As a veterinarian, I am often approached to have young people follow me around and learn what I do. These bright young minds are lovingly termed “shadows.” Through the years, I have seen a wide range of shadows – with varying degrees of interest, talent, and experience. Some of them seem to have been forced by gun point to show up and follow me around while others are overly excited to be there and willingly volunteer to take time out of their days and see what veterinary medicine is all about.
I will always remember when I was an eighth grader and had my first opportunity to shadow our family vet, Dr. Darla Boyk. She had a very interesting surgery schedule that morning. It included an exploratory surgery of a dog that had become obstructed due to eating telephone cord (an uncommon foreign body obstruction these days). She also had to spay an old fat dog. I distinctly remember her telling me that that was part of the reason that veterinarians ask owners to spay their dogs when they are young. Younger animals tend to have minimal abdominal fat accumulation. She illustrated her point with the greasy fat material coating her surgical gloves making surgery much more complicated and slippery.
I was definitely one of the eager-to-be-there types of shadow. I remember being so nervous and excited about shadowing a real life vet that I nearly shadowed her directly into a bathroom stall. I am sure Dr. Boyk was probably simply trying to hide for a few minutes from the overly-eager eighth grader nipping at her heels.
As life would have it I have gone from being the shadow to the shadowed. As I had experienced my first surgery many years ago, many of my shadows get to experience watching surgery for the first time. My technicians know that I love to give these rookies a “spiel.” You see, many of these young people have never seen blood or guts before (other than Hollywood-produced gore). Many people don’t realize how weak their stomach is or how easily they buckle at the knees when faced with real life gore.
I always tell my shadows that if they start feeling faint they should sit directly on the floor, not on a stool or chair, as it’s a much shorter distance if they do pass out. Recently, a first-timer came to visit and watched a particularly nasty dental cleaning. Apparently, it was too much for her. She was upright and carrying on a conversation one second, then turned white as a sheet and crumpled to the floor the next. Thankfully, she recovered quickly and even managed to stay for the rest of the day with her parents’ blessing. Hopefully, it will be a great story to share when she becomes a successful veterinarian in the future.
If you or some young bright-eyed student that you know is contemplating becoming a veterinarian, I highly encourage you to seek out a veterinarian who allows people to job shadow to get a feel of the veterinary medical field. It is a very important first step on the long road to becoming a veterinarian. I thank Dr. Boyk now for her patience and for the opportunity to witness firsthand what a vet does at such a young age. I am glad that I now have the privilege to help those just starting down the road toward becoming the next generation of veterinarians.
By Dr. Marisa Tong