Whilst veterinary care can be highly rewarding and gratifying, it can equally be as stressful as it is satisfying.
This leads many prospective veterinary students and graduates alike, to ask:
‘Is being a vet worth it?’
This article explores what it’s like to be a veterinarian in 2021, drawing from the experiences of Dr. Moriah McCauley, a veterinary graduate from The Royal (dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Dr. McCauley discusses what it was like applying for veterinary schools, studying abroad, job hunting during a pandemic, and settling into her current veterinary practice.
To listen to Dr McCauley’s podcast discussion with Dr Dave Nicol, click below.
Hi Moriah, could you tell us a little bit about yourself (in terms of your background, education and what you’re doing now?)
My name is Dr Moriah McCauley and I am a 2020 graduate of The Royal (dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland. Following graduation, I returned to the states where I have been working as a small animal general practitioner. I truly love what I do, and being a veterinarian feels just like a part of who I am.
Outside of work, I host my own podcast ‘That Vet Life,’ which I started while in vet school as a way to connect with vets and students across the world. I am also an avid outdoorswoman and love to spend time hiking, cycling and running around the hills and mountains where I live.
What made you want to become a vet?
I was always ‘that kid’ who was into anything and everything that had to do with animals and medicine. From watching ‘Emergency Vets’ to performing surgery on my stuffed animals, veterinary care was my thing. I didn’t know it at the time, but my vocation was always to be in this field. As the years went by, I never strayed far from my current path, but it wasn’t until my last dog entered my life that it became crystal clear. I was going to become a veterinarian.
After that point, there wasn’t anything else that I was going to pursue and I’m so glad I decided to follow my heart. But it wasn’t just the animals that inspired me, it was the people. Being able to share their stories and help them take care of their furry family members is what provides a large part of the fulfilment you get working as a vet. Like many other vets, I initially didn’t realise this until I was applying to veterinary schools.
What veterinary schools did you apply to and how did you decide where to study?
I applied to four veterinary schools. When it was all said and done Edinburgh was the only one I was accepted to. Even then I had a choice to make. I could accept the open seat at Edinburgh and move across the ocean for four years, or I could say no and wait to apply in the upcoming cycle. There was a part of me that wanted to wait initially because as much as I wanted to go to Edinburgh, the true reality of moving that far didn’t hit me until it had practically landed in my hands. It was scary, but I took the plunge and I never looked back.
What was the application process like for you?
As a US student, I applied through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) which made the whole process rather straightforward. The hardest part was honestly the waiting. After hitting the ‘submit’ button it was only a few months that went by before acceptance/rejection letters started rolling, but it felt like years. It was then that the roller-coaster of emotions came as I received 3 letters of rejection.
It felt like the schools that rejected me were saying I wasn’t good enough, when in fact it was just that I wasn’t the best fit at that moment for that specific school. It was part of the journey and helped point me to my dream school and now looking back on it, Edinburgh was the best school for me. So when Edinburgh’s letter of acceptance came through I was both excited and nervous. Excited to be accepted, but nervous about the potential next four years. But I still had to get through the interview.
At the time, I was working as a veterinary assistant at an equine hospital in Kentucky, so I received approval for leave and flew to New York City where my interview was held. I was surprisingly relaxed, thanks to the pep-talk my mentor at the time gave me. He had told me that the interviewers weren’t all that interested in me showing them what I knew, but rather they wanted to see WHO I was. Following my interview, the official offer came through within a few weeks so there was thankfully minimal waiting.
I remember sitting in the vet truck on our way to another farm call when I opened my email. At that moment my dream was finally within reach, but it also meant that I would have to move to another country to achieve it. As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit scared at the thought of moving so far away. But I also realized what an incredible opportunity this would be and I likely wouldn’t have an opportunity like this again. So while I had some hesitation I signed on the dotted line and became a dick vet student.
What was your veterinary student experience like?
