I was a premed major in college and had every intention of going to medical school. In fact, as a high school senior I had
been accepted into a program that guaranteed me admission into medical school as long as I maintained an acceptable grade
point average throughout my undergraduate career. It wasn't until my senior year as an undergraduate that I decided to apply
to veterinary school instead of medical school.
There were two factors that affected this decision. First, I was taking a couple of fascinating classes relating to animals.
The second factor was my premed classmates. The majority wanted to be doctors because their fathers were doctors, or because
they craved the prestige and wealth. Most of them didn't want to be doctors to help people, to cure the ill, or to heal the
injured. I had already spent four years in classes with that bunch of jerks and couldn't face another four. So I went to veterinary
school instead. Veterinarians as a rule are overworked and underpaid, so we're all in this to help animals and people, not
to get rich and famous.
Last Fourth of July again confirmed that I made the right decision to switch fields. While feeling sick, I still came into
work that morning. One patient I saw was a leopard gecko named Athena. Although I don't technically treat exotics such as
birds or reptiles, they occasionally find me anyway. Athena had tried to eat a decorative plastic cactus from her cage and
the faux cactus was stuck in her throat. I held her mouth open and my technician gently pulled out the plastic. Athena was
fine and her family was appreciative.
Later that morning, concerned owners brought in Al, a middle-aged male cat. They said he had been straining in his litter
box, able to produce only a few drops of blood-tinged urine. I ran diagnostics and radiographs on Al and found that he had
bladder stones, several of which had migrated into his urethra, preventing him from urinating. So I anesthetized Al, flushed
the stones up into his bladder, and surgically removed them. When he awoke, he was able to pee comfortably and looked content.
However, by the afternoon I was coughing and wheezing. I was pretty sure I had bronchitis, so I left early to go to a prompt-care facility, where I was
seen by a forty-something white male physician. I was wearing doggy-and-kitty-print scrubs, so it was fairly obvious where
I'd come from. He asked where I worked; I told him the clinic name and added, "I'm a vet."
"What do you do there on a holiday like today?" he asked.
"Today I did a cystotomy."
"Really?" He smiled and I thought he was impressed. But then he added, "Do you have a vet there or is he on call?"
"Um, I am the vet," I said. What I wanted to say was, "He? Were you not listening? Why do you assume a veterinarian has to be a man? I know for a fact there are plenty of women physicians
in this very hospital. And do you really think so little of veterinary medicine that you assume a random layperson could do
a feline cystotomy?"
What a jerk. I saved lives while he insulted his patient. I treat any species and do everything—from internal medicine to
surgery to dentistry. I'm not rich but my patients and their families benefit from my skills.
Dr. Laura McLain is an associate at Central Valley Veterinary Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Please send your questions
and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org