A Strong Voice

Quick recap—I applied to vet med last year and got an interview last May, my previous post Shaking Hands talks about the preparation I did for the interview if you haven’t already read that part, Final Destinations talks about my first year in vet med and what it was like to get accepted. The interview itself was in the first week of May and my interviewers were a small animal ophthalmologist, a production animal ethologist, and a private practice vet who had had a multitude of roles over the years.

If your looking for the most interesting tidbits and the questions that nearly made me scream in public skim down towards the end, there’s some fun stuff in there. So, that’s a fair warning that this is long right?

I arrived twenty minutes early, checked in with the administration office. Where I sat and waited there were many magazines from the professional associations (both national and regional). I read through the ethics and education sections of the most recent while I waited (which actually was very helpful during the interview). I was invited into the room right on time and offered water, and coffee or tea too I think (I took a water incase my mouth went dry). I shook hands and was introduced/introduced myself before being asked to sit down. I almost wanted to apologize for my clammy hands (I ended up keeping it to myself because it would draw attention to my nervousness and I was sure they already knew I was nervous).

I’m going to touch on the questions that stood out to me in the interview (and my answers) in just a second but wanted to remind you that this is the gist of it, not word for word (unless I say otherwise). Also I won’t be mentioning every question as I can’t remember all of them.

So, starting with my general feelings: I folded my hands in my lap where they trembled almost continuously, and despite occasionally raising them to rest on the table (tightly clamped together to prevent the shaking) I was able to quell my fidgety tendencies. I had practiced this (albeit always one on one) three times after all.

I was asked after introductions (they talked about their backgrounds) if I had any questions before we started. I turned to the ethologist and said, “I’m really sorry but I can’t say I really understand what an ethologist is?” He explained very nicely and we moved on.

By about five minutes in I felt as though we were just having a nice group chat (with me as the topic of conversation, which is weird). I did get cut off by another question during my responses at times (typically it was a follow up to something I had just said but occasionally it was shifting to a new topic). Overall, the time flew by.

My interviewers let me know which part of my application they would each be asking about ahead of time if I remember right—the private practice vet was asking about my leadership, hobbies, and current events; the ethologist was asking about my animal experience; and the ophthalmologist was asking about ethics and professional conduct I believe.

Now the interesting part, the standout questions (in approximately the order they were asked and in order by interviewer as listed above):

What type of leadership roles have you had over the last couple of years?

-I have worked at camps as a wrangler and lifeguard, both of which require you to take charge of groups of children from the ages of 6-18 while also making sure they have fun. I also lead rides at these camps where I was in an active teaching role and also was responsible for safety, incidence response and reporting, skills testing, and general planning for what we were doing on each ride.

I was prompted for more recent participation in leadership (I had been back to the camps more recently but not for long periods, and they wanted to know what I did during the school year that involved leadership).

-I know it’s not what you’re looking for but I have to admit I am one of the set painters of the world. I’m not always drawn to spotlight, leadership positions and really prefer to be behind the scenes. That said, if a leader comes to me with a job I’m happy to help out! Last year I played board games and lead a book club with retired monks and nuns in an old folks home—which is more down my alley.

What are some of your extra-curriculars?

-I love horseback riding during the summers (and would/did all year round but I can’t afford board for my horse at university), and am a real reader. I also enjoy art and writing during the school year. I like animal training, although since I started university that’s been on the backburner. I enjoy a variety of sports non-competitively. (There was other stuff but it’s not leaping to mind right at the moment).

Current events were brought up as well, although I can’t remember the exact question. We chatted about some major forest fires occurring in the area, a recent murder (another murder was brought up in regards to the court case and I had to admit it wasn’t a story I was familiar with) and a regional chain restaurant that had started preferentially using imported beef because they had changed their certification standards for humane production (which created a huge outcry because very few farms in my country had that particular certification, but still were treating their animals within the standards). The restaurant issue will come up again later.

That’s all I can really remember distinctly from the private vet—I do remember she seemed unsatisfied by my answer on leadership until I used the set painter analogy at which I remember a few nods and indistinct agreements/smiles. There was also a follow up on my mention of sports that I think was just about what sports in specific and whether I was on a team at the moment. The ethologist asked me a bit about riding and my horses as a follow up to my interests, and that’s where we’re going to pick up.

You mentioned that you guessed calling your horse a filly wasn’t really appropriate anymore when you said she was five years old and corrected yourself to call her a mare? How are you making that distinction?

-It’s a bit dubious in horses when to make the distinction. In cattle it is based on whether the animal has ever had a calf before, which makes it really easy. The trouble with horses is that many are never bred. So, it would be like calling a seven year old, never bred bovine a heifer to call a five or six year old female horse a filly. It’s definitely a true statement, but it is a bit misleading when you leave the actual age out of it. I would classify my horse as a mare and not a filly because, while she has never been bred, she is fully sexually mature and has stopped growing for the most part (other than in width), and in horse shows she would be shown in a mare class.

