In veterinary medicine there are so many options and choices of what to become that making decisions can be overwhelming. Especially as a new grad, it can be difficult to determine where your ‘place’ is within this massive and diverse field.
Of course, determining what avenue of the field you should pursue is a challenge, such as clinical practice vs. research vs. government, etc. However there is another more abstract decision that you need to make. This relates to the work environment and ‘impact factor’ with which you want to be present in the field.
Each of us are different, and no life choice is better than another, just different. Some want to change the world, be a known figure in the veterinary community, and really ‘Walk amongst the Giants’. Others want to go to work, make differences with their individual patients and clients and co-workers, but don’t have a desire to push boundaries of the profession.
One way to determine where your ‘best fit’ lies in regards to this more abstract concept. Try to determine as a personality what you are as a type of ‘fish’, and what body of water fits you best! Picking the wrong ecosystem can lead to being unhappy, under (or over) stimulated, and ultimately may lead to choosing to leave the profession.
This type of ‘fish’ is happy to take a back-seat in terms of making changes or management/control/policy choices. They like to keep up to date, perform great medicine, however they are happier to take a more passive role in their clinics and refer to senior vets for larger decisions.
This fish excels with being reliable and consistent, makes great relationships with clients and loves to journey through the whole animal experience with clients.
‘Tuna’ like to be involved and have input into their clinics and practices. They are keen to learn and teach/train those under them, whether that is new grads or support staff. Tuna however don’t want to be in complete control. They may or may not want to be managers, but still want someone to rely on as a final say or fall-back point (even if that is textbooks or VIN). They do however want to have a voice, and want to contribute and be part of the process of the clinic and the medicine being performed.
Tuna excel at infusing energy and ideas into their work environments, and are great at bringing the whole team together by being excited to teach, involve and improve the work environment of the whole team! They are good with clients, and excited to take on and work up those more complicated cases that need a little extra ‘umph’.
Sharks need control! They need to be able to make changes and need to have the ability to evoke change and improvement. Sharks are excited to learn and have a need and a desire to stay up to date with the latest medicine. They need to be on the top of the food-chain, and as much as they can excel working with a team, they have the need to have the final say.
Sharks excel in management or owner roles, and are great at making changes and taking control to get things done! They are good at making the hard decisions and finding ways to improve and streamline their clinics and work-flow. Sharks also thrive in situations of sole-charge, or emergency settings, as they have confidence to make decisions without the ‘safety-net’ of another more senior vet. These vets are ones that may choose to specialize or be practice owners to fulfill their desire to be a leading authority.
Whales are those that really strive for perfection, fame, or to be the absolute best and leading authority. These vets pursue to be heads of departments in prestigious clinics, and have their names on textbooks. Whales really push the limits of the field in terms of research and making clinical decisions that are passed down the food chain to the other fish.
Types of ‘Ponds':
Every fish type exists in it’s own ecosystem, and the type of ecosystem, or ‘pond’ will drastically change the feel of your work.
These are the Mom n’ Pop shops. Individually owned/run clinics that serve their local area, and have their consistent and reliable clientele. They provide good quality medicine, but don’t have many frills/extra services. This type of clinic may have 1-5 vets working full-time.
These are the bigger centres or groups of clinics that work with eachother. They may offer extra services, or have more diagnostic toys. There is more oppourtunity for growth and pursuit of individual interests, and often more layers of management. This type of clinic can have a huge range of vets working for them, and has more of a ‘team’ approach. These clinics may or may not have specialists involved.
These are the those larger centres that have multiple specialists and offer more advanced services (ex. CT/MRI, speciality surgeries, etc.).
These can be universities or private centres, however universities usually have the upper hand by having research facilities as well. The largest of these oceans would be the famous and prestigious universities that are at the leading edge of veterinary medicine.
Combining Fish and Pond:
It is important to determine the type of fish, and type of pond that fit with your personality. This will change both your role and the dynamic of your work-place, and might make the world of difference in terms of your job happiness and satisfaction.
If you are a shark personality, and you get a job in a small pond owned by someone else that doesn’t want to listen to your ideas, then you may feel grossly dissatisfied and attribute that to the career, instead of recognizing that it might just be your clinic dynamics.
Examples of Combinations:
GUPPY IN A SMALL POND: Most new graduates start here. Also those that want a consistent, reliable and more ‘cozy’ work environment.
GUPPY IN AN OCEAN: Interns are the textbook example of this. Usually a stepping stone to a larger fish role.
TUNA IN A LAKE: Vet with some experience and a desire to promote change, but still wanting to maintain a good level of work-life balance.
SHARK IN A SMALL POND or LAKE: These are usually managers or clinic owners.
WHALE IN AN OCEAN: Leading professor/researcher, known figure in the veterinary world.
Changing Your Role:
As your career progresses and your life changes, your desire for fish and pond size will also change. If you are finding that you are dissatisfied, bored, overworked, or just aren’t quite happy in your current position, consider re-evaluating if your desire to be a bigger/smaller fish has changed.
Sometimes we need to jump out of our comfort zones to find an ecosystem that works for new life situations. Change, although scary, can be exactly what we need!
It might be that a change of pace of your profession, either to ramp it up with more challenges or ramping down to focus more on life, is what you need.
As veterinarians, as we are often Type-A and self-critical. It can be a challenge to acknowledge/admit to ourselves that we need to take a step back. Also, due to Imposter Syndrome, it may be challenging to feel that we are worthy of a higher role, whether that is specializing or managing. Try to remove the expectations and pre-conceived ideas you have on/of yourself and determine what you want NOW and just GO GET IT!
1. Think about your personality and what fish and pond suit you best.
2. If you feel that you are dissatisfied, consider if changing your pond or fish size will address this. This is an often unidentified problem.
3. Never feel bad about having to change your situation to make you happy. You ARE worthy of either going for a management position, OR taking a step back to prioritize life. Prioritize YOU and YOUR HAPPINESS.