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AnonymousDandelion

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Hey! New to the forum, current 4th year student, always debating between specialty and GP/non-residency careers. So naturally I have a lot of questions...

What made you chose specialty vs GP/non-residency career?

I was also wondering what people's thoughts and experiences with pursuing specialty training right out of school while in significant debt. Does anyone regret it? Is it worth it in the long run or is it just a recipe for more financial issues?

I am also trying to figure out what the life styles of certain specialties are, and if people are happy that they pursued their specialty of choice and why. I know I will need to work hard no matter what career I chose but I don't think I will be happy working 70-80 hours every week for the rest of my life, even in a specialty I really like. I'm unsure what specialty I'd like to pursue at the moment but I have some favorites-- internal medicine, lab animal, shelter medicine-- the list goes on and on and on really, haha.
 

KCgophervet

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Hello, first year lab animal resident here.
What made you chose specialty vs GP/non-residency career?
Short answer: scared away from GP, went into vet school with the primary goal being to specialize in lab animal.
Long answer: was doing the pre-vet thing in college, did some shadowing at a GP, the vet I was shadowing told me not to do it (high debt, low personal life satisfaction, burnout from angry clients). I also saw some irate clients first hand and saw more of the "if you loved animals you'd fix him for free!" than I could handle. Wandered away from the pre-vet path and went straight Bio. Got a job after graduation in a lab working with mice. Met the lab animal vet, realized that was a thing (had no idea beforehand). Started getting more interested in this field and eventually started taking the pre-reqs I didn't take after I got scared off of vet med, applied, got in, did the vet school thing and nothing changed my mind so here I am! I also worked for a year as a receptionist at an emergency clinic during vet school and that pretty much solidified that I never want to work with people's pets.
I was also wondering what people's thoughts and experiences with pursuing specialty training right out of school while in significant debt. Does anyone regret it? Is it worth it in the long run or is it just a recipe for more financial issues?
Loaded question honestly and I probably can't fully honestly answer at this early stage. I'm also in a pretty specific set of circumstances that don't apply to everyone, but here's my take. In my specialty, high 5 or low 6 figures is pretty standard for boarded specialists. Most residency programs in this specialty are also at a much higher salary than the typical intern or other residencies (started at $47.5K rather than ~$30K). This field also can have the added benefit of Public Service Loan Forgiveness as an option if you stay within government or public university positions, which (if it stays in place) erases your debt tax-free after 10 years of qualifying payments (meaning you paid on time while working full time at a non-profit or government job). Finally, I also happen to have married a man who has a well-paying job in software development/architecture which contributes greatly to my financial well-being at this time. Without him, I'd like to think I'd be okay, but I would definitely be eating a lot more ramen, have a lot longer commute, and probably live in a crappy 1 BR apartment somewhere. Overall though, in this field (lab animal) it is becoming more the standard to be boarded than to not, so trying to break into the field without specializing can be a lot more challenging.
I am also trying to figure out what the life styles of certain specialties are, and if people are happy that they pursued their specialty of choice and why. I know I will need to work hard no matter what career I chose but I don't think I will be happy working 70-80 hours every week for the rest of my life, even in a specialty I really like. I'm unsure what specialty I'd like to pursue at the moment but I have some favorites-- internal medicine, lab animal, shelter medicine-- the list goes on and on and on really, haha.
Definitely love this field for some of the things you listed above. I think my work-life balance right now is really fantastic. I work 8-5pm every day and typically don't leave too late. The latest I've ever been stuck here is probably ~6pm waiting for a monkey to wake up from a late afternoon surgery. Most of the time we don't let PI's do late afternoon surgeries because we don't have the technical support staff to monitor things that go late, which means we typically get out at a reasonable time. There's also not much paperwork to catch up on, clients to call, etc. That being said, I do have a lot of studying/reading I do in my off hours but that is just part of the residency program. I also have been coming in on weekends lately for a research project I'm doing, but here all 7 vets (including the director!) split on call shifts so I'm only on call about every 6-7 weeks. Overall, I think lab animal medicine (at least from what I've seen) is one of the most work-life balance friendly specialties around and it did play a minor role in my decision to pursue it. That plus I work with all kinds of different exotic species (turtles to mice to naked mole rats to baboons), I work with scientists rather than the general public (which can have its own challenges), and I get to play a role in maintaining the health and welfare of animals used for research.

