I Haven’t Left Work In 3 Years

 


I

return home from the clinic where I am a veterinarian and slump out of my clothes. The day’s grime heads straight into the washer. Next, I head to the kitchen where I scarf dinner and make small talk about how my day was. “It was good, how was yours?”

Good is the descriptor I used to default to when describing my school day to my parents. It’s a word that should indicate a positive thing but is often used instead to describe a mediocre or even negative thing. In my scenario, well doesn’t even scratch the surface of everything I experienced today. Every day is a maelstrom of activity. I have appointments that are good in the classical sense, like the puppy vaccines and new kitten appointments. However, I get the bad ones too. I help probably a dozen people each month say goodbye to their pets.

It doesn’t stop there.

My line of work comes with unique stressors. Most are legitimate, and others are simply the product of being stuck inside your own head too much.

What if my patient doesn’t make it through this surgery? What if these owners can’t afford the treatment their pet needs? What if I’m not doing as well as I think I am?

My mind runs at a thousand miles per minute, all while trying to finish dinner and pack lunch for the next day.

Then I hit the hay. Lying down I feel my body begin to relax. Suddenly, the most groundbreaking idea ever crosses my mind. This idea could change everything! “Maybe I should get up and write this down,” I think. By the time the excitement has worn off, my chances of falling to sleep anytime soon have vanished.

Sometimes, the credit reel of the day’s events leaves me wondering if I should have said something different, or elaborated further on something else. I know there’s nothing that I can do about it now while lying in bed, but that won’t stop my mind from racing on and on thinking about it.

I am constantly thinking about my job, and consequently, it is often like I have never left.

I often wonder to myself if this is how it is for everybody. I know I’m not the only person in the world that works at a mentally demanding and time-consuming job.

Am I the only person that comes home and feels that they can’t get completely away?

I feel pressure, mostly from myself, to keep on pressing. How can I even consider the thought of not working or changing jobs? I’m not even 30. I’m in the prime of my working career. I’ve gone through 8 full years of higher education to get here, and sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice. If I changed jobs I’d be throwing that all away.

Most days, I don’t want to stop working. I love the various challenges that my job brings. I love solving problems, and I enjoy meeting people and pets along the way. However, I must admit that many mornings start with wondering how I’ll ever make it through everything I need to get done.


There have been multiple studies on mental health in my profession starting mostly in 2014 when the CDC began to more thoroughly investigate the mental health status of veterinarians.

While the conclusions of various studies have differed, one of the most recent studies was somewhat more positive. It concluded that veterinarians are not at a significantly higher risk than the general population for suicide and mental illness which contrasts with previous research from 2014 claiming a higher risk of each amongst veterinarians.

Nonetheless, younger veterinarians do appear to still be at higher risk of distress and mental illness than older ones. Student debt at any level appears to be a significant contributor; additionally, about 50% of the respondents in the study that were suffering from mental illness were not actively seeking treatment.

I would argue that this disparity between older and younger veterinarians can be attributed largely to a shift in the household status of pets within our society coupled with more standard items such as increased student debt. Many of the older veterinarians, with the highest reported quality of life, have been practicing throughout this shift in pet status, but may not have had to cope directly with its effects as their clientele has aged along with them.

Most millennials consider their pets as a part of their family which comes with a significantly larger emotional bill to both the owner and the veterinarian.

Furthermore, the entire landscape of getting accepted into veterinary medicine is geared towards hypercompetitive and almost discourages camaraderie. It has often been touted that, “It is harder to get into veterinary school than it is to get into medical school.” While this isn’t entirely true, I think it helps motivate people to push harder to get into veterinary school regardless of the hurdles they may need to jump through. The added prestige, whether or not it’s warranted, makes it easier to ignore smaller complications along the way.

