Diaries of a Veterinarian – Dr. Dunn’s First Day as a Vet

 In Diaries of a Veterinarian, my mom, Dr. Dunn, discusses life as a vet, gives vet tips, and discusses all things vet related as a guest on my blog. 

Diaries of a Veterinarian

“Congratulations, Doctor. You’re officially a veterinarian.” The words rang in my ear, feeling ridiculous, a joke, even.

It was May 5, 2005. I had just finished 4 grueling years of vet school and somehow had managed to pass my national board exam. The auditorium was full of proud families, including my own. There were 52 of us walking across the stage that day in Starkville, Mississippi. I felt self conscious, fearful of the future, a little bit in shock, but mostly tremendous relief. Thank goodness vet school is over!

As I walked across the stage and received my (fake) diploma (they actually kept our real ones hostage until we returned our borrowed cap and gowns), a professor was waiting at the bottom of the stage to shake my hand and present me with a name tag, a gift for all the graduating students. It read “Dr. Megan Dunn”. Certainly he could see the skepticism in my face as he smirked a little and called me “Doctor”. That was the first moment I had ever been addressed as a veterinarian.

The next day I had to run by Wal-Mart and pick up some cat litter. Small chit chat with the lady at check out somehow led to the declaration “I’m a veterinarian.” It sounded doubly false coming from my own lips.

Impostor Syndrome

These feelings are actually not unique to my experience. In fact so many professionals feel like a fake that there is a name for it. “Impostor Syndrome.” This is an experience shared by many accomplished people in which they have an internal fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Most new parents are quite familiar with Impostor Syndrome.

As unreal as it seemed to be called “Doctor” for the first time, nothing compared to actually performing as a veterinarian for the first time. Walking into the exam room in the small but charming little clinic in North Carolina, I took a deep breath and stood as tall as I could, praying my trembling knees wouldn’t betray me.

“There is a patient in room one to see you. Her dog has a swelling on his head.” Fake smile. You’ve got this. 

“Hi, I’m Doctor Dunn,” I said, more trying to convince myself than Ms. Baker. “So when did you first notice the swelling on Peanut’s head?”

Ms. Baker explained her dog’s entire life story as I examined poor Peanut. The little Chihuahua had a painful soft tissue swelling on the back of his head. I only half listened as I had a rapid internal dialogue with myself.

What do I do, what do I do? Where the heck are the real doctors to back me up? This poor woman came for help, and all she got was me! Okay, calm down. Pain, swelling, no fluid, acute inflammation. Anti-inflammatories?

In the end I think I prescribed a regimen of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, which solved the problem. Looking back now it was not a complicated case at all. But it was that first case that taught me why we call it “practicing medicine.” I had learned all about anatomy, physiology, complex diseases, surgeries, etc. But never once did they mention what to do with a small chihuahua with a bump on his head.

Now That I’m a Seasoned Veterinarian…

That first case was many years ago. I suppose I am officially “seasoned.” Who knows what that means, really. Maybe I can be a little salty at times. But most likely it just means that I’ve fumbled my way through enough cases by now that I hopefully learned a lesson or two about being a veterinarian.

Over the years I have seen many chihuahuas and many bumps. I would like to think I have gained much more confidence, knowledge, and skills. But no matter how many years I have practiced, how many animals I have seen, I still occasionally walk into a room and think, “Oh, Crap. Where are the real doctors who can back me up?” 

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