Parenthood: The ultimate veterinary training

Four meaningful lessons on being a better veterinarian—from those you might not expect it from.
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Nov 01, 2012

It was three hours past closing time, my emergency exploratory surgery patient had just left for the overnight clinic, and I was exhausted. Gathering up my things, I realized that both of my young children (the human kind) would be in bed when I got home. The thought made my chest tighten for an instant as the guilt of missing their entire day washed over me.


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Sometimes being a veterinarian makes being a parent difficult. (And sometimes the opposite is true.) However, for the most part, I have found that being a parent has actually made being a veterinarian easier. In fact, in some ways, I would say it has been the very best veterinary training. Here are four of the most meaningful lessons my children have taught me and insight on why they make me a better veterinarian every day.

1 You will never be perfect.

I was in veterinary school when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child. This is it, I thought, my chance to be The World's Greatest Dad! Unfortunately, that fantasy fizzled even before I held my baby for the first time. To my wife's dismay, it took me three tries to put together our crib correctly, I injured myself installing the car seat and I fell asleep during labor. Asleep. I don't think I have achieved parenting perfection for a single day yet. But I love my children, and I get better at this fatherhood thing every day.

No matter how hard we try or how deeply we care, even the best vets make mistakes. We're human, in the exam room just as in the nursery. As long as we stay focused on continual improvement, we must forgive ourselves for our failures and move on.

2 Patience is not just a virtue—it's a necessity.

At one time, I was able to do the following things in one swift course of action: decide to depart my house, locate both of my shoes, walk out and get in the car. Since having children, this process has turned into at least a 40-minute ordeal. It now involves coordinating schedules with other people, coaxing children into car seats and packing enough food and clothing to survive a week in the wild.

The emotions I experience during times like these are not unlike those we feel while waiting for tardy clients to arrive, for staff members to assist us in procedures or for diagnostic results to appear on the printer. The lesson my kids have taught me is that things take as long as they take (although we must never stop encouraging the process). We can be irritable about delays, or we can relax. The choice is up to us.