Let me assure you this post is not at all related to me. I repeat: I am not dropping out of vet school. Let’s face it though, some people do drop out somewhere along the way. Though it may not be common, it does happen, so I figured I would address in whatever way I can at this point in my veterinary career (perhaps I can update later with additional thoughts, ideas or perspectives as I gain them).
The decision to drop out of vet school cannot be made easily in my opinion. And here’s why:
- Classmates. Call it your social/professional/support network or whatever you want; what it comes down to is your classmates are a very significant contributor to your ability to survive and be happy in vet school. With just a single exam or term under your belt, you feel a sense of camaraderie with your classmates; you want to see them succeed and they, likewise, want to see you succeed. Similarly, when you spend so much time with your classmates, you develop a bond with them that is rather unique. We regularly spend 40 hours per week together — and that’s just in school — and despite feelings of just wanting to “get away” and spend time with non-vet school related people, you know deep down inside that your classmates know and understand what you’re going through better than any outsider. This is why, when it comes down to it, the decision to leave vet school or repeat a year is so difficult.
- Finances. Dropping out of vet school or being forced to repeat a year puts an incredible strain on one’s finances. Veterinarians already face the highest debt to salary ratio of all professionals as we often graduate from vet school with over 200,000 dollars in debt and start work in jobs with salaries at about 60,000 on average. The willingness to take on an additional 40-50,000 in debt to repeat a year is a tremendous burden, at least in my mind. (Though pursuing a life-long goal would probably make it worth it in the end. And, likewise, the decision to drop out as opposed to repeating a year would mean losing that money entirely.)
- Figuring Out Your Life. Dropping out after such a fervent pursuit of your veterinary dreams is likely to make you feel disoriented and make you ask yourself, what am I going to do with my life now? Many people pursue veterinary school from such an early age that they’ve never had a “back-up plan” so to speak. Many have never thought, if not veterinary medicine, then what? In case this happen, or just to keep you grounded, I recommend that everyone consider what other career they might choose to pursue if veterinary medicine didn’t work out for them.
I know of one student who left UC Davis this year who left during his 3rd year. You may wonder, “Why drop out in your third year? You’re so close to being done!” The background of the story is that the student had to repeat his first and second years of vet school, and it was looking grim for his third year as well, so the academic board “suggested” he withdraw. 5 years! That’s over 200k in debt with no degree! Ouch! The email that the student sent to the school announcing his departure was heartbreaking to read even though I didn’t know him personally. He is a father with another child on the way and has clearly been through a lot in his pursuit of a veterinary degree. I can only imagine how devastated I would feel having spent so much time and money on a single goal only to have it slip from within my grasp.
Even if you don’t drop out, you can still face difficulties with changing your expected graduation date or by being involved in the Veterinary Scientist Training Program. Students who are in the Veterinary Scientist Training Program (VSTP) at UC Davis complete 2 years of vet school, then work on their PhD research consistently for 3 or so years, before returning to complete the final 2 years of vet school. These students are forced to leave a class that they’ve already had 2 years of bonding with and then join a class who they don’t even know years later after that class has already had 2 years to bond without any knowledge of the VSTP students’ existence. It’s a tough situation.
Likewise, students who are forced to repeat a year (not common, but it happens! Two students from the Class of 2012 joined my class, the Class of 2013 in the Fall of 2009 to repeat their first year) are likewise put in a position where their relationships with people from their original graduating class are strained. That’s not to say you can’t remain friends, you can, it’s just not the same as it was before. You will not see each other as often and you will not have the same camaraderie as before. And, of course, there’s the financial aspect of repeating a year of vet school.
Though I believe there was a student who was supposed to be in our class who simply never showed up, the only other person I know of who “dropped out” left our class within the first month. Granted she was having personal difficulties, difficulties with lab partners, and perhaps was also having trouble “fitting in” on a grander scale, but I believe it was her decision to request time to leave vet school and reassess her “veterinary dream” or prepare herself to re-enter with the Class of 2014 (an option which I believe the administration provided).
In summary, dropping out of vet school is not an easy decision. While it is not a common occurrence (at least not from what I have seen at UC Davis), it does happen. The best thing I can suggest to avoid this from happening is:
- Spend time considering other career options. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each before you decide that veterinary medicine is your first choice for a career. Be sure to consider the debt, the personal risk for being bit, kicked, or worse by your patients, the amount of time and effort it will require from you in terms of studying and sitting in a classroom, as well as the overall lifestyle. It’s definitely not a career suited for just anyone. Be sure to look down the road 10 or 15 years and imagine where you want to be (yes, this includes considering whether you want a family and how that might fit in with your career).
- Get your life in order before you start vet school! A lot is to be said of this. If you are in a troubled relationship, going through a divorce, battling cancer, depression or for custody of a child do yourself a favor and wait until all of that drama is settled before you begin vet school. Vet school is extremely demanding when it comes to time, energy, and mental resources. You do not want to be going through it with any unnecessary stress. You are better off being able to devote more or less all of your energy to vet school if you want to give yourself the best chance for success and minimize your chance of repeating a year.
- Give it everything you’ve got. Don’t dare risk repeating a year in vet school — you do not need the added debt! So be sure to give every exam the best effort you can (seek out professors, tutors, or your classmates for additional help if you need it!)