As a general practice veterinarian, I am blessed with the opportunity to come in contact with many aspiring veterinarians. Some are already well on their way to getting accepted into veterinary school, but some are just starting on on their journey of discovering what options are available to them in a career as a veterinarian. This article is for those who are just starting out.
If you’re interested in veterinary medicine as a career, the first step is making sure you know what the job actually entails. A career as a veterinarian or a veterinary technician can be glamorized with sweet pictures of adorable pets, but veterinary medicine is a lot more than playing with puppies and kittens every day. The best way to decide if veterinary medicine is the right career for you is to spend time inside a veterinary clinic. Contact your local veterinarian to set up a time to come shadow them throughout their day (note: most veterinary clinics allow job shadowing, but there are some exceptions). Then follow the recommendations below to get the most out of your experience. This list is tailored towards job shadowing at a small animal clinic (cats and dogs), so these may vary slightly if you are job shadowing a large animal veterinarian (cows, pigs, horses, etc).
- Wear appropriate clothing. If you own a pair of scrubs, wear them. You will fit right in at most clinics. If not, don’t worry, just dress in a neat and professional manner. Jeans are okay at most clinics – just make sure they are clean and not full of holes. Don’t wear sweatshirts or old t-shirts. I recommend a polo shirt or buttoned shirt. But whatever you wear, wear something that you don’t mind getting pet hair on. Shoes should be closed toed (no flip-flops or sandals).
- Show up on time. You may just be coming for a day. But if things go well, the veterinary clinic staff that you are shadowing may just become mentors and future colleagues. Start off with a good impression.
- Bring questions. I can’t speak for everyone, but I enjoy having a job shadow speak up and ask questions in between appointments. It shows interest and opens up fun conversations. Just be mindful that if the staff is extra busy, they may not have a lot of time for long answers.
- Be respectful during appointments. When you are introduced to the clients, a short greeting is appropriate. However, most veterinarians are on a tight schedule and talking too much during the appointments can make it harder for the veterinarian to stay on time. Most questions are best asked in between appointments.
- Please wait to touch and handle animals until you are invited to do so. Many animals at the veterinary clinic are stressed and may be more likely to bite or scratch than they are at home. We never want our job shadows to get injured. Additionally, most of the time our liability insurance doesn’t cover job shadows.
- Be upfront if you are queasy and don’t want to observe a specific task. There is no shame in disliking needles at first or opting not to watch a surgery.
- On the flip side, if there is something that you are specifically interested in, let us know. Don’t hesitate to follow a doctor or technician into a room if you have already been invited once (unless specifically asked to wait for a special reason). I see a lot of job shadows afraid to following a doctor in unless asked every time. Many doctors have such a routine when it is busy that they may sneak into a room without you. Ask a staff member if you can head into that room behind the doctor. If the answer is yes, keep following the doctor.
- Leave your phone behind. Job shadowing can be difficult in that it can get hard to stand and watch when you don’t have an active role in the procedure. But playing on your phone indicates to the staff around you that you aren’t interested in your job shadow experience.
- Don’t worry too much about “being in the way.” Veterinary clinics are often small spaces with a lot going on. We all understand that there is never a really good place to stand when job shadowing. Most veterinarians and staff would prefer that you are close and engaged rather than worrying about being in the way.
- If you aren’t actively involved in observing an appointment or procedure, ask if you can help with anything. The answer might be no, but we all appreciate you asking.
- As an additional note, make sure you are old enough. Veterinary clinics are often very busy places and it is important that you are prepared to do a lot of quiet observing in between more active interaction. I find that students younger than 9th grade generally don’t enjoy the job shadowing experience as much, and would likely benefit more from a program geared for younger students to learn about the field. However, each individual clinic may have its own guidelines.
If the job shadowing experience goes well, keep coming back. If you are planning on applying to veterinary school, the more hours that you log in a veterinary clinic the better your application will look. And once you have your foot in the door, you are more likely to be hired as a kennel assistant or later on a veterinary assistant. Additionally, developing a good working relationship with a veterinarian is great when it comes to getting letters of recommendation for veterinary school.
Also, check out the student doctor network pre-veterinary forum. This veterinary forum has several threads about job shadowing struggles and suggestions.