Being a veterinarian definitely comes with unique challenges. But after interviewing vets from all over the country, we were surprised to discover that this noble calling can be lined with even more obstacles than we thought. What didn’t surprise us is the fact that none of these amazing vets let anything stand in the way of their dreams.
“The dimmest moment in my career came the day I realized I was disenchanted with veterinary medicine. I had wanted to be a vet literally my whole life, but 10 years into my career, I started wondering, ‘Am I making an impact on my field or my patients’ lives?’”
So recalled Dr. Lisa Aumiller about reaching a turning point in her career. She was working as a veterinarian in a clinic that was becoming more and more corporatized, requiring her to work days that began before sunrise to long after sunset, adhering to policies that weren’t always in the best interest of her patients.
“Then something wonderful happened—I got fired! I was dismissed for telling my superior, ‘You aren’t my boss. The client is my boss, and if they aren’t happy, none of us gets paid.'”
“Getting fired ignited a passion. No one fires me! I set out to show them who they let go and I instantly realized that my lack of passion was not the field, but my being restricted from practicing medicine the way I knew was best. Within one month, I saw my first patient as a mobile veterinarian.”
Six years later, HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service is still thriving—and so is Dr. Aumiller’s zeal for her career.
Dr. Lisa Aumiller, DVM
The first day of being a veterinarian can be a challenge all on its own.
“I was so excited and ready to save all the dogs and cats in the world,” she said of that first day. She looked over Macy’s chart and noted that the reason for her visit was a suspicious lump under her fur.
“I remember thinking, ‘Yes!’ because I knew what to do,” she added.
Following her veterinary school training, she examined the lump and determined it was a mast cell tumor. “I was concerned about Macy’s illness but satisfied that I had determined a diagnosis,” she said. “I went back into the exam room and announced proudly that Macy had a mast cell tumor. Macy’s mom was devastated — she began crying and was shocked. I quickly realized how insensitive I was as I delivered the news that Macy had cancer.”
Rather than being defeated by this blunder, Dr. Rehm Hassell learned an important lesson, one that she has put into practice every day since meeting Macy: sincerity.
“It’s easy to feel compassion for dogs and cats because they are so wonderful, but being a veterinarian means also being there for their human counterparts,” she said. “I became immediately more self-aware after this experience, and now I make sure to speak to people about their pets the way I would want someone to speak to me about mine.”
Dr. Caroline Rehm Hassell, DVM, and Maggie
Sometimes patients are disrespectful—intentionally or not—and not taking their behavior personally can be difficult.
Although the number of women in the veterinary field now eclipses that of men, Dr. Dijanic said people are still often surprised when they encounter a female vet.
“Because I own my clinic with my husband, people assume I work for him,” she said. “Some routinely refer to me as ‘the wife.’ I have had clients outrightly refuse to see me because they want to see the ‘man doctor,’ and I’ve had clients call me the ‘little girl vet.’”
Although she’s never let this attitude get her down, her approach for addressing these issues has changed over the course of her 20-year career. “When I first started, it was all about proving myself. Even though I was a young female, I knew as much as the males and could work as long and as hard as they could.
“Today, it’s about confidence—reacting with intelligent humor. I offer a friendly smile and chuckle and say, ‘Yeah, I’m the wife, but I prefer to be called doctor!’”
Dr. Monica Dijanic, DVM, and Spooky Von Creeper
Dr. Coby Richter of DoveLewis in Portland can relate to this type of situation.
During her third year of equine surgery residency, she performed an exam on a stallion as several students and an intern under her guidance watched on.
“The owner of the stallion was a rancher in his late 50s,” she remembered. “Throughout the exam, he persisted in calling me variations of ‘honey,’ ‘little lady,’ and ‘darlin’ ’ even though my name tag was prominent. I could hear the students stifling giggles every time he called me ‘darlin’.’ It may not sound like a huge issue, but it was starting to bother me.”
After taking a quick break to collect her thoughts on how best to handle the situation, she decided on a course of action that would not only provide a resolution, but also a valuable teaching moment to her students.
“My impression was this was simply his way of speaking with any female younger than himself. He may have felt that he was complimenting me, because outside of these nicknames, he treated me with respect,” she noted. “I decided to assertively use his first name by sprinkling it into our conversation as often as I could, and he actually started using my first name pretty quickly. All in all, the exam and treatment went smoothly and we parted in a professional matter.
“After all of our cases were handled for the day, I took a few moments to talk with the students and intern about the client,” she continued. They had a meaningful discussion with differing points of view about how to handle difficult clients.
It was a learning opportunity that helped Dr. Richter during other trying client interactions. “I’ve learned to address topics directly with people if they are truly being disrespectful, but to tune it out if it’s not.”
Dr. Coby Richter, DVM, and Pax
Dr. Dijanic also passes what she’s learned on to others.
