Abby Whiting, DVM
It's no surprise to those who know me, that I love veterinary medicine. It is, in part, a piece of me. It's a piece of how I define myself, what some of my purpose here is. But I am also a terrible hypocrite.
I am an incurable introvert….while I play an extrovert in my daily professional life...in truth I am an ISTP with heavy emphasis on the I. So I rarely talk about my profession or my life in public...it's not because I am ashamed, its because telling someone you are a veterinarian starts a lengthy conversation filled with endless photos of their kitten, questions for free medical advice without an exam, tales of how they always wanted to be a vet...and on and on. When I fly I cherish my travel time, its the time I meditate the best...so no I really can’t bear the thought of flying to Anchorage with 6 hours of tales of your cat’s health concerns and how expensive your vet is. I’ve been known to tell a white lie or two: some days I sell insurance, once I told a very talkative lady I was a mortician (insert guilty smile)..it worked it was the quietest flight of my life. I also don’t really appreciate it when a friend or family member calls me out in public…”Oh my sister is a vet, she's right here let’s ask her!”...sigh…
Many people think I feel like this because in some way I am ashamed of my profession: on the contrary...I am well aware that vets are superheroes in disguise and I am honored to be among them! I have been an active member in organized veterinary medicine and as such I have gotten to travel and interact with many of the “top brass” in vet med. As an emerging leader I have attended conferences throughout the midwest and I have met and learned from so many people...and one question I still have... are we ashamed of who we are?
A little while ago, in a galaxy very near to us, I attended a conference with the top thinkers and leaders in vet med who, for the purposes of this post, will remain anonymous. As part of our entertainment we were taken to a state fair to visit the agriculture and veterinary medicine exhibit (as well as to eat funnel cakes and cream puffs! ). What fun! I was excited! As the bus pulled up to gates and the ferris wheel came into view, a top leader stood up on the bus and addressed us all. The leader said that this was a public fair, one of the largest in the nation, and that we would have no way of knowing if animal rights folks would be there too. The leader then removed the Aesculapius pin from their shirt and asked us to remove all outward signs that we were veterinarians. All in unyson everyone removed their ID badges and lapel pins etc. I stood frozen on the bus, clearly wearing a light jacket with my alma mater's vet school logo and script on it, pondering why. Why would we hide? Why do we hide? If the only voice in the crowd is the misguided one; its no wonder we have trouble in the realm of public perception.
It was then that my mother may have rolled over in her grave...you see I am a gen X er and an emerging leader...I tend to speak my mind. My mother came from a generation where young women were seen and not heard..and certainly would not contradict the “leader”. As politely as I could muster I simply said, “I am not ashamed of my profession. It is a badge of honor”. The leader smiled at me, asked if I was sure and let me climb off the bus into the crowd. I was happy no one tried to stop me...but sad no one else took my lead.
I wandered around the crowded fair that night consumed by questions of why we don't try to re educate people. Whether it be the anti vaxer crowd, the my groomer told me crowd, the animal rights crowd. Is it because we are ashamed? Or is it because we are tired? Or are so many of us introverts; that the very thought of this level of interaction gives us hives? I visited the agriculture barn where farrowing crates were explained and demonstrated. I visited the vet barn where dairy cattle where delivering their calves in front of the onlooking crowd. I watched ag students answering questions and redirecting misinformation. I watched everyday people learning and understanding.
While I understand the "don't engage" policy when it comes to subjects like animal rights, anti vaccines, etc...I wonder if we are not doing more harm by not trying?
At the end of the day I am proud to wear my Aesculapius. I am proud of who I am and of my profession. My challenge to all of you: Be proud. We are true superheros. We are one of the most respected professions in the world...We should all embrace our profession. But feel free to tell your in flight neighbor you sell insurance!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.