What vaccinations do you use for your horses?

-I vaccinate my horses for strangles, western and eastern encephalitis, rhinopneumonitis, tetanus, West-Nile virus, and I believe rabies (I’m not entirely sure if it is in my combination vaccine or not). I tend to vaccinate more rather than less as my horse travels anywhere I go, which includes camps where the herd size can range up to eighty animals and there’s a high number of people coming in and out.

You mentioned you were following the story regarding beef sourcing for _________ restaurant?

-Yeah, the most recent developments have been encouraging. The company has really been backing away from this new type of certification in favour of finding a way to establish which local ranchers meet their requirements. I think it’s also great that the public has become so aware of this and is really standing with our local ranchers. I also saw a statement from the company saying that they would prefer to use local beef regardless, and would love to find enough ranches to meet their supply needs.

What vaccines did you use for feedlot cattle, and what did you use for the cow-calf operation? (Just a little background: I have worked at both a ~5000 head feedlot and on a cow-calf ranch with ~1200 head.)

-They all get blackleg (either added to the 7-way making it an 8-way, or alone); a 3-way for BVD, IBR, and PI3; and a 7-way for clostridials. They might also get tetanus (particularly on the feedlot, and I believe it is sometimes added to the 7-way). The biggest difference between the feedlot and cow calf is that the feedlot was generally adding hormone implants while the cow-calf producer may or may not. Both places also put in ear tags or temple tags (another type of ear tag) when we process—for identification—at the feedlot though, even already tagged animals had their old tags removed and new ones put in so that they could be registered in the computer system and identified the right way for the pen they would be put in (radio identification tags were left in though). We also branded at both places, but less frequently at the feedlot.

What implants were you using?

-Um, mainly the Revlor series and the Ralgro series, depending on what the buyer wanted.

What do you mean by series?

-There’s different types for different ages and sizes of animals, so like Revlor-S versus Revlor-G. Saying it out loud I’m actually not sure if Revlor is the one that comes in S and G or if it’s Ralgro, but same idea. Some of them are numbered (like Revlor-1000 or whatever).

You mentioned your dad has specialized his practice for beef cattle, does he have a PhD or a board certification in that are?

-No, I suppose specialized would be the wrong term. He has narrowed the focus of his practice to that area, and takes all his continuing education in the area.

He asked me a few more questions about my dad’s practice (whether it was ambulatory or if he had a physical clinic location, which vet college he went to, when he graduated, really just curiosity questions). This is basically all of what I remember from the ethologist, so we’ll move on to the ophthalmologist. This is where I really had to put a lid on myself as I have some very passionate feelings on some things.

I don’t remember being specifically asked about the professional governing bodies although I vaguely remember talking about the roles of the regional and national bodies at some point, possibly to clarify something for another question.

This one is ALMOST word for word: So, I’m really mainly small animal and I don’t really know about cattle production, why would I want my beef to be hormone treated?

Okay, before I put my answer let me say, AHHHHG! This question nearly drove me up the wall. Well not the question but the set up—for a veterinarian (small animal or not) to try to convince me that they don’t understand hormone treatments… I mean either you think I’m stupid, or you honestly need to educate yourself a bit more (I mean I know its not your area of specialty but at least have a passing awareness of it)! Alright, got that off my chest. My answer here and in the next question, especially the last part of the follow up question, is pretty much word for word because I had just been reading up on this topic the week previous to my interview.

-Well, the main hormone in most of these implants is estrogen, we administer it under the skin in the ear and it is in like, tiny slow release tablets. These can be administered from very young ages and all the way through life at certain intervals. By administering these hormones we are able to achieve faster growth, a larger amount of beef in lbs/animal, and better feed conversion. Ultimately this means less food and water is needed to produce more beef, which is far more environmentally friendly. Better feed conversion means less gas production, and less time per animal spent in a feedlot before they reach slaughter weight. Altogether, with increasing populations hormone implants are the only way to produce beef sustainably enough to keep up with demand and not wreck the environment.

But won’t those hormones be bad for me? (My answer here, especially the last part is pretty much word for word because I had just been reading up on this topic over the last week)

-While some estrogen may be excreted into the environment and run off from feedlot site, improved feedlot management and waste management makes this pretty inconsequential. As for the beef you eat impacting your hormone levels because the animal was hormone treated, you would pretty much have to eat the cows ear right after implantation to get any significant amounts of estrogen. All of the implants have withdrawal times before slaughter meaning they are out of the animals system before it becomes your steak. From a more technical perspective though, a 75 g serving of beef from a hormone implant free animal contains approximately 1.1 ng of estrogen in it, while a 75 g serving from a hormone implant treated animal has approximately 1.9 ng. Which is different, but when you consider a birth control pill contains 20 000-50 000 ng and 75 g of cabbage contains 2 025 ng things may come into a little more perspective. Hormone implants in beef certainly aren’t going to change your hormone levels, I mean even an adult man produces 136 000 ng of estrogen a day.

