These past two weeks I've been on lab animal rotation. And I have to admit, I was bored stiff most of the time. The sad part is, I was following around an actual, board-certified vet the entire time, so it's not as though my experience wasn't an accurate reflection of what her day to day is like. And her day to day is spending most of her time behind a desk, or in meetings. Clinically, there was very little going on.
I think this has solidified in my mind what path I want my career to take. And it kind of breaks my heart a little. For the last four years, I've had my mind set on a career in lab animal medicine. And the primary drive for that was because I care deeply about rodents used in lab animal medicine, and want to make beneficial changes in their housing and care. And let's face it, there just aren't that many people who deeply, genuinely care about mice and rats. Being one of those people, I feel a responsibility to go into LAM.
Unfortunately, I no longer think it would make me very happy. I love the hands on stuff. Surgery, especially. And you just don't get to do that much surgery as a lab animal vet. Or many treatments, for that matter. The researcher does most of their own surgeries, and the technicians do most of the treatments. I would hate being stuck behind a mountain of paperwork, and in meetings, all day, every day, with very little practical work with the animals.
The thing that sucks is that while a boarded lab animal vet can hope to make anywhere from $90-120K, an average small animal vet makes about half of that. The hit in salary is a hard pill to swallow. Also, the knowledge that my professional life will be harder in private practice. Clients will get angry at me, they'll be heartbroken when I can't save their pet, I'll be heartbroken when I can't save their pet. Emotionally, the toll private practice will take on me will be much, much worse. The hours will be longer and less predictable. All in all, private practice is a less cushy, comfortable job than lab animal, any way you slice it.
But I can't ignore my gut. And these last two weeks my gut has been telling me, "This is awful. You'd be bored, frustrated, and miserable. You're itching to get your hands on an animal after two WEEKS. Imagine two years. Or twenty."
So I think I'm going to pursue small animal private practice. Which terrifies me, to be honest. Changing my plans in such a huge way, the financial hit, the unpredictability and drama of private practice. It scares me to be leaving my comfy lab animal bubble. And there's a part of me that feels like I'm betraying and turning my back on the rodents that need me to be their advocate, and that hurts a lot. But I think I'll be happier in the end.