Think about the environment you will work in
If you choose to embark on large animal practice, you have to keep in mind that you will be working outdoors in every kind of weather, at every time of the day and night, often travelling large distances daily and mostly being on your own. Another important dimension is that the legal regulations for the treatment of food production animals in most countries are getting more and more complex and increasingly influence the way the vets work. Typically, this increases the time spent on organisation and administrative tasks; something that could have a significant impact on job satisfaction and career progression.
In small animal practice, it is more common to work in a team consisting of vets and support staff such as nurses or receptionists. Small animals are brought into your facilities so that you can more easily control your working hours and environment, although there can be emergencies and house calls and, in some countries, mobile vet practices are becoming more and more popular. As with large animals, treating companion animals away from the clinic can be much more complicated when it comes to handling the pet, and is always limited from a diagnostic point of view. These are factors you should consider before deciding to be a mobile vet.
Think about the mindset of the owners you will meet
Another important issue when it comes to your choice of veterinary profession is to take account of the owner´s mindset, because this is something that you will have to deal with on a daily basis. The owner´s attitude towards their animal varies greatly between small and large animal medicine. Livestock owners make their living from breeding and/or keeping animals for dairy and meat production, whereas pets (with the exception of watchdogs and other companion animals that are used for commercial purposes) are mainly kept as a family member. These totally different aspects of animal husbandry lead to very different demands from your clients. In the role of the large animal doctor, you are mainly confronted with managing herds and so when considering the options for of a single animal it is very often a decision of life or death because a sophisticated treatment is likely to be uneconomic.
Even if pet owners are appearing more and more price-conscious, most decisions regarding diagnostics and treatment in small animal practice are not based on price alone – this business is much more emotional! Dealing with emotions and the often unrealistic expectations of owners is therefore a large part of small animal medicine; something that not all vets are prepared to deal with day after day.
General practice or specialist?
A new value system has been gaining ground, initially in universities and subsequently among the younger generation of vets, that places “specialists” at the top of the professional hierarchy, well above “simple” general practitioners. It is important to understand that these are two very different occupations, and that the most important thing is to choose the option that corresponds most closely to your own personal and professional aspirations.
General practitioners focus on preventative medicine, including screening, as well as primary medical and surgical care which can be carried out in good conditions in the large majority of veterinary practices and clinics. General practice therefore includes all disciplines of veterinary medicine and requires broad competence and a “multidirectional” focus to continued professional development. Clients who attend a general practice are owners of animals who are putting their trust in the practitioner.
Specialists practice in a single discipline, within which they carry out medical and/or surgical acts that require a particular skill and/or technical expertise and/or a team, and, as such, are available in just a small number of clinics or hospitals. Specialised services require an in-depth knowledge of a single disciplinary field and have, therefore, very focused continuing professional development.
The two occupations cannot be compared in terms of technical or scientific skills, as specialists are expected to be more competent in one specific area but as a result are often much less skilled in all other areas.