Dr. Catherine Arthur, a practicing veterinarian in Clearwater, Florida, is employed by a national chain veterinary hospital, where she performs routine (and occasionally, advanced) surgical procedures and provides wellness checkups and emergency care. She completed a veterinary dental course through the University of Illinois, and specializes in small animal medicine and nutrition, exotics, practice management, and zoo medicine.
Dr. Arthur’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in biology from Emory University in Atlanta and a doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Her prior work experience includes serving as a veterinary assistant at Beauchamp Animal Hospital in Nashville and volunteering at animal clinics in Waipahu, Hawaii, and Singapore.
She has served two externships, one at Zoo Atlanta, where she interpreted diagnostics and developed treatment plans for exotic species, researched management of various exotic species, and performed quarantine examinations on exotic species; and the other at VCA Avalon-Heart of Gwinnett Animal Hospital, where she completed physical examinations on small and exotic animals, assisted in and performed surgical procedures under supervision, retrieved samples for diagnostics, and determined differentials based on clinical signs and diagnostics.
While a student at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Arthur worked with P&G Petcare (Iams/Eukanuba) as a student representative, where she acted as a liaison between students and P&G Petcare. She was active in the Avian, Wildlife, and Exotics Club, and was involved with the Feline Club, Canine Club, Behavior and Alternative Medicine Club, Veterinary Business Management Association, Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and various spay/neuter clinics.
When did you first decide to become a veterinarian? Why?
I decided I wanted to become a veterinarian when I was about five years old. There were many points where I questioned this desire, but I always came back to veterinary medicine. I’ve always had an innate fascination with animals and a desire to help. When I was older, I developed a love of biology and understanding how living things work (and how much there is that we still don’t understand). I pursued undergraduate classes in other interests, and none held my attention, like veterinary medicine. The challenges or puzzles of interpreting lab work were also a large part of it for me.
How/why did you choose the veterinary school you went to?
I chose the vet school I went to because of two things. It was the only school of four I applied to that accepted me, and it was also my in-state school. I made some bad choices when choosing schools to apply to and would have chosen different schools if I knew what I now do. My choices were bad because I hadn’t done enough research and applied to only four schools, and two were schools that took very few out-of-state students. My GPA was strictly mediocre, as I had a few Cs in chemistry classes. Of the two remaining schools, one was more GPA-focused (especially for out-of-state students) than the other. If I had done my research, I would have picked schools that were more interested in the applicant as a whole or at least accepted more out-of-state students. I also had not completely understood the residency requirements of one of those schools and was declined for in-state status. I was fortunate that the final school, which was located in the state my parents resided, was understanding of my situation and listed me as in-state for all purposes.
What surprised you the most about veterinary school?
I knew veterinary school would be hard, but no one can prepare you for exactly how much work and stress you take on simply by being a student. There is such a large amount of material to go over, but I also had a desire to pursue my interests in clubs and associations.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
It was difficult to find a job as a small animal veterinarian. I also wanted to pursue exotic animal medicine without years of specialized training. I began looking for jobs in December before I graduated from vet school. Although I was offered many interviews, there was a common theme; too many over-qualified applicants for the position. I decided to take a position with a corporate-owned clinic to ensure that I could pursue small animal and exotic animal medicine.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a veterinarian? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I ask myself this question often. I cannot imagine myself in any other position where I am as happy as I am as a veterinarian. However, the income to debt ratio certainly makes it something I think you HAVE to question.
Has being a veterinarian met your expectations? Why?
There are days when being a veterinarian is astonishing and exceeds my expectations. I am doing things I had only dreamed of earlier. Other days I am frustrated with both the inabilities of veterinary medicine and medicine in general. By this, I mean the inabilities to provide appropriate care for all patients due to finances or the lack of appropriate care for certain patients. I am constantly amazed at what each day brings. The day rarely ends as I expect it to.
What do you like most about being a veterinarian?
I like being able to educate the public about various topics. I also really love working up challenging cases and understanding the pathophysiology of those cases.
What do you like least about being a veterinarian?
Difficult clients can really sap my energy for the rest of the day. More so if they threaten my colleagues or staff.
Describe a typical day at work.
I come in at around 9 a.m. and begin seeing pets that have been dropped off for surgeries to assess if they are good anesthetic candidates. After that point, I have appointments that I see for various reasons before I go into surgery. I mostly perform what are known as routine procedures (spays, neuters, and dental procedures) before lunch. After lunch, I typically see more appointments or walk-ins. I see many species every day, including snakes, groundhogs, dogs, cats, hamsters, rats, and rabbits, to name a few.
Do you work with auxiliary personnel, and if so, what kind(s) (i.e. vet techs, etc.)?
I mostly work with veterinary assistants and sometimes veterinary technicians.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I typically work 40 to 45 hours a week. I try and get eight hours of sleep a night, but sometimes I only manage to get six due to my husband’s unusual work schedule. I have about four weeks of vacation but typically take less than I accrue.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
It is difficult for me to see my husband on weekdays due to our differing schedules, and I typically work at least one day every weekend. Therefore, my time with my husband always feels minimal. It is definitely an area for improvement in my career.
Are you satisfied with your income?
I am delighted with my income. I did not expect an income to pay off my loans each month comfortably, and I am grateful I have not had to switch to a different repayment plan.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I think there is always a financial strain with educational loans. It is difficult for me to spend money on non-essential items without feeling a profound sense of guilt. However, I am happy to be able to make my loan payments each month.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
To take opportunities where you can. I really don’t have many regrets from this period in my life, as it led me to where I am today.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were pre veterinary school?
To get whatever help you need when you are having problems in a class. I ended up with several Cs in chemistry classes that I believe all stemmed from a poor initial introduction to the subject. I wish I had hired a tutor to understand the material better so that I would have been able to put focused effort into the classes instead of large amounts of unfocused effort.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in veterinary medicine today?
There has been a large increase in veterinary graduates recently. With the economic downturn and the rising tuition prices, I am concerned for current and future graduates and their ability to find jobs. In addition, the lack of subsidized Stafford loans for students is disheartening.
Where do you see veterinary medicine in 10 years?
Unfortunately, I see veterinary medicine becoming more specialized. While I see advantages to requiring more training and specialization, I see it becoming as specialized as human medicine. The cool thing about being a veterinarian now is that I get to tinker with multiple specialties: cardiology, neurology, internal medicine, surgery, etc. I worry that in 10 years, there will be veterinary surgeons and a more limited scope of practice for generalists. Additionally, the increase in tuition costs/student loans may make practicing untenable.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Currently, I do not do any volunteer or outreach work. As I am still in my first year of practice, I am trying to make sure that I am comfortable in my position before attempting volunteer work.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing veterinary medicine as a career?
Make sure to do your research before applying and make sure this is something that you really want. It is a long road to travel down if you find out that you do not have the passion or energy to carry you through the many steps.