You can look at some people and know what they do for work. I think that’s true for those in the veterinary world.
There are the standard clues: they’re covered in fur, usually black Lab fur, from the lint roller they just used, also covered in black Lab fur and stuck to their scrub pants. There’s a used syringe falling out of a pocket, as well as many pens, through a hole chewed by a dog trying to get to forgotten treats in the laundry pile.
There are more subtle clues, though. One is the momentary recoil when a Talenti gelato container comes out after dinner. Yes, it is delicious. But for some reason it is the most common container people use to bring fecal samples to the animal hospital.
Other telltale characteristics of veterinary workers, besides loving animals: they are hard-working, prefer to pet the host’s dog at parties rather than talking to people, have a great sense of humor, and can keep a good poker face. For example, it is hard for the technician not to laugh when the doctor you are working with, in mid-sentence with the pet owner, gets sprayed all over the face and neck with anal glands. Or when a man shows up with a closed cardboard cat carrier and is flabbergasted, when he opens it in the exam room, to find no cat.
It’s also hard not to laugh when a client lifts up her shirt and asks you to identify the rash there. (Eeeww, human disease.)
The veterinary field involves long hours and many sad moments, and, as corporate ownership of hospitals becomes more common, employees feeling the frustrations they bring to the workplace. Compassion fatigue is a work hazard that is not discussed nearly as much as it should be.
The unique stresses of the job result in a high burnout rate and high turnover, not to mention an epidemic of suicides among veterinarians — more than other professions and 2.5 times the rate of the general public.
I have worked with many different people in this field, all over the country. They have an indescribable passion for what they do. They love improving the lives of not just animals but also their humans. They are dedicated, sometimes to a fault, to being there when they are needed. The workload is impossible, and they often suffer from interacting with sad or angry clients (not patients).
So, thanks to all who are in or have been in this field. Whether it was replacing a dirty towel under a pet, magically making more time appear in a schedule where there wasn’t any, or helping guide a family through the heart-wrenching moments of putting a beloved pet down, you made life better for an animal on Earth.
If you find yourself waiting at your local veterinary office soon, remember you are surrounded by good people who experience the same moments with their own pets, are doing their best they can, and probably just had their sneaker filled with urine they meant to collect. So, please be kind.
Sadie Hutchings, D.V.M., practices at the Herring Cove Animal Hospital in Provincetown.