“I belong to many veterinary forums and I tell new graduates all the time that it’s totally normal to feel hurt when someone is mean or hurtful to you,” she advised. “The pain may not go away completely, but it will hurt less over time. Make sure you work for someone who supports you, and be confident — there isn’t anything wrong with you. It’s them.”
Sometimes a career obstacle can actually be a gift.
“I once had a walk-in appointment for a euthanasia of a German shepherd that wasn’t able to walk due to hip dysplasia,” said Dr. Jessica Waldman. “I was crushed that I was going to put this pup to sleep due to a condition I thought was manageable and the situation possibly preventable. I asked the vet who owned the practice if I could refuse, and he rightfully told me that this was what the client wanted, and the owner wouldn’t be able to adequately care for the pet.
“I performed the euthanasia with tears, and I kept trying to decipher why I was so emotional,” Dr. Waldman continued. “I thought of all the pets who had difficulty walking or had pain and how common these ailments are — almost all aging pets encounter these challenges. Why should these be life-ending? I thought then and still think that pets should pass from sickness, complicated disease, or cancers, but not from physical disabilities.”
“I thought then and still think that pets should pass from sickness, complicated disease, or cancers, but not from physical disabilities.” – Dr. Jessica Waldman
Dr. Waldman knew she had to take action. And she did so in a very big way by becoming certified in acupuncture and rehabilitation, and opening California Animal Rehabilitation in Los Angeles, the city’s first veterinary rehabilitation center.
Ten years later, she has no question that her heartbreaking experience with the German shepherd steered her onto a course she was destined to be on. “I can recall thousands of pets who have lived longer, more comfortable, happier lives.”
Dr. Jessica Waldman, DVM, and Tate
Dr. Darla Rewers knew she had to make a career change when her job began making her physically ill.
“I experienced adrenal burnout two years into practice,” she said.
After 8 years of schooling between undergrad (in which she double majored) and vet school, all the while working multiple jobs and taking only one summer off from school, she joined an exceptionally busy veterinary clinic.
“I was also taking a lot of extra classes to continue my veterinary acupuncture and herbal training, and saw acupuncture patients on house calls on the side. Needless to say, after all those years of burning the candle at both ends, I was wiped out.”
She recognized that it wasn’t healthy to continue living in a constant state of stress and fatigue — and that she didn’t have to! She headed to Seattle where she opened her own practice, Ancient Arts Holistic Veterinary, and infused her own health experiences into her patients’ care.
“It was a lot of work, but it was something I was building for myself,” she said. “I was dedicated to helping my patients and their people understand the bigger picture of how stress and health are intricately linked. I’m really happy I stuck to my vision, even though it was a lot of work.”
Dr. Darla Rewers, DVM, and Sophi
But even a bright new career path comes with its share of rough patches.
“Six years ago, I came to a crossroads in my veterinary career,” Dr. Mary Gardner admitted. “I was extremely unhappy in general practice and didn’t know what my next path would be. That’s when my classmate, Dr. Dani McVety, and I created Lap of Love, where we focus on geriatric and terminally ill pets and assist families with home-based end-of-life care.”
Although Dr. Gardner had no question that she was pursuing her dream career, there were plenty of people offering words of discouragement about her new endeavor.
“We had many naysayers when we started the company,” she recalled. “Some friends and colleagues doubted our decisions — some even made fun of us! They said, ‘You went to vet school to save animals — not put them down all day!’”
Negativity can be toxic if you allow it to take control of your dreams, but Dr. Gardner refused to be defeated. “We used their negativity like a vaccine — preparing us for all the challenges that lay ahead. And slowly but surely, people started to understand our mission and appreciate the services we provide for families.
“I knew it was going to be a fulfilling niche for us. I went to vet school to help pets and their families. We can’t always save them, but we can care for them until the very end. And that is what we do.”
“It discouraged me, but only for a little bit,” she added. “I knew it was going to be a fulfilling niche for us. I went to vet school to help pets and their families. We can’t always save them, but we can care for them until the very end. And that is what we do.”
Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM, and Serissa
Being a veterinarian isn’t always easy, but the rewards of the career are plentiful—and these animal doctors wouldn’t want to do anything different
“I’ve learned that no matter what anyone else says or how crazy an idea may sound, if you believe in it, go for it.” Dr. Gardner said. “I would much rather try and fail than to never try at all.”
Dr. Waldman agrees that it’s important to push through the hard times, both great and small, so you can enjoy your accomplishments.
“I like to tell other veterinarians and veterinary students that there are wonderful outcomes — even some miracles — out there if we are relentless with our efforts,” she said.
“Your career will have highs and lows,” Dr. Aumiller noted, “but in the end, you will make the world a better place if you persist at becoming the best you can be for your clients and patients.”