A Swinger of Birches

Each year, Pet Authority welcomes a number of students to observe or work at the hospital as part of their schooling.  Some are working toward being licensed technicians, others are exploring the profession, and some are starting their path to veterinary school.  I enjoy teaching tremendously, so it’s always a pleasure to guide students through their time with us.

It’s always interesting to talk to students about where their interest in the veterinary profession came from.  For most of my classmates in veterinary school, becoming a vet was something that they had always wanted to do.  Most knew at a very young age that they wanted to work with animals.  Many of the students that we see feel similarly.

I’m an unusual case in that respect.  I didn’t know until my junior year of high school that this was what I wanted to do.  I knew I was interested in a medical career, but the wide ranging possibilities were overwhelming.  Two events finalized my decision.

First, my mom (who is a nurse), cut her finger badly enough to need stitches.  I went with her to the doctor’s office.  I couldn’t stand to watch him sew her finger up.  It absolutely grossed me out. The second event was an opportunity offered by the local Rotary club.  I went and spent half a day with a veterinarian.  He was surgically removing an eye from a dog.  The other students were very grossed out by that.  I watched with fascination.  It didn’t make me the least bit sick to my stomach.  These experiences sealed the deal for my professional aspirations.  After 10 years as a vet, I know for certain that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.

Looking back at my childhood I realize that while I didn’t know my specific profession, I was very likely to end up in the life sciences.  I was extremely fortunate to have a family that got me out into the woods.  I got to camp, hike, fish, hunt, snowmobile, and more. I was introduced to conservation and stewardship. Going “up north” or even out into the woods near my home are some of the strongest memories I have from that time. As an adult, these concepts are an integral part of who I am.

I was a student at Northern Michigan University for undergraduate school. Spending 3 years there kept me out in the woods for work and fun both. I knew I was working toward veterinary school at that point, but I still eagerly took classes in zoology and ecology. Fortunately, my best friends during that time were a nursing student and a zoology major. I’m positive that it’s not unique to build relationships with like-minded people while away at school. What’s most interesting to me is the finding friends who innately understand some of the same things we ourselves hold dear.

It’s just as rewarding to bond with clients, especially the dog owners, about being outdoors. The dog I grew up with was my hiking companion for a lot of years. Lots of my patients are lucky to be out and about with their owners. Even when it’s difficult to put into words, “outdoorsy” people have a common ground anchored in the natural world.

This link to nature has been a part of my life forever. It’s an integral part of my professional practice, too. I know that I’m lucky to have something I can be so dedicated to, to feel so strongly about. This drive is essential for the students we teach. Without something to strongly anchor themselves to, they won’t have the strength to continue in the veterinary field. For many, “I’ve always wanted to be a vet” can serve as that anchor. For others, like me, that drive can come from unexpected places.

I’d love to hear from you about the path you took to your career, or about something that’s guided your life since you were young. What do you think matters most? Has it helped you be a better professional?

(If you’ve figured out the title, leave a note in the comments! 🙂 )

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “A Swinger of Birches

  1. Karen Wahls

    Dr. H, nice reference to good old Robert Frost ! Karen

  2. Chris

    I figure the title means you climb trees. Please tell me you’re not swinging from one to the other!
    Maybe the reason you were so grossed out watching a doctor stitch your mother’s finger was because she’s your mom. I can watch surgery all day long; but the first time I saw my daughter’s dislocated shoulder being put back into place, I had to sit down.
    Whatever it was that sent you to veterinary medicine, we’re glad you did!

  3. Chris

    Robert Frost! Kudos to Karen 🙂
    That’s almost spooky. I quoted a different Robert Frost poem (The Road Not Taken) to a friend yesterday in need of that particular wisdom.

  4. Dr. H, I remember that cut ! You were as white as a sheet, I thought -” there goes my dream of my kid being a doctor.” Remember the doc was showing you the digital nerve and the tiny artery I had cut ? You were totally grossed out. I also remember when you called me at work one day

    and said the cat threw up in the house and you would get sick if you had to clean it up. I told you had better before your father got home or the cat would have to find an new home. It got cleaned up. You know I still walk Abby in the woods behind our house and always remember all the time you and Peaches spent out there. From the time you were a little guy, you were a “swinger of birches”. I am glad the way you grew up has been an influence on the career choice. It always makes a mom proud and happy to know her son has chosen something he is happy doing. You know you r family is very proud of you. Even if you say my sheltie is too heavy and neurotic at times ! Good post. MOM

  5. I did all sorts of crazy stuff out in the woods for entertainment. I can’t say too much — mom reads the blog! 😉

  6. Dr. Scheurmann sure tried to show me around suturing — guess it just wasn’t the right path! I still gag when I have to clean up vomit, for the record. Gross!
    Thanks for the support, mom, then and now.

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