I’ve heard it a million times. A fear of blood / surgery is one of the main reasons that potential pre-vet students question their desire to pursue veterinary school. (The other main reason is related to grades.)
Despite the fact that blood and surgery are very fundamental aspects of veterinary school, there are fields of veterinary medicine that do not involve either of those! Granted, it is doubtful that you will graduate from vet school without some experience with blood or surgery, but if you muster up the strength to handle it, then I don’t think you’ll have a problem. However, what I recommend is that anyone who is considering working in the field of veterinary medicine get experience shadowing veterinarians and seeing what their jobs entail on a daily basis. One of the main reasons that vet schools require you to have veterinary experience hours prior to applying to vet school is that they want to ensure that you know what the profession entails and that you are entering the field with that as your known goal and not simply because you like puppies and kittens. Anyone in this profession knows that veterinary medicine is not all puppies and kittens — it’s more so handling bodily fluids and putrid smells all the while doing your best not to get bit, scratched, kicked, or stepped on. Loads of fun! 😉
Get as much variety of experience as well as zoo veterinarians have very different day-to-day experiences when compared to food animal vets or small animal vets. Likewise, there are specialties that exist within the field. For instance, shadowing a board certified surgeon will give you an idea of what their job entails — surgery! On the other hand, shadowing a board certified nutritionist will likely consist of consulting with clients and formulating diets that will best fit the patients’ needs — no blood or surgery there!
I know many people who have fainted at the sight of blood or surgery and questioned whether they are really cut out for this profession. My opinion: don’t write off the entire profession just because of one experience. Sometimes our bodies have reactions to new experiences simply due to the novelty of it, but those reactions may be exacerbated by not eating or drinking before hand. I would definitely suggest watching surgery after eating and when you are fully hydrated, but not immediately after eating and not a big meal. If at all possible, watch the surgery sitting down. If you need to leave for any length of time, do so. See how your first experience goes, and be sure to come back again for another. Chances are any reaction you have to things will gradually lessen over time as you build up a tolerance, so to speak, for the surgery or blood.
On a personal note. I am extremely squeamish about blood getting drawn on humans. For the longest time, I thought that in and of itself was reason enough not to pursue veterinary medicine as a career. When I finally left the field of psychology and began working in a shelter veterinary hospital, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle blood or surgery, but I discovered very quickly that, for whatever reason, it didn’t bother me on animals. The first time I got squeamish in the field of veterinary medicine was when I was asked to assist on an eye enucleation surgery (removing the eye) on a cat that had been hit by a car. The cat’s eye was hanging out of the socket and was beyond repair. I was really starting to question whether I could hold it together for this surgery as eyes tend to make me queasy (as do teeth), but I managed to assist throughout the surgery and didn’t have much of a problem at all.
My issue with eyes didn’t go away after that experience, however. Just this week we were given a cow eye to dissect and my queasiness returned, full force. Fortunately my lab partners were excited and enthusiastic about getting the opportunity to dissect an eye, so I was able to take a bit of a back seat and observe for the beginning. After going through the dissection, I must admit that while eyes are weird little jelly-filled structures, they are fascinating! I attribute much of my fear and queasiness to my unfamiliarity with the eye. After dissecting it out and understanding its structure and composition, I find it to be much more fascinating than scary. I can only hope that this new found fascination remains with me in the future as I delve into my veterinary studies. After all, I will have to take ophthalmology and dentistry before I can graduate!
Overall, my suggestion is to gain exposure, multiple times if necessary and realize that most of us veterinary students have certain things that we are afraid of, our Achilles Heel if you will. Just because you are afraid or squeamish about something doesn’t mean that it will prevent you from pursuing your dream and having a very satisfying career as a veterinarian. Just like I will have to go through Ophthalmology and Dentistry, you will have to meet your nemesis as well. Fortunately, there are people along side you, your classmates, whose enthusiasm will help ameliorate your fears and make you question why you were afraid in the first place.