If you ever want to chat more about lab animal medicine (or anything really) feel free to shoot me a PM :)
 
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AnonymousDandelion

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Hi! Thanks for the info! It's nice to hear from others who have had these experiences!
 
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hygebeorht

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Specialty all the way. Radiology because it's ****ing awesome.

In honesty, I never had a "hmm...GP or specialty" moment. I pretty much always knew I'd be specializing. GP just isn't my scene.

If you find yourself waffling, spend a lot more time in both scenarios (at multiple practices!). And remember that you can jump tracks after you graduate, although it may not be as easy as it would be as new grad.
 
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twelvetigers

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Didn’t want to do GP, ended up doing it anyway. But I guess you made better grades than me if you are a 4th year and still considering it!

Clin path would have been my poison. Hours seem okay. Lots of desk time though. I’d have liked to end up at a university, but that doesn’t pay that well, so. Who knows.

I really was done with school by the time I graduated, so another 3-4 years would have just... I’d just now be done, or I’d still have a year left. Ew.

Good luck deciding - I don’t think I was much help. :)
 
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Minnerbelle

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I guess it depends on what you like to do with your day.

I love soft tissue surgery and I love dentistry, and I don't think I could part with either, so that decided it for me. One day I think I might do shelter medicine if the right job comes along at the right location. But as for specializing, I don't like that it limits what I can do.

At least in my area where I can earn 90-130k as a GP in an area with moderate cost of living, I'm ok with it. I work a 4 day work week, so if I'm strapped for cash, I can relief and easily earn 800-900 per shift. Works out pretty well. Not that GP is all rosy or anything like that. There are certainly ****ty aspects of the job, but I just haven't had the desire to specialize.
 
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cheathac

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Hello, first year lab animal resident here.

Short answer: scared away from GP, went into vet school with the primary goal being to specialize in lab animal.
Long answer: was doing the pre-vet thing in college, did some shadowing at a GP, the vet I was shadowing told me not to do it (high debt, low personal life satisfaction, burnout from angry clients). I also saw some irate clients first hand and saw more of the "if you loved animals you'd fix him for free!" than I could handle. Wandered away from the pre-vet path and went straight Bio. Got a job after graduation in a lab working with mice. Met the lab animal vet, realized that was a thing (had no idea beforehand). Started getting more interested in this field and eventually started taking the pre-reqs I didn't take after I got scared off of vet med, applied, got in, did the vet school thing and nothing changed my mind so here I am! I also worked for a year as a receptionist at an emergency clinic during vet school and that pretty much solidified that I never want to work with people's pets.

Loaded question honestly and I probably can't fully honestly answer at this early stage. I'm also in a pretty specific set of circumstances that don't apply to everyone, but here's my take. In my specialty, high 5 or low 6 figures is pretty standard for boarded specialists. Most residency programs in this specialty are also at a much higher salary than the typical intern or other residencies (started at $47.5K rather than ~$30K). This field also can have the added benefit of Public Service Loan Forgiveness as an option if you stay within government or public university positions, which (if it stays in place) erases your debt tax-free after 10 years of qualifying payments (meaning you paid on time while working full time at a non-profit or government job). Finally, I also happen to have married a man who has a well-paying job in software development/architecture which contributes greatly to my financial well-being at this time. Without him, I'd like to think I'd be okay, but I would definitely be eating a lot more ramen, have a lot longer commute, and probably live in a crappy 1 BR apartment somewhere. Overall though, in this field (lab animal) it is becoming more the standard to be boarded than to not, so trying to break into the field without specializing can be a lot more challenging.

