When I tell people that I am a veterinary oncologist, I get a variety of responses. Sometimes no reaction at all, sometimes surprise that it is a profession, sometimes questions about what that means, sometimes a look of gratitude and a story about a beloved pet who battled cancer, but most often something along the lines of “I don’t know how you do that every day,” or “that must be really sad.” A lot of people ask me why I chose that aspect of veterinary medicine. One of my co-workers recently commented to me, “you are the most positive, upbeat person considering what your job is.” I laughed to myself because my job helps me to maintain that positive energy.
I LOVE my patients. Every single one. From the happy-go-lucky Golden Retriever who wags her whole body and covers me in kisses every time I see her, to the nervous little terrier who is agreeable as long as I respect his limits, to the cat who dimples his nose in the cutest way when I scratch his chin, to the cat who turns around and swats at me every time he goes back in his carrier. I know he’s going to do it, so I move out of the way quickly! I also love seeing them regularly and helping their pet parents navigate their treatments and the roller coaster ride that is cancer treatment. We go through the ups and downs together, and yes, for many of my patients we ultimately get to the end of life discussion and gift of relieving the patient’s illness and discomfort forever. Yes, it can be really hard, and yes, I feel with my owners when they are happy, relieved, frustrated, or sad.
I also truly enjoy meeting, working with, and getting to know my clients. Most of my clients are dedicated and responsible pet owners who want to give their pet the best quality of life possible. That dedication is a blessing and a curse, as they are willing to do a lot for their pets but expect a lot of me and my team in return. I enjoy building those relationships and have given many more hugs to people than I ever expected to when I chose to be a veterinarian!
Like many veterinarians, I decided upon my career choice when I was young. I considered other options, like human medicine or teaching, but I knew from the time I was 12 what my true choice was. I worked hard at school and was fortunate to attend an excellent liberal arts college and veterinary school. Growing up I had never heard of veterinary specialists, so I had planned to become a small animal general practitioner after graduating. After graduation from veterinary school, I worked in general practice as planned, but I quickly realized that although I loved many aspects of general practice, I didn’t love all of them, and I wanted to pursue additional training. I was fortunate to be chosen for a small animal rotating internship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. I really enjoyed my clinical rotations on the Oncology Service during veterinary school, and I gravitated to that service again during my internship. I initially planned to pursue Internal Medicine, but I found that I did not enjoy my time on that specialty; instead, I found that I felt the most comfortable and fulfilled when working in Oncology. I just knew that it felt right—I understood the medicine and the clinical reasoning, and I loved (and still enjoy) learning about cancer biology and how we can use that knowledge to our advantage when treating patients with cancer.
I worked in academia for 10 years after finishing my residency, and I enjoyed the teaching and research aspects of that position as well as my time in the clinic. Last year, I took an opportunity to work in a private hospital, which has given me a more flexible schedule and obviously much more time seeing clients and patients. Both types of practice are challenging and rewarding in their own way, and I am enjoying my new adventure!
More information about veterinary oncology see our section, OncoLink Vet.
Are you an oncology professional who would like to share your career path experience? We would love to share your story and inspire others. Email the Oncolink team, [email protected]