When I was a vet med student at University of Edinburgh in Scotland, it seemed like I had found the perfect career. Caring for small animals seemed to bring out the best in me, and I really believed I could make a difference—it was as if I was following my destiny. I learned a lot in vet school, including about many of the challenges involved in the work. But nobody told me just how hard it would be, how my dream job would eventually start to feel like a nightmare.
Struggling with work-life balance & burnout
When I came back to America, I worked for a relatively small veterinary emergency hospital for eight years and felt stretched thin. It wasn’t like how I pictured it. I expected a balanced workday. I also expected to be able to leave my work and stress behind me at the end of the day and being able to recharge for the next. In reality, it was impossible to reenergize myself.
It’s not that I fell out of love with animals or even the science of vet med. It’s that the conditions of working as a full-time staff veterinarian in an American emergency room were tough to begin with.
Then COVID hit—and as we saw across the country, more people were bringing home new pets, and more veterinarians were quitting in droves. That meant that small hospitals like mine expected us to take care of a greater volume of clients with no added support. Add to that the fact that my hospital was open 24 hours a day, and we only had five vets on staff. I could not schedule a vacation or take a personal day without feeling tremendous guilt about burdening my equally exhausted coworkers. I certainly could not imagine getting pregnant at that job and getting or taking significant maternity leave.
I no longer recognized myself as the person I was when I went to veterinary school. I was exhausted, frustrated, and worst of all, I no longer had the emotional bandwidth to feel any empathy for my animal patients or their companion humans. All I could think about every day was simply getting through the day and going home. Of course, those few hours at home would fly by and before I knew it, I was back at the clinic, grinding through another long shift.
Leaving vet med behind altogether
Meanwhile, my husband was working in software development. To him work life balance wasn’t something you had to find or maintain. He could simply leave the office behind when the day ended. He was concerned about me, though, and we began to talk about the fact that if we were ever going to have a family something had to change. With his encouragement, I decided to leave vet med behind. I soon found a job at a tech startup working as a junior software developer.
At first it was a huge relief. I was working at home, and I had much more flexibility. My time was finally (mostly) my own again.
Nevertheless, my heart was never in the work like it had been when I was taking care of animals. Over time I grew bored and restless. I thought now what?
Six months later, I got pregnant and that changed the equation for me yet again. I wanted to do work that was meaningful, work that I could be proud of. Still. I couldn’t imagine going back to crushingly long full-time hours, especially as a mom of a young child.
Around this time, I found IndeVets and was lucky to meet Samantha Cantor, VMD and a Veterinary Success Manager there. She told me about the IndeVets model and how I could play an active role in deciding where, when, and how many hours I worked. Yet I would still have the support and stability of working for a company that provided benefits and a supportive network of coworkers.
What I really loved learning about IndeVets is that it is run by other veterinarians who truly understand what it is like out in the field, and they know how important it is to provide a sense of community for associates.
I joined IndeVets in July, 2022 and had my baby later that year in October. Samantha supported me the entire way. These days, I work part-time hours at multiple locations that are close to me, and I can schedule them around my child’s needs. I can be available if I need to run to the pediatrician or do an early school pickup.
Of course, there are still challenging moments on the job, especially when I have to tell someone that their dog or cat is very sick, and I have to present them with a difficult decision about their care. But I finally feel like myself again, the person who fell in love with veterinary medicine, the person who chose this path because I thought I could make a difference. Best of all, I don’t have to sacrifice my well-being. I’m doing what I love and loving what I do.