet?

"I think you would make a good veterinarian," I told her. "But I don't think you should go to vet school." The other recent grad and the fourth-year extern standing nearby immediately echoed my sentiments.

Why did we offer this advice? And why are veterinary students so unhappy? Why do they suffer from anxiety and depression at alarming rates? It's a multifaceted problem, but everything boils down to incredible anger about our experience in vet school.

Anger because we worked hard with little reward. Anger because we had to sacrifice our hobbies, social lives and emotional well-being to study, do grunt work and write volumes of paperwork no one would ever read.

Anger because we were at times mistreated, yelled at and punished for things we didn't do.

Anger because we were bombarded by statistics and articles that say vets are overpopulated, vets make salaries that are not consummate with the time and tuition they put out, vets are to blame for killing animals or practicing pseudoscience and are crucified on social media—with career- and life-ruining effects.

Anger because we watched animals suffer and die needlessly, were witness to errors we didn't have the power to fix and slogged on daily through injustice and mismanagement.

Anger because of the cumulative effects of massive, unrelenting stress.

It's true that veterinary medicine attracts type A people—the overachievers and the perfectionists. But I'm not referring to stress from internally driven motivators. There's a prevailing attitude in veterinary medicine that people need to "put in their time"—work like a dog for years, suffer, slave away, and slowly crawl to the top of the pile through copious blood, sweat and tears. I disagree.

This field needs collaboration, camaraderie and healthy competition. Instead, it has backstabbing, gossip and cutthroat antagonism. And at the university, I saw efforts to sabotage careers out of personal vendettas. I saw great attempts to discredit and embarrass clinicians in front of their students and peers. I saw patient care go by the wayside, a casualty of intra- and interdepartmental quarrels. And I saw—and even received—unjustified, over-the-top criticisms and punishments in order for someone to maintain a façade of undeserved authority.

At school I also had to follow orders I didn't agree with. On one occasion, I took part in a euthanasia for an ailment with a treatable solution, though the client hadn’t been apprised of this fact because the head clinician refused to acknowledge its possibility. Those of us in the opposing camp were vindicated—too late—at necropsy. Obedience and fear of consequences kept our mouths shut. But such cases continue to haunt me.

I can't wave a magic wand and make the outlook better for graduating vets. But I can offer some guidelines to serve as counterpoints to some of the negative behaviors I observed as a clinical student.

Be realistic. If the head clinician is overwhelmed, the house officers probably are, too, and the students are probably running around like maniacs trying to keep the whole thing afloat. Each person should try to recognize when someone is in over their head and help out accordingly. There were many times when I witnessed technicians sitting around gossiping or snacking while students juggled menial patient care and other pressing responsibilities—or when senior clinicians vanished to an office hideout while underlings were left to clean up messes, both literal and figurative.

Furthermore, 15-hour days, five days a week, plus emergency shifts, nighttime patient medication and walking, and weekend care just isn't sustainable for a student who's also trying to study for a block exam, prepare for boards, take care of responsibilities at home, read up on upcoming cases, finish paperwork and more.

Be respectful. The Golden Rule still applies, even behind closed doors when superiors aren't watching. I've witnessed some utterly heinous behavior from respected "professionals," directed both at students and at fellow doctors. This is demeaning, stress-inducing and morale-killing. It seriously contributes to workplace dissatisfaction, which leads to further pent-up anger, tensions, inefficiency and ultimately bad service for animals and clients.

Be receptive. Sometimes good ideas come from unexpected places. Sometimes clients can diagnose their pets before the doctor can, because they know the animal better. Sometimes students are armed with more up-to-date knowledge on their cases than the clinician, since the classes are fresher in their brains or because they took the time to comb through PubMed looking for a solution. Don't discount these ideas just because they didn't come from an "expert."

Be relevant. I've seen bad or outdated science touted as unquestionable fact. We must grow and change with the times. Universities should be at the forefront of medical progress, not stuck in the Stone Age out of stubbornness and reliance on "tradition." We have to challenge our dearly held beliefs daily if we hope to grow, remain current and be good doctors. Our patients and clients deserve nothing less.

There are certainly some excellent individuals serving as clinicians and teachers at universities. I hope these people who still value teaching high-quality medicine and the pursuit of scientific knowledge will remain in academia so future students can benefit from their knowledge and altruism.

This is how dialogue in the veterinary community ought to work. Please don't forget this.



A Young Veterinarian




Leadership sessions at CVC

Perhaps the wrong school?

