I’ve written before about a day in the life of a vet, explaining about what’s involved in a typical working day. But what about the rest of a vet’s life?
What do vets do when they aren’t working?
This is a difficult question to give a general answer on: we are all different, each with our own hobbies and interests. But just as my own work routine was used as an example of a “typical” day, here’s my own non-work routine. One point to note, that many vets may appreciate, is that as a vet, you are never really off duty.
Once a vet, always a vet, all the time.
On weekdays, my alarm clock wakes me at 6am: work doesn’t start till 8.30, so there’s a good few hours of opportunity for leisure at the start of the day. My main hobby is triathlons, so most mornings, I fit in some exercise before work. Swimming is my favourite morning sport: either an hour meditating as I do lengths in the local pool, or if the weather is kind enough, a couple of kilometres in the open water off the beach of my home town. Swimming always has a social aspect, and as the local vet in town, inevitably the conversation in the changing room often moves towards work: “I’ve just got a new puppy: how do I house train it?” I don’t mind these questions, but they do remind me that it is difficult ever to be fully off-duty.
A swim sets off the rest of the day nicely: it’s followed by a warming shower and a well-earned breakfast, before I cycle the short distance to the clinic.
Lunchtime is often a challenge as a vet: the morning activities easily stray into the allotted 90 minute break. Without fail, however short the break, I always leave the clinic. A social lunch is the ideal, meeting a friend or family for a chat over a bite to eat. Sometimes we have partners’ meetings at this time: it can be difficult to fit these into the normal hours of a working day. If I have time, I’ll check my emails and Facebook, and again, it’s hard to escape veterinary responsibilities when doing this. I often receive questions about pets by email and social media, both via our clinic internet presence, but also just as an individual. It can be surprising how many friends and contacts have animal-related issues that they want to discuss with the vet that they know personally.
Our afternoon clinics restart at 2.30pm so it’s back to “real work” for the afternoon.
One of the biggest niggles of the companion animal veterinary life is the late finish to a typical day. Friends in “normal” jobs generally leave work by 5pm, and are home with their families by 5.30pm. As a vet, my clinic stays open till 7pm, to allow people to go to the vet after getting back from work. And it can be difficult to control the “tail” of the day: there are often phone calls that need to be made, laboratory request forms that must be filled in or hospitalised cases that need a final check. The normal routine means that I’m not home until 7.30pm, which can be frustratingly late for a family waiting for you to join them. Typically, my dinner is in the microwave, ready for me to warm it up, and I eat on my own. It isn’t ideal for family life.
When possible, I try to make the most of what’s left of the evenings by doing something active. For me, the easiest way to ensure that I do that is to have a schedule that I try to stick to each week. I suspect that every vet out there has their own version of this. If something is scheduled, it’s more likely to happen, and if you don’t do something, life can get exceedingly boring: you get home from work, watch a bit of TV and go to bed. If instead you get out and get involved in something interesting, you forget all about the day job, and life somehow becomes more worth living.
So on Mondays, I go to an art-house movie with my wife and friends.
Tuesdays mean a 10k run with a couple of mates: we chat as we run, so it’s a social occasion. A bit like having a pint, except that we’re running rather than drinking beer
Wednesdays are my bike night: 90 minutes out doing sprints on the bicycle with some triathlon buddies. In winter, the pedalling is done indoors, on a stationary bike.
Fridays are the pub night: I meet my wife and friends in the local hostelry for a couple of pints and chat. Again, as a vet in my local town, I am often recognised, and it can be tricky. “Do you remember Max?” is a typical question from a well-meaning pet owner. When you see a hundred different animals a week, it’s impossible to remember them all, but over the years, I’ve learned to respond with general, vague answers that give the impression that I remember without getting into anything too specific. In a pub environment, this usually does the trick.
There’s one missing evening above, for a good reason: Thursday is my regular half day off from the clinic and it has become my family-focussed day. I finish work at lunchtime, so I have an entire afternoon and evening free. This gives me the chance to take over home duties: I collect children from school, cook dinner, and become a house-husband for a change. As a partner in a vet clinic, this time off is never sacrosanct: there is always a risk of being called in to do clinical duties, if someone is sick or if there is an unusual crisis of any kind.
So that’s the off-duty bits of the week; what about weekends?
Like most vets, I need to work some Saturdays.
We have four full-time vets, which means a one-in-four rota, which isn’t too bad. If I’m working, I need to be at the clinic by 9am, and I don’t finish till close to 2pm. Most of Saturday is gone by then, but it’s part of the job which you just have to accept. We are fortunate enough to have a local emergency clinic, which spares us the need to provide on call cover for every night, and every weekend: this is a cross which many vets around the world are obliged to carry.
My weekends off are probably similar to the rest of the population: a mixture of family activities and socialising with friends, as well as training and racing in triathlons. As before, even then it can be difficult to avoid being seen as “the approachable vet”. Memorably, on one occasion I was even asked a pet question during the middle of a triathlon. I was running beside someone who said “You’re a vet, aren’t you? Can I ask you about my dog?” This was the best incentive I’ve ever had for putting on a spurt of pace, leaving the question-asker behind!
When you’re a vet all week long, it’s necessary and refreshing to “not be a vet” in your time off… Monday morning comes around quickly enough!