Have you wondered about what it would be like to be a veterinarian in the Army? Maybe you’re a pre-vet student beginning to think about how in the world you are going to pay for veterinary school. Or perhaps you’re a veterinarian who has been practicing for a few years and is ready for a change.
You love your country and appreciate all the benefits of having a relatively safe and prosperous society, so why not volunteer to serve that cause more directly? Sure, you might not always agree with everything the current government is doing, but that’s okay, right?
Do these vague patriotic feelings, combined with a very practical sense of financial self-preservation, sound familiar? If so, I think you’ll enjoy this series on my experiences as an Army veterinarian.
I love meeting new people and talking about my life and career as a vet. I know that I’m very fortunate to get paid for studying and now working at something I love. I can understand that people are naturally quite curious when they hear that I’m a veterinarian in the Army, and this is also one of the most common sources of questions I’ve gotten since starting this website.
Let me share a typical conversation with you.
New friend: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a veterinarian in the Army, actually.” [That “actually” is thrown in to preempt the perpetual follow-up of “Really?” “Yes, really.”]
New friend: “Wow, I had no idea there were veterinarians in the Army! I always wanted to be a vet, but I was never very good at the sciences in school. [Just throwing that comment in there, since it’s true of about 75% of people I talk to.] Why does the military need vets?”
Me: “Well, one of our primary missions is to provide medical and surgical care to Military Working Dogs (MWDs). You know, the bomb-sniffing and police-type dogs you’ve probably heard about?”
New friend: “Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense. They must be fun to work with!”
Me. “Yeah, they’re pretty cool animals, for sure. We also provide medical care to military families’ pets and are involved in food safety and other public health issues.”
At this point, my new friend will either continue with more follow-up questions or we’ll move on if they’re now satisfied with their new knowledge of this previously unknown entity.
It’s crazy how many times I’ve had this exact conversation over the last eight years.
Surveys consistently rate veterinary medicine as one of the most admired and respected professions out there, and when you combine that with the also highly rated military officer, you have a pretty potent combination. It’s a lot of fun, but also a weighty responsibility, to have a job people generally think is pretty darn cool.
So how did I get to this point? It all started with a failed scholarship application.
During my fourth year as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I learned about a new scholarship program from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The program has changed since then, but at the time the scholarship would provide full tuition and a stipend for graduate students in any field from a select few Virginia and Maryland universities.
I spent hours preparing my application and was confident that my unique vision of combining a career in veterinary medicine and public health would be so appealing to the scholarship committee that they wouldn’t be able to turn me down.
Unfortunately, they did. I was rejected.
I had gotten so excited about finding this unique way to pay for veterinary school that I was devastated. Was I really going to be able to pursue my dreams of being an uncommon veterinarian while also shouldering $200,000 of debt?
It was around that same time that I first learned about the Health Professions Scholarship Program and the existence of vets in the Army. I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about the program, but it was immediately incredibly appealing while also being pretty scary.
Growing up, my grandfather’s service during World War II was the closest personal connection I had to the military. It seemed like a completely foreign little subculture of American society that I knew nothing about. I had always respected the military and was thankful for those who chose that career, but I had never even considered it an option for myself.
I tend to go “all-in” on most things in life. When I learn about something that interests or excites me, I will spend hours researching and weeks exploring all the possibilities. This is what I did over the next year as I learned about the Army’s scholarship program and what it would be like to be a veterinarian in the Army.
I contacted every Army vet I could find, asking them probing questions about their experiences and getting honest answers about whether or not they would do it again. Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t get one negative answer to this latter question. Even though all of them had things to complain about and various frustrations about life in the Army, they all were glad for the experience and thankful for the opportunity to pay off loans while serving their country.
Is that true across the board? No, of course not. There will always be some for whom the Army is not the best fit. But in general, whether someone chooses to stay in for just his or her three-year commitment or go all the way to retirement at twenty, I’ve found that most people are happy they took the plunge and signed on the dotted line.
So there you have it. I was convinced. Or so I thought. As you’ll read in Part 2: The Health Professions Scholarship Program, I hadn’t yet experienced my own frustrations with government bureaucracy and incompetence. Stay tuned!
But first, leave a comment here to ask your own initial questions about joining the Army as a vet. Have you thought about it? What’s holding you back?