The answers above resulted in a moment or two of silence. Oh, and sorry for the lecture.

What was one of the most interesting cases you encountered when you worked with vets?

-There was one case I saw where an older, unspayed female dog came in with a uterus full of puss, gosh what’s it called (interviewer provided: a pyometria). Yeah! That’s it. Anyways, it of course resulted in one of the messiest spays ever. That was pretty cool. Oh, and I saw an abdominal exploratory in a pit bull puppy that revealed a dog tag style necklace that was starting to involute a part of his gut, and an incredible amount of tangling. It was even funnier though because he was initially brought in because his owner thought he’d eaten a brand new pair of lacy underwear.

What type of practice do you see yourself working in?

-I want to start in mixed and keep my options open, but imagine I’ll do more large than small if I had my way.

Can you give me an example of an animal rights organization versus an animal welfare organization and tell me the difference?

-Well PETA would be animal rights, and the SPCA would be considered more animal welfare. PETA believes that animals should have the same rights as people, but typically has a high number of urban supporters who don’t understand animal behaviour or production animal systems and standards, while the SPCA is more focused on humane standards of care and humane methods for administering care.

It sounds like you’re not a big fan of PETA? (the ethologist)

-I think that PETA supporters want what they think is the best for animals but, often get overzealous in trying to achieve it.

Now, generally interviewers are encouraged not to voice their thoughts on an interviewees responses but the ethologist really liked this one and said something along the lines of, “That’s a very nice way of putting it, I don’t think I’ve heard it explained like that before.”

So, what do you think a veterinarian gets paid starting out?

-Well, the national average is in the low $80 000 range to my knowledge but as a new grad I wouldn’t expect more than $65 000-$70 000 per year.

Alright, so these last two questions from this interviewer just annoyed the heck out of me. I almost lost a bit of my cool over the first one, not because I’m ultra feminist but because you could easily ask the question without any mention of gender and it would still be a valid question (work/life balance is a major issue in veterinary medicine in general) but, she felt the need to gender it because…? Also, both are given nearly word for word. Anyways, onwards because wow is this getting long!

As a woman how do you anticipate dealing with the challenges of work/life balance?

-I imagine much like a man.

Okay brief pause, because I actually did let that dangle for a few seconds before I realized I probably should expand on it.

– I mean, I had a dad who was a vet, and there were definitely times when my mom was frustrated with his long hours, or where he was less than pleasant to be around because he had to go out to three calvings between midnight and five in the morning. As a child in that sort of dynamic though I always knew that my dad was there for me. There were busy seasons where that was less true but I never felt less loved. I also think by being in a veterinary household I know better than most what boundaries I want to set on my time personally, and also I understand that I will have seasons where I have to just suck it up. Besides that, at this point in my life I’m not in a relationship that takes up my time, and I’m not very keen on having kids, so I imagine I will have fewer demands on my time than many people do.

You mention in your essay that this is the lifestyle you want for yourself, not just the career and you say that you anticipate being “bit, kicked, bruised, and ocassionally bloodied”. You want that?

Okay… again, this is right up there on the list of stupid question set-ups. Sure ask me why I mentioned that, but to ask me if I WANT that? Do you think I’m a masochist? Seriously, whaaaat are you thinking? (Honestly, the ethologist gave her a weird look about this one too.)

-Um, I certainly didn’t mean that I want those things but in the profession, no matter how careful you are, accidents happen. I mean, you often end up dealing with animals under extreme stress or that are extremely scared or both (and they often outweigh you by more than 10x) and while I would always take the greatest precaution there are times when either something just has to happen now and that means you have to take a calculated risk to make it happen or Murphy’s Law kicks in and what can go wrong, does go wrong despite your best efforts. When that stuff happens, because of the field of work, it means you can get hurt, sometimes very hurt. That’s part of the job, understanding the risk and doing your job despite it.

At the end I was asked again if I had any questions, I think I did ask one or two. Then I was offered a cookie, “or two if you want! It seems like all the students today have been too nervous to take them, that or they’re all on diets.” I took two, and it was a very good day.

I joked with my dad later that it either went really well or really poorly because it felt like a very casual conversation most of the time. So, either they assessed within the first few minutes it was a lost cause and decided to just have a nice chat, or I was just really relaxed (that worried me too though, maybe I was to casual about it myself). Obviously it all turned out well though and I am proud that I could “stand” with a strong voice despite my shaking hands!


P.S. These last two posts have been a little adventure to show you guys a snapshot of the vet med interview process. I hope it was fun for you, I enjoyed writing it, but let me know if you liked it or what your weirdest ever interview question was! However, for those of you thinking this isn’t your cup of tea don’t worry! I’m not going to be talking this much about vet med again for a while, summer fun from now on.


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