Career Choices of a Veterinarian
Dr Amy Simon shares her story of how she came to be an Emergency and Critical Care Veterinarian.
She has been a valued member of the AREC team for almost 5 years & we are so glad to have her!
I didn’t always want to be a vet. There were times when I may have even passionately declared that I was certainly NOT going to be a vet. You see, my dad is a rural veterinarian, and throughout my childhood and adolescence many a well-meaning adult (teacher, family friend, long lost relative…) would say to me – “So, Amy, are you going to be a vet just like your dad?”. I was very familiar with the work. I spent many school holidays helping out at the clinic. However, I also saw how little weekend time dad got to spend with us because he was always on call. I heard the phone ringing in the middle of the night and dad heading out the door to a calving when he should have been asleep. I smelled the stinky overalls in the laundry after the calving. So, no. As a teenager, this kind of lifestyle just did not appeal to me.
I finished high school and tentatively enrolled in a physics degree at Macquarie University. Then, I deferred my tertiary education to pursue my passion for show jumping (equestrian). Although delaying university for 12 months did make me feel a little out of sync with my fellow students, I don’t regret taking a break after the stress of the HSC. I was very lucky to have such generous parents that supported me during this year. When the time came to sign up for classes I decided that, whilst I had blitzed Physics in high school, this was not the career path I wanted to take. After agonizing over the many choices available, I eventually settled on a medical science course, focusing on biology and genetics.
It can be really tough deciding on a career at the age of 18. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into achieving the best HSC scores I could, so that my options would not be limited. However, I think that made it even more difficult. In school there is so much focus on getting the high marks so you can get a degree, then get a career. There doesn’t seem to be time to figure out what you might actually enjoy doing with your life.
I liked the science degree well enough. I worried though, about what kind of job I might actually find at the end of it. Would I just be in a lab? Doing the same repetitive thing over and over? The thought of being stuck indoors all day every day really started to weight on me and I began to think about what sort of work might get me outside a bit more. Finally, about half way through my second year I had a light bulb moment. Vets work outside!
I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason I finally decided to become a vet. I like animals (though I am, ridiculously, quite allergic to them). I also enjoyed learning about biology, and how human and animal bodies function. Whatever the reasons, in that moment my mind was made up.
Had I actually tried to get into the Veterinary Science degree straight out of high school I would not have succeeded. My HSC ranking was not quite good enough. However, as I had two years of a science degree under my belt, there was another way in. Firstly, the veterinary faculty at The University of Sydney looked at the grades I had achieved in the science degree. Secondly, I was required to sit an aptitude test. And thirdly, I wrote a short essay detailing my commitment to vet science, particularly in the area of rural practice. It didn’t cross my mind to apply to any other universities. I just assumed I would get in to Sydney. Luckily I did.
I made some great friends during that first year, people I am still close with to this day. We studied together and often rented together. We had a really enjoyable five years. As I made my way through that last year, gaining practical experience in a variety of hospitals, I was still looking forward to finding work in a rural practice. As it turned out, the last hospital to host me as a student offered me a job and I began my veterinary career in a mixed practice clinic in Singleton NSW. I really enjoyed the work. It was exciting, with a lot of variation. I stitched up horses, wrangled sheep and alpacas, assisted cattle with birthing difficulties and spend time outdoors in the beautiful upper Hunter. Of course I did plenty of companion animal work too – discussing preventative health care with owners of new puppies, performing routine and not so routine surgery and getting my head around tricky medical cases. I had four very supportive bosses, who were also happy to allow me to work independently. That first year was a very steep learning curve!
I had barely been out of university twelve months when I left my job to start a family. It wasn’t long before I was back at work, though I switched from rural mixed practice to a small animal clinic in Newcastle. After a few years of working part time and juggling motherhood with my career I was starting to feel as though I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I had previously. I had lost my motivation to learn and I knew I wasn’t being the best vet I could be. I had always respected NAREC, and the quality of veterinary medicine they practice. So, even though I was terrified and didn’t believe I was good enough, I applied for a casual position as an emergency vet. I told Dr David Tabrett that I wanted to join the (then) NAEC team so that I could learn, and grow in my chosen career path. When he instead offered me a full time position, I took it.
I have been at NAREC for four and a half years now and I am very happy here. I don’t work outdoors anymore, though that no longer matters. Working in an emergency setting provides plenty of variety and excitement. I am constantly being challenged by the cases that walk through the door, deepening my knowledge every day. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey to get to where I am now. Being a vet, particularly in an emergency practice, can be tough. There are some days where I want to throw in the towel and find a job that is less mentally and emotionally taxing. But then I will be reminded of why I enjoy my job, and I am grateful that I ended up here.