Definitely love this field for some of the things you listed above. I think my work-life balance right now is really fantastic. I work 8-5pm every day and typically don't leave too late. The latest I've ever been stuck here is probably ~6pm waiting for a monkey to wake up from a late afternoon surgery. Most of the time we don't let PI's do late afternoon surgeries because we don't have the technical support staff to monitor things that go late, which means we typically get out at a reasonable time. There's also not much paperwork to catch up on, clients to call, etc. That being said, I do have a lot of studying/reading I do in my off hours but that is just part of the residency program. I also have been coming in on weekends lately for a research project I'm doing, but here all 7 vets (including the director!) split on call shifts so I'm only on call about every 6-7 weeks. Overall, I think lab animal medicine (at least from what I've seen) is one of the most work-life balance friendly specialties around and it did play a minor role in my decision to pursue it. That plus I work with all kinds of different exotic species (turtles to mice to naked mole rats to baboons), I work with scientists rather than the general public (which can have its own challenges), and I get to play a role in maintaining the health and welfare of animals used for research.

If you ever want to chat more about lab animal medicine (or anything really) feel free to shoot me a PM :)

Reading this definitley solidifies my desire to become a lab animal vet!
 
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AnonymousDandelion

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Didn’t want to do GP, ended up doing it anyway. But I guess you made better grades than me if you are a 4th year and still considering it!

Clin path would have been my poison. Hours seem okay. Lots of desk time though. I’d have liked to end up at a university, but that doesn’t pay that well, so. Who knows.

I really was done with school by the time I graduated, so another 3-4 years would have just... I’d just now be done, or I’d still have a year left. Ew.

Good luck deciding - I don’t think I was much help. :)


My grades are... ok. Not terrible, not amazing. Figure that I'll just do the best I can on rotations now and worry about that hurdle later if I have to.
 

DVMDream

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I guess it depends on what you like to do with your day.

I love soft tissue surgery and I love dentistry, and I don't think I could part with either, so that decided it for me. One day I think I might do shelter medicine if the right job comes along at the right location. But as for specializing, I don't like that it limits what I can do.

At least in my area where I can earn 90-130k as a GP in an area with moderate cost of living, I'm ok with it. I work a 4 day work week, so if I'm strapped for cash, I can relief and easily earn 800-900 per shift. Works out pretty well. Not that GP is all rosy or anything like that. There are certainly ****ty aspects of the job, but I just haven't had the desire to specialize.

Ok you like surgery and dentistry. I HATE surgery, dentistry is ok, but internal med is my jam.

You do all the surgeries. And I will see all your internal medicine cases. Deal? :)
 

Minnerbelle

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Ok you like surgery and dentistry. I HATE surgery, dentistry is ok, but internal med is my jam.

You do all the surgeries. And I will see all your internal medicine cases. Deal? :)
I actually really like skin and endocrine cases. Kidney is good too. I don't mind geriatric care. I have a good gig now where I do 2 days sx and 2 days medicine, and that's a happy mix for me.

I despise the nonspecific liver (big liver, elevated enzymes, ultrasound boring except bright, but not cushings).

I despise the nonspecific vague forelimb lameness that is not tick-borne

I despise the nonspecific cough in older dogs

I despise anything ophtho, unless it's enucleation or cherry eye

I despise therio. Just friggin spay/neuter them all I say.
 

DVMDream

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I actually really like skin and endocrine cases. Kidney is good too. I don't mind geriatric care. I have a good gig now where I do 2 days sx and 2 days medicine, and that's a happy mix for me.

I despise the nonspecific liver (big liver, elevated enzymes, ultrasound boring except bright, but not cushings).

I despise the nonspecific vague forelimb lameness that is not tick-borne

I despise the nonspecific cough in older dogs

I despise anything ophtho, unless it's enucleation or cherry eye

I despise therio. Just friggin spay/neuter them all I say.