Sounds to me like you chose a school with a bad cultural fit. Everyone I know who chose this field for anything other than personal satisfaction/passion for the work has been sorely disappointed. I am amazed that during the time you might have been studying and looking for ways to better yourself, you were instead engaging in the "drama" of your surroundings. (I don't hire people who are into drama.) There will always be people in life who make it their goal to sabotage your well-being. You alone have the power to decide how you will respond to those situations. Get some therapy. Cut the energy sucking folks out of your life. Exercise. Learn to work hard. Make wise choices about how you spend your money - including return on investment for education. No one owes you anything, so do the work. There is not a system stacked against you, just a system that says you have to do the work to reap the rewards.

just a drama-monger

As the author of this letter,I must acknowledge that you have judged my peers and I completely wrong, and your dismissive attitude is exactly what drives us to the brink. You have absolutely no clue how tirelessly I have worked at this profession since it was held out as the proverbial carrot before me as a young undergrad. I devoted my life to this career, foregoing all else but the desire to better myself as a student and finally as a veterinarian. I graduated at the top of my class, respected by my peers and highly valued by virtually all of my instructors on account of my commitment, my performance, my knowledge, my patient care, my leadership, my extensive extracurricular research, and yes, believe it or not, my attitude. I was, with sincere truth but with modesty on hold, the model veterinary student. And yet beneath the pristine surface, this is what was brewing. I guarantee you that a majority of my classmates share my sentiments, and they are a motley crew, but most of them good, honest, and hardworking young vets. I then went on to complete an internship, working 80-100 hour weeks, every week, for $2000/month minus withholdings, all so I could better serve my clients and patients (here, I suffered exactly the same horrendous treatment, but I took it as par for the course, as did my peers). Please, tell me again how we don't understand hard work or commitment?
It doesn't have to be this way, but in order for it to change, so do attitudes like yours.
(I did post a standalone comment with my original letter, before it was substantially cut by editorial staff, which clarifies a few of these points, should anyone care to read it.)

You are correct.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Our academia has focused on creating a group of totally disillusioned graduates. Many have no idea of what being a doctor means, human or animal. Too much tv showing glamour and riches. Most of todays graduates expect to be in a major city with great beaches for the 3 days off during the week and every weekend. We have to blame a lot of this on the academic folk that select and nurture these young people. Many are afraid to leave the university settings because they are brainwashed into thinking that once they leave an institution their education will certainly end and they will be private practice failures. Isn't it funny that when we older vets graduated you could go to a rural underserved area and have your loans forgiven.. Today, graduates consider these areas anywhere with a population of 500,000 or less. We advertised for a new graduate this year with a 100,000 package and had no applicants.
A MD student will spend 4 hard years in school, then 3 to 5 years of 60 to 80 hours a week for 30 to 40,000 a year.

I disagree

At least from my perspective and those of my friends/classmates.
I made $24,000 my first year out (internship), and considered that just part of the process, although it didn't dent my student loans and barely paid my rent.
I now make *considerably* less than what you quote as an associate veterinarian, but I'm not clamoring for more.
I was fortunate enough to graduate with far less in student loans than many of my peers (some of whom are saddled with debt of $150,000-$400,000+, which is mind-boggling).
Some of my friends went to high-paying (relatively speaking; $85,000+) jobs right after graduation. Several of those were immediately choked and stifled by the corporate atmosphere, and have already beat their hasty retreat out to lower-paying but less soul-sucking positions.
All of us work over 40 hours a week (often MUCH over), but we knew we would. We are young, but we are good doctors and we try so, so hard to better ourselves for our patients and our clients.
We weren't disillusioned by the hard work, low pay, or long hours. We were disillusioned by just how nasty and small the people who hold up the pillars of this profession can be.

It IS hard work

So sorry you have not enjoyed all the hard work associated with educating yourself in your chosen profession. I wonder where you attended professional school, as my two sons, both recent grads, would not share your complaints. After 39 years of practice I can say that yes, it IS hard and stressful work at times, hours can be long, and not every relationship you experience at school or work is positive. But that is life. You make the best of it and move on. If you have chosen the right profession for you, then going to work each day is something to look forward to. There are daily challenges, successes, failures, and continued education by coworkers, clients, and just experience. But you love the challenge and being able to provide compassion and care to your patients and clients. And you get better and better at doing this through the years. It isn't all cute puppies and fuzzy kittens, but there are enough of them to pull you through the tough times. And often, veterinarians do work together as a team to get the best job done. Give it a chance.

Keep you head down and get thru it

I'm not sure anybody made it thru medical school some point..keeping their head down and gutting it out. And lots of good practices need docs so the employment outlook is fantastic, depending on where you are looking of course. Most of my colleagues in town (Rockford IL) are looking and cost of living here is low too....makes it easier to start paying down those loans. We have a local emergency clinic so nobody is even doing after hours emergencies....which is a far cry from how thing were 20 years ago, let me tell you. There are plenty of great opportunities available nowadays with a decent quality of life too.

Joe Frost


My name is Mark Frost and my daughter who practices,in Nashville is also a Frost. In 37 years you Are the first veterinarian named Frost I have heard of.

cool name

My dad, brother, and cousin are veterinarians too so there are at least a few of us out here. Really cool that your daughter is in the "family business" too, that is great :)


My name is Mark Frost and my daughter who practices,in Nashville is also a Frost. In 37 years you Are the first veterinarian named Frost I have heard of.

Pot? Meet kettle.

I tried to look past the initial whiny tone of your letter. We can all have a bad day I suppose. Where you completely lost me is when you began harshly judging, complaining about, and attacking other veterinarians really quite nastily, while simultaneously complaining about backstabbing, gossip, and admonishing us to "be respectful", and that "the golden rule still applies even behind closed doors." Well, not for you, apparently.