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It’s okay to be confused about what to do next

INSTAGRAM @tanaya.pai   
Tanaya Pai is a veterinarian from Mumbai, India. She graduated in 2015 and went on to do her masters in Veterinary Surgery and Radiology from Mumbai Veterinary College. She has two dogs Polka and Pippa who she rescued from the SPCA while doing her masters and is a strong advocate for the adopting of local Indian breeds. She wants to contribute to improving the quality of shelter medicine in India. She is currently studying for her International license and has a special interest in veterinary dentistry, prosthetics, small animal soft tissue surgery, and cardiovascular surgery.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I think every single child is asked this question at some point. My answer has always been veterinarian.

Most of the time, my answer was met with a fair amount of scepticism. Many didn’t know what a veterinarian was and I had to explain. I’ve even had people asked me why I didn’t want to be a “real doctor.” We also didn’t have any dogs or cats growing up because my mother was petrified of animals. I have to admit, she did pass on some of this fear to me. I realize now how funny that sounds. It’s not every day you find someone who’s scared of animals but wants to be a vet. Despite all this, I just knew this is what I wanted to do.

Vet school was an adventure; it was nothing like I had imagined. Our college campus was home to a huge pack of dogs who even sat through all our lectures. It was wonderfully unconventional! Within the first few weeks, any fears and doubts I had had about being a vet had vanished. The first few years flew by and finally, in the fourth year, we were introduced to surgery. I loved it. It was exactly what I had imagined it to be. I felt like every surgical case was an amazing puzzle. Suturing wounds was like a satisfying game of Tetris, where all the pieces just fit beautifully together to make something broken whole again. It solidified my belief that this was the right fit for me.

When I graduated, I knew I had to be a surgeon. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in, so I decided to pursue Internal Medicine instead. At first, I hated it. It felt like I could no longer see the pieces of the puzzle, let alone solve it. Gradually over the next year, I worked hard, found my bearing and started to feel more at ease. Even so, I just wasn’t happy, so the next semester I decided to’ reapply for Veterinary Surgery. This time I was accepted.

I remember the excitement I felt when I was allowed inside the OT for the first time, it was a sterile privilege. I won’t ever forget my first assist, I felt so important mopping up blood so the surgeon could have a crystal clear operating field. (In all probability, I likely over mopped and my professor thought I was a lunatic). I remember the first time I did an intradermal suture and how excited I was when the incision closed like it was never there.

That said, it wasn’t always easy. I also remember being terrified and having immense self-doubt during this time. All the times I hit a bleeder or lost a fat ovarian pedicle and every single patient I lost or couldn’t help in time did affect my confidence. Those were the most challenging, but also the most rewarding two years of my life and before I knew it, they were over. I was officially a veterinary surgeon.

Surprisingly, I felt empty after I finished. I had waited for this exact moment all my life. So, why wasn’t I excited to move on to the next phase? It was at this point I realized I had been so focused on achieving this goal that I had completely forgotten to think about what comes next. I panicked! I felt as if I had spent the last decade of my life writing exams and working crazy hours only to come out on the other side, completely clueless.

There were a plethora of options to choose from. I could start a clinic, work at another practice, or even pursue further studies but not one of these was appealing to me. It was an entire ocean of possibilities and I felt like I had forgotten how to swim.

It was my father who suggested I travel to gain some perspective. I was reluctant at first. I wondered how a vacation could solve my career conundrum. I hesitantly decided to spend some time in New Zealand with my aunt (who also happens to be a veterinarian).

New Zealand was beautiful! I finally slowed down and had a chance to think about what I wanted. After I explained my situation to her, my aunt suggested I contact a few veterinary clinics there to see if they would let me observe practice. To my surprise, they were happy to have me! I saw a completely different side of the veterinary profession. Watching dedicated specialists work was so inspiring. One of the things that stood out for me was working with vet nurses. We don’t have vet nurses in India! It is truly a blessing to have such experienced and dedicated individuals as a part of your professional support system. After a whole year of what felt like aimless wandering, this experience helped me decide I wanted to work overseas.

Indian vet school is considered not-accredited. This means, we have to write exams to prove our quality of education is on par with vet schools in other countries. It was difficult to understand why my years of hard work were not recognized in other parts of the world and to accept I would either have to repeat vet school or try and clear a notoriously difficult exam to work overseas. Why are Indian vets considered less than worthy of working overseas? So many international programs send vets to India to gain surgical experience. It didn’t seem fair.

I wondered if I would be able to clear this exam. The process is quite expensive. What if I failed? The uncertainty of the situation was daunting, to say the least. It was a tough call, but I decided I had spent so long being confused, that starting from scratch, to be able to have a better quality of life, better facilities for my patients, and do the kind of work I have always envisioned myself doing, makes all the work I have to put in completely worth it.

So, to all the other confused veterinarians out there, who may not have things figured out. It’s completely okay to feel confused and lost! Chances are, most people feel the same way at some point in their careers. Don’t be afraid to try new things even if they feel difficult or impossible.

I always try to learn from the situations I find myself in. I chose to do my ECFVG certification and give the North American Licensing Exam (NAVLE). I have to say going back to studying without having a strict curriculum to follow has made me love reading and learning new things. I’m not sure what the future holds but I am sure whatever I do I will always give my best and hope things work out!

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