I hate, hate, hate seeing an elevated ALP in an older dog. Like seriously wish I could ignore it. I hate it.

Livers are stupid (unless you drink alcohol).

Older dog coughing is stupid, I agree, often times you find nothing despite work-up and the owners are frustrated and pissed because the dog is still coughing.

Ophtho is a mix for me, some things I don't mind. Simple corneal ulcer, recent proptosis that I can pop back in, enucleation, mild conjunctivitis, fine. Anything else, I strongly encourage referral and any boxer that shows up with an ulcer is automatically recommended referral and treated uber aggressively if referral declined.

The worst appointment that can show up on my schedule is "owner thinks dog is pregnant". I HATE these. 99% of them are *****s that don't understand basic reproduction. And many of them have reproduced themselves which is scary. The also usually have no money and it was either an "accident" or "they just wanted the dog to have 1 liter"... ****ing *****s are what come in with these appointments.

And the last thing I hate are the "check mass" appointments. 85% of these want me to diagnose it by looking at it or want me to tell them it is fine to just keep "an eye" on the mass.

Limping around here is likely valley fever, but not always. I don't mind some lameness things, but sometimes repeated cases of lameness drive my batty. I had a period of time where I was seeing 4-5 limping dogs per day for a month. There was finally a day where the tech comes back and asked which Dr wanted the next case. I asked what was wrong with the dog. She goes "dog has been limping" and instantly said "nope, I'm out, done, no more limping."
 

WhtsThFrequency

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In honesty, I never had a "hmm...GP or specialty" moment. I pretty much always knew I'd be specializing. GP just isn't my scene.

Same, at least SA GP. I admire the hell out of GPs with how they work - just not for me. I was heavily tempted by large animal med for a while, but I probably still would have done some sort of LAM spec.
 
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twelvetigers

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My grades are... ok. Not terrible, not amazing. Figure that I'll just do the best I can on rotations now and worry about that hurdle later if I have to.

It may be a little difficult to pursue a specialty that you haven't sought out any additional experience in throughout vet school. Not that it would be impossible, of course - you just need that extra effort to make connections and get a LOR from someone in whatever field.

Unfortunately, it's not a question anyone can answer for you. We all have our reasons to make the decisions we have... you'll just have to look for your reasons.
 

AnonymousDandelion

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It may be a little difficult to pursue a specialty that you haven't sought out any additional experience in throughout vet school. Not that it would be impossible, of course - you just need that extra effort to make connections and get a LOR from someone in whatever field.

I'll keep that in mind! Since I'm thinking about specialties so late in the game, I realize that it will probably be a longer path for me. I guess I'll just have to see how things go for now!

Unfortunately, it's not a question anyone can answer for you. We all have our reasons to make the decisions we have... you'll just have to look for your reasons.

I'm working on figuring it out as we speak! :) It's more likely than not that I will do GP for a few years no matter what. I was just curious about other people's experiences are. Y'know, kinda like how vets tell pre-vet students "SAVE YOURSELF TURN BACK NOW BECOME A HUMAN DOCTOR", I was wondering if specialists feel similarly about the GP track and vice versa. Looks like there isn't too much of a consensus here though. I honestly think I would like GP or even shelter work-- these are more so the reasons I went to school in the first place. But all my rotations are so fun, I can't help but wonder about specializing and if I would enjoy it more.
 

twelvetigers

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I'll keep that in mind! Since I'm thinking about specialties so late in the game, I realize that it will probably be a longer path for me. I guess I'll just have to see how things go for now!



