Podcast #41

Dr. Sean’s Background:
Dr. Sean graduated with a veterinary degree from the University of Melbourne, worked in general practice for 3 years in the same practice, and then started doing emergency locum shifts on the side. After about 2 years into practice however, Dr. Sean realized that veterinary medicine just wasn’t going to be for him long term. In 2013 he started his human medical degree to pursue a profession that would fulfill him long term. He worked locum shifts at emergency and small animal clinics during his second degree to help pay for school and life. As his clinical obligations on his human medical side have increased, he has had less and less time to work any veterinary shifts, but does try to do the odd shift here and there to keep in the loop.
Dr. Sean’s Army Background:
Army boots, hat and small teddy bear in army attire.
Dr. Sean shares his experiences with the army, and feels it’s a great activity to do! It’s important, and fun, to have something not related to your professional life, but Dr. Sean had the added bonus of also getting to do some cool vet related stuff as well, when he was running around and shooting things in the mud.
Dr. Sean also enlisted in army reserve at the beginning of his veterinary degree. He describes this light-heartedly as “running around the mud shooting things, which was an awful lot of fun.” The time commitment was every Tuesday night and ~ 1 weekend a month, with the odd full week here and there for other major courses/exercises. This paid position taught him new skills, opened some doors, provided a minimal financial help, but mainly was an experience that he thoroughly enjoyed.

After finishing his veterinary degree however, Sean heard about opportunities working with the army as a vet. Initially there weren’t structured roles, so he would do the odd veterinary duties/work just wearing his normal infantry outfit. He would mainly go out to aboriginal communities for population health and parasite control and vaccinating. As time progressed and the army started to realize the value of working dogs the infrastructure of veterinarians in the army has grown and there are now some positions listed for veterinarians and some full-time contracts. At this point Dr. Sean shares that these positions are limited to those already enlisted, so you would need to be in the reserves at least to get these jobs. Dr. Sean has done a bit of this work, where he has gone up to Queensland to provide veterinary care to the working dogs when they have injured/hurt themselves.
How did you know veterinary medicine wasn’t for you?
Dr. Sean shared that after a couple years of GP practice he knew that the profession wouldn’t satisfy him long-term. “I was having a lot of difficulty dealing with the mismatch between what we could do technically and technologically, what owners were willing to pay for, and what was the right thing for each animal. And trying to find the balance between those was quite emotionally draining for me.” Dr. Sean just wished he could do what was best for the animals, and ignore the finances. This emotional toll was just too much, and he knew he had to find something else.

Dr. Sean did consider specializing. He explained that when looking at the details, he realized that it would be another 3-4 years of “being treated as someone’s bitch” and at the end there is still no guarantee that he would have found what he needed from his job. He also looked at human medicine as an option, and saw it would also be 4 years of work, but he would come out the other end with less frustrations. So, Dr. Sean decided to chase the human orthopaedic surgeon route.
How are you managing finances with going back to school?:
Obviously, a huge stress point of going back to school to do another degree, especially a long, difficult, and professional degree, is the financial aspect. Not only do you have to pay for the second degree, but you have the ‘opportunity cost’ of not making money during the years you are not in school.

Dr. Sean shares that he was lucky, and he was able to get HECS positions for both his veterinary and human medical degrees. That, in combination of working through his vet degree, and working as a locum vet through his human medical degree, he has been able to manage. Dr. Sean isn’t sure if the rules have changed or not, and if you can still get a HECS position for the veterinary or medical degrees, as the definitions of what ‘level’ of degree they are has changed. This means that in going back to school, his costs for the medical degree were ~$50,000AUD- which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that expensive for a professional degree.