This competition to get into veterinary school drives people to the edge. Once they’ve made it, there’s hardly time to consider whether it is truly what they want to do. Furthermore, it’s impossible to sit down and consider the financial impacts of veterinary school because there are literally dozens of people waiting to snatch your spot. With student debt rates ever increasing in the profession, people are jumping feet first into a pool of debt they may have no way out of.

My peers, and soon to be colleagues, are taking out unprecedented amounts of financial debt and are joining a profession that comes along with some of the highest emotional debt that we’ve ever seen. Pets have come inside from the backyard and, as such, have secured places within the family that brings them to us. Rather than treating a pet, it feels that most of the time we are treating a furry little person.


I graduated from veterinary school in 2017 and immediately began working for a high-volume general practice. We see a diverse mixture of standard vaccine and preventive health cases on top of severe urgent and emergent cases.

I am constantly thinking about my job, and consequently, it is often like I have never left. While I indeed work in a stressful position, I believe that it is my personality that drives me to have such a hard time separating myself mentally from work.

I have always been fairly highly self-motivated, and I am quick to get stuck inside my mind. Introspection is generally not a difficult task for me.

During the pandemic crisis, my clinic was amongst the busiest that it has ever been. The level of burn out that I begin to feel was completely unprecedented to me. It was both exhausting and frustrating as I have never truly felt that I could not do what I set out to do.

While things have improved at work, mentally I know I have a long way to go before I’m back to normal. So, I have tried to take a step back to improve things for myself. I have decided to make three actionable goals for my life to improve my mental health, and separate myself (more than physically) from work…

Number 1: More family time

My world is quietest when I am with my wife and my dog. Things are always better when spending time with those that are close to you. There are very few better ways to spend my time then eating dinner with my wife and talking over our days and our plans for the future.

Our little dog is also a great mental break. The ability of a dog to stay positive throughout anything and everything is an easy inspiration to me. My wife and I will often spend our evenings with our screens shut down and the dog in our laps to focus fully on each other. Without the added distraction of all that is going on in the world, it is easier to mentally separate me from work and what’s coming the next day.

Number 2: More exercise

I wish that I could tell you that my exercise routine has remained the same since I graduated from veterinary school, but that would be a little bit of a lie. I have tried to keep myself active, but it has not been as successful as I wanted.

Recently I am trying to organize a way to ensure that I can work out at least three times a week. Initially, my gym was closed, so I was using that as an excuse to take some time off, but I have since set up a home gym (basically a yoga mat and a couple of free weights) that has allowed me to start getting back into the routine.

My mind is nearly never clearer than when I am working out. This is an important realization that I’ve had, and a clear motivator to keep on doing it throughout this extra stressful time. Working out often improves my ability to focus and stay alert for the remainder of the day. This is, of course, imperative in a job like mine.

Number 3: Take time for me

At the height of my burnout, I was constantly debating quitting or searching for something new. Each morning felt like an insurmountable task, and I was so overwhelmed that I could scarcely understand what exactly was wrong. Work was busy, but being busy has never stressed me out to this extent.

It was then that it became clear that I was no longer doing many of the things that I enjoy doing. These activities include reading, writing, and playing video games. All three of these tasks I had deemed myself too busy or too tired to do.

However, after purchasing a few books online and reinstalling some video games, I realized that much of this limitation was truthfully in my head. After burning through a 600-page book in just a couple of weeks, I realized that I absolutely had time, and more importantly that I needed to dedicate this time to myself.


While things are still far from being easy, I have been working day in and day out to try to improve my quality of life and emotional perspective towards my job. It is not a fix that can occur overnight, and I still have days that are much harder than others; however, I think I am on the right track.

I wanted to share these thoughts in the hopes of helping others who are in a similar boat to me. Much of the time we feel underprepared when we finally leave school and enter our careers. Our stress management strategies often must change once we are in a career rather than in classes. This transition was harder than I expected it would be, but like with all aspects of life, I’m trying to learn to improve every single day. 

