Stoking the flames of your love affair with veterinary medicine

When you’re down in the veterinary doldrums, what do you do to refresh your commitment to animal medicine? 

Stop and smell the puppy breath! Love for the animals can help you stay in love with veterinary medicine during times of career doldrums. Photo ©
Stop and smell the puppy breath! Love for the animals can help you stay in love with veterinary medicine during times of career doldrums.

Romance isn’t dead. Just this year, after swearing I’d never marry again, I decided to make my longest running romantic liaison official. What clinched it? No, it wasn’t that the pandemic had magically changed our relationship (though the fact we didn’t kill each other was a definite plus). Rather, I’d become instantly convinced after finding the perfect wedding dress: a long, black, embroidered Alexander McQueen gown I spied on an online vintage clothing reseller. Sometimes it’s the little things—like a frilly dress—that remind you you’re in love.

Coincidentally, it was while sitting in front of the TV on Valentine’s Day that I fell in love with veterinary medicine—yet again. Watching All Creatures Great and Small on PBS did it. Maybe it was the nostalgia for the books in this series, which I devoured in my tweens like kids nowadays consume Harry Potter. Or perhaps it was the first episode of this James Herriot remake was just that good (it really was).

If I’m honest, however, it was more likely a year of practicing pandemic medicine had eroded my romance with our profession—so much so an earnest and heartfelt treatment of veterinary medicine proved a more effective shot in the arm than a coveted COVID vaccine. Whoever said escapism was no panacea certainly never watched this BBC show (or The Great British Baking Show, for that matter.)

Is it time for you to have a reprieve as well?

It’s been 25 years since I crossed a stage and accepted the diploma that hangs on the wall in my favorite exam room. So, you could argue I was way overdue for a mainline infusion of veterinary devotion.

Truth be told, though, this isn’t the first time I’ve been granted a reprieve from the professional doldrums. In fact, I’ve probably experienced a couple dozen of these fall-in-love-all-over-again moments (if not more) throughout the course of my career. So many it’s probably easier to remember the reasons I fell out of love than those that made me want to snuggle up with my seductively stinky de Lahunta anatomy textbook.

This is why, in the spirit of true romance, I decided to dedicate this column to the many things conspiring to make this profession lovable. So, when next you find yourself in the dumps over one of any number of evil things affiliated with veterinary medicine, think on these possibilities as your get-out-of-jail-free card. And remember…professional salvation is within our grasp, sometimes just a mere TV episode away.

Smell the puppy breath, stupid!

As fellow VPN columnist, personal mentor, and Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker once said, “Take time to stop and smell the puppy breath.” Personally, I never miss out on any opportunity to do so. (I’d absolutely buy a case of it if ever it were bottled.) And God knows this year has given us wafts of the pandemic-puppy variety almost hourly. This past year may have sucked, but it wasn’t because of the puppies.

Engage in veterinary escapism

There’s more out there than this most recent take on James Herriot’s books. The original TV show is truer to the books and has that classic 1970s PBS vibe we all know and love (Monty Python’s Flying Circus, anyone?). Then there are the books themselves, which will definitely do the trick if you’re in a bad way. Now, if only there was a more modern classic. Anyone out there care to recommend (or write) one?

There’s escapism…and then there’s escaping

Before you know it we’ll all be vaccinated and have the opportunity to truly escape our nests. That means it’s time to start planning your next adventure. I always find animal adventures (like spaying and neutering cats in Costa Rica or birding in Ecuador) have a way of putting our profession into perspective. I was planning a Peruvian hike for my sister’s 50th, crazy Alpacas and all, when COVID happened. Can’t wait to get back into that mindset. Animal travel works!

If you can’t beat ’em…

Is it time you treated yourself to a new non-human family member, too? A puppy or kitten would surely do. Nothing gives us joyful insight into our profession like joining our clients’ club—even if it’s for the 27th time around. Maybe you’ll score a loopy one and it’ll lead you down the path of behavior medicine. Or rescue an ailing French bulldog, in which case you’ll be getting a front row re-education in neuro, derm, and frustration.

Engage in new animal adventures

Perhaps you’d like to stoke the flames of your love by taking the leap into a new species. Maybe you can lease that horse you always said you’d have by the time you were 40 (and never could afford given no one told us what our kids’ college would one day cost or that we’d never be done paying off our student loans).

For my part, I spent the pandemic milking a rescue doe. I brushed up quite a lot on my dairy medicine. I’ll never make money at it, but, hey, it’s inspirational in its own way. Maybe you’ll try your hand at raising hens? Try it! Next thing you know you’ll be turning your half-bathroom into a chick incubator and you’ll gain a whole new perspective on what animal doctoring means.

Try a different kind of CE

CE doesn’t have to be all big lecture halls and three-star hotels where you’re forced to traverse stadium-sized swaths of industrial carpeting and navigate faceless hordes of veterinary professionals wearing too-casual off-duty clothing. If you’re dreading spending your much-needed time off amassing CE credits, consider the boutique CE experience instead. Grab an old classmate and try an excursion-based CE dedicated to one discrete topic. Rain forest hikes, desert retreats and sailing adventures can prime your psyche for professional growth. Moreover, small groups inspire camaraderie. Personally, I find these more rewarding at all levels. And they’re not all as expensive as you might imagine.

Those are my favorite to-dos when I’m down in the veterinary doldrums. What do you do to refresh your commitment to animal medicine?

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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