In terms of the final salary, “It is definitely better paid than vet.” Dr. Sean also points out that on the human side when you work overtime, holidays, shift-work, overnights, you get the loading that isn’t extended to veterinary surgeons. This helps significantly in decreasing the financial burden. Dr. Sean’s parents were worried about him and his wages, but in the end he is farther ahead now than he would have been staying as a practicing veterinarian, both financially and in terms of happiness.
What is the process of becoming a surgeon?:
Surgeons working, sterile field, advanced equipment
Becoming a surgeon is a long, multi-tiered process. Dr. Sean however shares that both emotionally and financially it has been worth it, and he’s only part-way through!
Dr. Sean explains the complicated and multi-tiered system for a human medical degree. It starts with 4 years of medical school, followed by a 1 year internship where you have very little independence and are closely supervised. Following this you enter your ‘residency’ where you pursue rotations and gain experience in the field that you wish to pursue, to try to make yourself a desirable candidate. After this you compete to get accepted into an ‘unaccredited registrar’ position, where you only do work in your field but are still not accepted into the official training, and then you need to be accepted as an ‘accredited registrar.' This acceptance marks the beginning of your 5 years of training, after which you are finally considered a specialist. It is a long path, but one that is full of learning, training, and working in interesting and varied environments.
Are you happy with the decision to switch careers?:
Overall Dr. Sean is happier now, and feels he would make the same decision again if he went back in time. He knows he is on a long road, and a minimum of another 6-7 years, but along the way he is enjoying his job and is hitting a lot fewer of the limitations and frustrations he found in veterinary medicine. He also really enjoys the hospital environment, and working in a larger team. Dr. Sean does try to keep up some of his veterinary ties, but he finds that if he goes back to vet work for more than 1-2 weeks he starts to feel those early burn-out flags very quickly.
What are your burn-out flags?:
“General frustration and shorter fuse about things that I shouldn’t,” and “getting frustrated at animals and their behaviours instead of just being able to go ‘it’s an animal, I’m a vet, I should expect this,’” are Dr. Sean’s biggest indicators. He also shares that losing empathy is another big one. He feels that when you go from really caring and feeling, to a ‘this is just a job’ attitude, you are burning out.
Are there any negative aspects of human medicine you didn’t anticipate?:
“Not realizing just how competitive things were, just how much other research, unpaid overtime, being the little scut-monkey, all of that stuff that in retrospect I should have seen coming… I don’t think until you are there you can really understand it.” He really wants any future medical doctors to understand how hard and difficult a path it is. He doesn’t regret it, but really thinks it’s an important point to consider, especially if this is your second career.
Would you recommend human medicine for other vets that are frustrated?:
Dr. Sean that feels that for him the switch has fixed the problems and frustrations he felt in veterinary medicine. He shares that he isn’t sure if changing to another aspect in the vet world would have fixed the problem for him.

Something that Dr. Sean recommends is locuming at different clinics, moving jobs, and he feels that maybe because he stayed at the same clinic for 3 years he limited his exposure and scope. He doesn’t know if working at different styles of practices, different levels of practices, different environments, would have made a difference for him.

He also recognizes that the DVM degree is getting harder to get into, and graduates are getting older… so he recommends that if you are thinking of making the switch to a different career, don’t wait too long. It is a long haul and you will be in your 40s when you finish.

KICK ASS VETS shares that if you are constantly learning and growing, as long as it is financially supportive to your needs, maybe it isn’t a bad thing to not ‘finish’ your training until you are older. Every job becomes boring at some point, so having a shorter time as a trained professional maybe isn’t a bad thing.

Dr. Sean shares that with human medicine there is a constant opportunity and support, and pressure for growth and progression, of both yourself as an individual and the field in general. This isn’t seen as much in veterinary medicine and it leave something to be desired in the field.
Which is harder, human or veterinary medicine?:
“Different is about the closest I can get.” Dr. Sean felt that “vet was very all consuming while you are doing it.” He elaborates that with doing placements and getting experience even on your holidays, it takes over your life. Also, the vet degree teaches a huge amount in a short space of time. He compares this to the human degree where the first 2 years “is a huge data dump” but there isn’t as much clinical stuff going on at the same time.
How gross are humans?:
'Veterinary Medicine, because humans are gross.'
Dr. Sean shares that yes…“some people are gross…I’m trying to not make comparisons to Pugs or Shar-Peis”… but very quickly it becomes routine, and the nurses take most of that load off the doctors.
“Three cheers to all the nurses out there because they take a lot of that load off us,” shares Dr. Sean with a giggle. “But some people are gross, there is no hiding that, there are people with skin folds and fungal infections where there just shouldn’t be either… I’m trying to not make comparisons to Pugs or Shar-Peis.” Dr. Sean shares that with orthopaedics it’s all shiny and clean, and that keeps the ‘gross factor’ away a bit. General surgery however can be a bit different, and a bit more gross. He mainly feels however that very quickly it becomes ‘just work’, and gloves and PPE make it all OK.
Do you feel limited and pigeon holed with human medicine?:
One of KICK ASS VETS favourite things about veterinary medicine is all the variety. Dr. Sean also felt that way and when deciding initially to pick human or veterinary medicine, not being pigeon holed was one of the main driving forces for veterinary medicine. However, he felt that over the years his professional desires changed, and he felt he wanted to become more of an expert in anything, and he didn’t even necessarily care what it was.
Dr. Sean’s Advice?:
1. “Everything that you learned in vet school will be applicable, and you will be miles ahead of those in your year.” Dr. Sean feels that the vet degree was immensely valuable, and to not regret it, even if you decide on another profession. Even if you are a few years older, the knowledge and experience is worth it.

2. If you are considering doing a human medical degree, do locum work on the side to help pay for your degree, but in general you’ll come out the other side financially OK. Don’t let finances stop you, because you will come out better on the other side.

Thank you so much Dr. Sean for sharing your experiences and advice with us! We cannot thank you enough for discussing the aspects of human vs. veterinary medicine. For those that are debating between human medicine or veterinary medicine, or those in the vet profession thinking of going to human medicine, this is a great insight!
If you have a story, or an experience you would like to share, whether you LOVE your job, or if you HATE your job, or if you have pursued a different career path such as specializing, industry, government, technology, etc. please Contact Us to arrange an interview! The more we share our experiences good and bad, the more we can help each-other that are going through the same experiences and feelings!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published August 9th, 2020

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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