It was all going so swimmingly. After years of dabbling in recruiting as a people manager at my company, I was looking to grow my skills in the field of talent acquisition.

While I was already heavily involved in the recruiting process, I was operating as a bit of a jack of multiple (if not all) trades. I was doing some sourcing and recruiting, a lot of interviewing and hiring, and then managing those I brought on board. While it’s great to have the skills of a generalist, I began to wonder if I was actually making myself less marketable by not specializing.

After a number of conversations with my old friend and colleague, the sorcerer extraordinaire Erin Mathew, I decided to position myself for a full career pivot into recruiting and sourcing.

Its no small thing to invest in an online course with the hopes of enhancing (or perhaps changing) your career. But at Erin’s urging, and after sampling a free preview of Sourcecon Academy course material, and talking it over with my wife, we decided to make the financial investment.

And let me just say, the training is terrific. As a newcomer to advanced sourcing techniques, I found many of the modules to be eye-popping—especially the targeted use of Boolean strings and X-raying social media sites to find candidates. While the instruction on string creation is very in-depth and full of specific examples, the ability to pause and try the methods on your own provides ample opportunity to absorb what you learn and apply the techniques as you go.

But wait..I’ve saved the best part for last: one year of access to the course

Not only can you take copious notes, bookmark relevant pages, and practice creating your own strings with the guidance the lessons provide, but the training is also updated regularly. That means there are new modules added to the material and existing ones are consistently upgraded. Basically, the course doesn’t end when you graduate—it’s ongoing, keeping up with the latest trends and advances in the sourcing and recruiting world. Not to be too corny, but it actually is a gift that keeps on giving.

I started the modules just before the holidays last year and completed the course at the end of February, right before a planned trip to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, my employer reached out to me about my Sourcecon experience and wanted to talk to me about possibly transitioning over to the recruiting team.  

Everything was in place…then COVID happened.

Less than a month after getting back from paradise, the world just stopped. Along with being quarantined (except for sojourns to the grocery store and desperate quests for hand sanitizer and toilet paper) and generally limiting in-person activity as much as possible, we found the world of work turned on its head. Already being a remote employee, I didn’t have to bear the brunt of transitioning to working from home.

But, as anyone reading this already knows, as the coronavirus persisted, the need for recruiters subsided. Many companies either laid off or furloughed their recruiting teams. Job cuts and hiring freezes have a tendency to hit sourcers and recruiters hard, and COVID struck like a sledgehammer.

As you might guess, that backburnered the plan for me to gradually move into recruiting at my job. So, what to do in the meantime? After putting time, effort, and cash into a program where the skills I learned I wouldn’t be able to immediately apply?

Well, first things first. Because I have access until the end of the year, I’ve been making the most of it by going back to the modules, checking for updates, and reviewing portions I’ve watched to keep things fresh and to practice my newly learned skills.

But I thought it important not to stop there. I’ve been attending online sourcing and recruiting seminars, keeping consistent contact with Erin (who I proudly call a mentor), and I volunteered my services to my current company’s recruiting team at no additional cost.

In doing so, I’ve been able to keep up to date and get practical experience. While I may not be getting additional pay for additional work, I have learned a great deal about recruiting logistics through having full access to our ATS, while also getting my feet wet in sourcing.

This may not have been the plan I would have chosen, but it’s the one available to me now.

Lets face it, we live in incredibly—and suddenly—uncertain times. While working professionals have largely accepted the idea that they will likely not work for the same company from graduation to retirement, no one was prepared for a national disaster like this.

Here’s the thing though, this will end. However painful this period is, there will soon be a need for people who can effectively source, recruit, and onboard talent. Once those roles are in demand again, people with additional skills and training are going to have an edge in the competition for those jobs. If you are someone like me who is looking to transition fully into the field of sourcing and recruiting, making the most of this challenging time is paramount.

When the world starts to return to normal (or perhaps a new normal), I want to be ready.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m getting ready.