“One screaming cat, a spilled bottle of rubbing alcohol, and lots of blood in a 104-degree treatment room — I passed out!
“That was my first day volunteering at a pet hospital in high school,” said Dr. Monica Dijanic, now Medical Director of Beaver Brook Animal Hospital in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
“The AC broke in the middle of a New York heat wave and I was asked to help place an IV catheter into a particularly fractious cat.
“When I came to, I had a cold compress on my forehead. The vet was staring at me, turned to my manager, and said, ‘She’s a keeper.’”
The vet was right — nearly 20 years later, Dr. Dijanic’s misadventure helped lead her to her current senior role.
Dr. Monica Dijanic, DVM, and Wilson
Becoming a veterinarian is no easy feat, so we were curious: What drives veterinarians to follow their dream into the field?
We interviewed vets from across the country to find out, and learned that their sources of inspiration were as unique and charming as each of the doctors we spoke with.
Some vets knew their dream all along
Many vets we spoke to knew from a young age that this was their dream job and nurtured their love for animals early on.
“As a child, I discovered the human-animal bond through my own dog, an Airedale Terrier named Sanders,” said Dr. Jessica Waldman of California Animal Rehabilitation in Los Angeles. “He protected our family and made me feel safe and secure, but he was also my best buddy.”
Sanders served as a source of inspiration for Dr. Waldman to help other animals, showing her firsthand how pets empower our lives.
“Sanders was my special partner growing up. It’s amazing what he did for my sense of self,” Dr. Waldman said. “I felt indebted to help him and other animals, and that’s what led me to where I am today.”
Dr. Jessica Waldman, DVM, and Tate
Dr. Rebecca McComas of MN Pets in Oakdale, Minnesota, announced to her family when she was only 8 years old that she would become a vet — and she started taking care of “patients” right away!
“My family had tons of pets while I was growing up — dogs, hamsters, rats, fish and hermit crabs — and they were my first experience with having the responsibility to care for another living thing,” she remembered.
Dr. McComas learned in these early years that the health of her animals truly depended on the quality of the care and attention she provided them.
“It was a growth experience to delay my playtime with friends so I could tend to the animals in my care first,” she said. “I learned how to prioritize their needs above my own.”
Dr. Rebecca McComas, DVM, and Hiro
Dr. Laura Ziegler of DoveLewis in Portland quite literally chased her dream of becoming a vet.
“When I visited my grandpa in Milwaukee as a little girl, I chased butterflies into his neighbor’s yard,” she recalled. “His neighbor was a naturalist, and she got me started raising butterflies, which I did for years. Not all of the butterflies made it, but when they did, it was really fun to watch!”
From there, she trained search and rescue dogs and volunteered with the Humane Society. After having a miniature poodle of her own, Cuddles — which her parents agreed to let her have after she presented them with a very convincing PowerPoint slideshow — she learned about the problems many small dogs have and became even more passionate about caring for them.
“Teaching the neighborhood kids how to raise butterflies inspired a love of science, and I’d always had a love for animals,” she said. “That’s what drove me to the veterinary field.”
Dr. Laura Ziegler, DVM, and Soca
Other vets didn’t know their calling until they were adults…
Many people don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. But then, almost for no reason, it hits them — that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.
And according to Dr. Elizabeth Carney, “There is no greater gift as an adult than to be called to do your life’s work!”
We learned through our conversations with veterinarians that these words are absolutely true — and for some vets, like Dr. Carney herself, that calling wasn’t clear until adulthood.
“I spent countless hours on a dairy farm from the age of 4 on feeding calves, milking cows, and quietly watching the veterinarian who came to examine sick cows or perform surgery,” she said. “We always had dogs and cats at home, and I was a horse-crazy girl who took riding lessons for many years.”
Still, it wouldn’t be until after high school that she realized turning her love of animals into a full-time career was the right direction for her to take.
“There was no single moment I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian,” she admitted. “But by the time I got to college, the natural draw was for me to study animal science and apply to veterinary school.”
Dr. Elizabeth Carney, DVM, and Maple
…Sometimes even after being established in another career
Dr. Mary Gardner, co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, was in the software design field for 10 years before a tragic event changed the course of her career.
“My 12-year-old Samoyed, Snow White, was attacked by another dog,” she remembered. “She spent 3 weeks in and out of the hospital, and she eventually died.”
She decided to focus her sorrow from losing Snow White into a career dedicated to helping others in their times of grief.
“That experience and loss of a pet completely rattled my world. I decided then and there that I wanted to help people who love their pets as much as I loved Snow White, particularly in difficult moments. I quit my job and applied for vet school — in my 30s!”
Today, she provides pet owners with the ability to say goodbye to their loved ones peacefully.
“I know firsthand how losing a pet can affect someone’s world. If I can make that experience a little easier, then I’ve done my job well. And I hope that one day the family can open their hearts up again to another pet that needs a great home.”
Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM, and Duncan
Inspiring moments occur daily
No matter how long they’ve been in the field, vets are given new sources of inspiration through their patient experiences, which serve as constant reminders that they chose the right career path.
Dr. Tyler Carmack specializes in at-home end-of-life care for pets in Virginia Beach. She told us about Harley, a Rottweiler suffering from bone cancer that she cared for in his final moments, and whose memory she’ll never forget.
In his final moments, Harley’s family shared stories with Dr. Carmack about what a loyal guard dog he was, always “on duty” even while in pain.
“We sat around their outdoor fire pit and allowed Harley to fall asleep peacefully with his family around him,” she said. “As he passed, I was able to tell his family that he was officially ‘off duty’ and finally resting comfortably, keeping an eye on everyone from dog heaven.”
Dr. Carmack was able to give his family a “peaceful and loving last memory” — one that has stayed with her as well — and was reminded why she loves what she does.
Dr. Tyler Carmack, DVM, and Jersey
All of our vets agreed that they love their jobs, and are thankful they followed their inspiration to where they are today.
“I love the relationships I build with clients knowing that we both are helping their family member together,” Dr. Waldman said.
Dr. Dijanic told us that while some days are challenging, her work is well worth the effort. “Even on the bad days, I go home and snuggle my pets, grab a book, have a glass of wine, and remember that most days as a vet are wonderful.”