Finding Fulfillment In The Veterinary Field


November 24, 2022

Currently, jobs for veterinarians are abundant, allowing new graduates to quickly find a placement after their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Yet despite the many positions available, it can still be difficult to find the right career path.  

Veterinary medicine has some of the highest rates of burn-out in any profession. Now more than ever, new and soon-to-be veterinarians must take steps to protect their mental well-being. 

Dr. Melanie Barham and Venti

Dr. Melanie Barham graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College’s DVM program in 2007 and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Vets Stay Go Diversify, a career development and recruiting organization for veterinary professionals. VSGD merged with The DVM Project, a company Barham founded, and now serves veterinary professionals worldwide. At The DVM Project, Barham connects and supports veterinary professionals, sharing their experiences in finding unique job positions, promoting networking opportunities including conferences, and connecting them with career support resources. In the process, Barham increases awareness of the variety of ways to feel satisfied and contribute to animal health through veterinary careers and emphasizes the importance of mental health.  

“In veterinary medicine, there are so many avenues that someone can take. Whether it is in the clinical, research, entrepreneurial or non-profit space, veterinarians can take their career many places,” says Barham. “Finding a fulfilling career takes a lot of inward thinking and reflecting to understand and learn from challenges, building community support and finding balance between it all.” 

Re-framing Career Pivots 

The first barrier many new DVM graduates face when entering the job force is rejection. Some new graduates may be familiar with rejection from a previous job or school application, however, for others it will be their first time coping with a major rejection. These rejections can either encourage someone to keep trying toward the initial goal or they lead to a shift in a career path, says Barham.  

“Change is one of the universal experiences we all go through,” says Barham. “I have interviewed about 100 veterinarians and collected surveys from a thousand respondents. Everyone had experienced career changes and pivots at some point.”  

Barham shared that in her interviews with many veterinarians, they revealed that experiencing rejection or changing circumstances in the past often prompted critical self-reflection; in some cases, these events turned out to be stepping-stones to push them in the direction of the career they needed to be in. In this way, Barham explains, the search to find a career that sparks joy is not linear. Along the way, rejection and re-evaluation play a role in shifting career trajectories. Barham’s own experience in finding a fulfilling career was no exception to this. 

“After graduation, I was set on starting my own equine practice and I was on my way to that goal. Then things changed and I ended up pivoting my career and joining the Animal Health Lab to start a new program, the Ontario Animal Health Network.  This led to many new and wonderful opportunities by staying curious about where I can be of service and where my interests lie. To my surprise, I began getting calls from colleagues seeking to learn about opportunities outside of their clinical experience,” says Barham.  

Career aspirations shift for many reasons, whether it be from rejection from school or job applications, poor work-life balance or feeling unfulfilled from the work. Barham noted that reflecting and feeling emotions associated with challenges can help bring forward the career path that will be a great fit.  

Growth & Fulfillment with Support from your Community 

As student veterinarians graduate with their DVM degree and venture out into the field, they rapidly transition from being students to leaders in a clinic.  

“The transition from student to a Big L leader can be a learning curve and may even feel uncomfortable at times,” says Barham. “My advice to new veterinarians is to have patience with themselves as they learn in the new role and connect with family, friends, mentors or colleagues about the process of starting a new career.” 

Another challenge DVM graduates face is finding a fulfilling career that aligns with their goals. Barham recommends that when searching for an area of veterinary medicine to contribute to, they should find a company whose mission they believe will make a positive difference in the field. Once they find a position that suits their own goals, they can get involved in groups and organizations with shared values to start building connections and support within the professional community.  

“There are a lot of opportunities to effect change and make a difference in our profession through our careers and volunteer work. The belief that our work is making a positive change is important to connect us to the vision of why we became veterinarians,” says Barham. 

Finding Balance 

After nearly a decade of post-secondary education filled with classes, guidelines, consistent feedback and late-night study sessions, many new veterinarians will find it can be a less-than-smooth shift to a work environment. Barham believes that establishing boundaries between work and personal time makes a huge difference when establishing a healthy work-life balance.  

“As high achievers in school this mentality can easily merge over into the workplace,” says Barham. “I find it helpful to intentionally keep work at work so I can be present during personal time with my family and friends.” 

Barham shares, “It’s also helpful to maintain curiosity about how your interests and needs change throughout your career to continue to maintain purpose in your work. Sometimes having patience with yourself can be the key element in creating space to understand yourself. Figuring out why you aren’t enjoying your current role means being patient with yourself to be able to explore new avenues.” 

OVC DVM students and alumni can find support through The DVM Project, Student Wellness Services, and the Experiential Learning Hub

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