I'm working on figuring it out as we speak! :) It's more likely than not that I will do GP for a few years no matter what. I was just curious about other people's experiences are. Y'know, kinda like how vets tell pre-vet students "SAVE YOURSELF TURN BACK NOW BECOME A HUMAN DOCTOR", I was wondering if specialists feel similarly about the GP track and vice versa. Looks like there isn't too much of a consensus here though. I honestly think I would like GP or even shelter work-- these are more so the reasons I went to school in the first place. But all my rotations are so fun, I can't help but wonder about specializing and if I would enjoy it more.

As long as you don't want to do surgery in particular, the plan on going into GP first should be pretty reasonable. I think surgery likes to have students go straight into internship and then residency so they don't learn any 'bad habits' at practices. @SocialStigma may be able to tell me if I'm full of it. For many others, GP first is fine. There are also some other options out there that aren't GP but don't require residency either.
 

SocialStigma

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As long as you don't want to do surgery in particular, the plan on going into GP first should be pretty reasonable. I think surgery likes to have students go straight into internship and then residency so they don't learn any 'bad habits' at practices. @SocialStigma may be able to tell me if I'm full of it. For many others, GP first is fine. There are also some other options out there that aren't GP but don't require residency either.

Yes, surgery tends to have a preference for candidates who have never gone into GP.. the typical route for most surgeons is rotating internship->+/- sx internship/research->residency. Basically they want people who are still easily trainable when it comes to developing surgical skills, not someone who has been operating on their own for 5 years already.

I'm going into my 3rd year of a surgical residency. I knew going into vet school I wanted to specialize in surgery.. I have a huge admiration for GPs and what they do, but I had no interest in vaccine appts, wellness exams, behaviour consults, etc.

I went from vet school to a rotating internship to a residency. I don't regret choosing this path, but I am fortunate to not have a significant amount of debt (I'm Canadian and went to my in-province school). Also, there isn't really another option with surgery anyway if you want to be a competitive candidate. It will definitely be worth it in the long run for me, especially since I'm planning on going into private practice (~$200k seems to be the typical starting salary for a new grad). Academia is probably more like $100k. I know boarded surgeons out in private practice who are making $400-500k, working 4 days per week. The caveat to that is that being a surgeon means a lifetime of being on call. And 4+ years of making $25-30k while working 60-80 hour weeks + on call.
 
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allygator13

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Similar to other posters, I came into vet school knowing I didn't want to do GP, and thinking I wanted to be a surgeon. Over the years in school I kind of bounced around thinking I liked a different specialty at any given moment when I learned about them in school, until I found out that radiology was a specialty, and I was good at it and love it. So now that's my intended path, we'll see how it pans out :)
 

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When I started vet school I didn't want to be a clinical vet at all, and when I graduated I thought briefly about pursuing a pathology or parasitology specialty - but I had already had 11 years in university and I decided I was done. I started GP work and I love it. It's challenging in ways I didn't expect, and my only frustration is how many vets and vet students look down on GPs as if they are nothing more than gatekeepers directing traffic.
 

AnonymousDandelion

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When I started vet school I didn't want to be a clinical vet at all, and when I graduated I thought briefly about pursuing a pathology or parasitology specialty - but I had already had 11 years in university and I decided I was done. I started GP work and I love it. It's challenging in ways I didn't expect, and my only frustration is how many vets and vet students look down on GPs as if they are nothing more than gatekeepers directing traffic.

Yeah, I don't love that either. Sometimes I even find myself saying I'm "just going to be a GP" but I have to tell myself to scratch the "just". I'm gonna be that vet seeing these creatures from birth to death, the one who deals with most of the financial constraints of owners, the one who teaches people good basic pet care to prevent their creatures from getting stupid diseases that they don't need to have. The vet who has to know some of everything. That's hard to do.

P.S. No intentions of getting into surgery beyond the GP/shelter medicine scope. Not my thing!
 

hygebeorht

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When I'm talking with students, many of them say the "I'm just doing GP" thing. I always tell them to scratch the "just" - GP isn't easy and the world needs good people in GP. I wish sometimes that it were more to my liking, because I have a lot of respect for general practitioners.
 
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