My veterinary experience wasn’t much different than if I had gone to another school, but I certainly worked to make it my own. I’ve always been someone who enjoys having multiple things going on all at once and vet school wasn’t about to be any different.
On any given day I seemed to always have something outside of my immediate studies happening. This ranged from being involved in organized vet med through Student American Medical Association (SAVMA) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA), volunteering with a local youth organization, training with the rugby team, managing my podcast (That Vet Life) or even running miles around Edinburgh. I had been told that vet school, while busy and stressful, can also be some of the greatest four years of your life. Now being in practice I’m glad I took advantage of the time I had available.
I will say there was a clear difference in the first year of my studies because of the split in my class. About 30 of us were Graduate Entry Students (GEPs) who had completed a previous degree and the remaining 100 were almost fresh out of college, i.e highschool. At graduation, you would have struggled to tell us all apart and I am proud to call them my classmates and colleagues. But in that first year, there was an obvious age divide.
Being in a different stage of life, the GEPs as we called ourselves, took life at a different speed. We weren’t as jostled by the workload or change in schedule which made for some lifestyle differences between us and the rest of the class who were about four years younger than us. I mention this because it’s not an age divide that would occur in the US as almost everyone is required to go through undergraduate studies before entering vet school and is worth mentioning. After all, it is different.
As a graduate, what has been the biggest challenge/shock for you?
As a new grad vet, one of the greatest challenges was transitioning from student to vet and learning to trust my gut and take the lead on cases. As a student, you always have a team of interns, residents and attendings who are there to check and double-check your work. After graduation that safety net is greatly diminished and suddenly YOU are the doctor and YOU hold sole responsibility.
It’s nothing that is unexpected but it’s new and it’s scary. Throw on top the fact that because everything is new and you are trying to be methodical and meticulous you are inherently slower which leads to a high level of insecurity. Thankfully, this does diminish slowly over the months as you build your skillset, case numbers and confidence, but there’s no getting around the fact that your first year out is tough.
The one bit of advice I like to remind myself and other new grads about is that vet school prepares you with the skills and knowledge to survive your first year out. It’s after graduation that you start to develop into a great vet.
What was the job hunting process like for you?
The job-hunting process started about 12 months before I finally said yes to the practice I am currently a part of. My first few interviews were honestly more for practice. I had recorded an episode with my friend and colleague Dr Alexandru Pop about his interview process and that conversation helped me prepare my questions for my interviewers.
Because I was in Scotland, I wasn’t able to complete any interviews in person until I returned to the states. Life then threw a curveball with COVID and I wasn’t able to complete almost any of my interviews in person, which made the whole process rather difficult.
I was starting to be a bit exhausted by the whole process until my current position became available. It took three weeks from when I submitted my resume to when I was invited for a working interview. Only a month later I was signing my contract.
What I learned from this whole process was that having clear goals and objectives helped me to easily say ‘yes’ when the right job came along. I have to give a huge shout out to my mentor because he helped me immensely by being a listening ear as I worked through the job offers I received.
How are you feeling now in your new job (is being a vet worth it?)
I’m not shy in saying I love my job. I chose this practice for many reasons, most notably the people. The culture of this practice is one that I fit into. I also have the most incredible mentor, who has taken on the task of taking on a new grad vet – which is no easy feat.
For any of the soon-to-be grads, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a mentor or two as these relationships will make or break your first year in practice. Knowing I always have someone I can go to for guidance or assistance takes a great deal of the stress away and allows me to find greater satisfaction in my job while providing high-quality medicine to my patients and clients.
Any advice for vet students/graduates early in their career?
You won’t graduate with all of the skills and knowledge to be a fully confident and independent veterinarian. It just isn’t possible. So give yourself some grace as a new grad. Accept that every day is a new opportunity to grow and develop.
You are an amazing veterinarian, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need support. Find your mentors and foster relationships with those around you. Those people are going to be the people that inspire, encourage and challenge you to continue to learn and grow in this amazing profession.