Why I Won’t Ever Be A Cardiologist [Clinics Series]

Before vet school began, I already knew that I wanted to specialize in reproductive medicine.  But after vet school began, I found that cardiology came to me very naturally. Perhaps it was because I spent time as an EMT before vet school, and therefore already knew how to read ECGs, or perhaps it was because the heart is a very logical organ and therefore fails in reliable, predictable ways.  Regardless, I found myself thinking that if I changed my mind and decided not to specialize in reproductive medicine, I might specialize in cardiology instead.  Consequently, I eagerly awaited the start of my two week rotation to get a chance to try it out.

The rotation was lovely.  The senior clinicians and residents are all kind, patient, and good at teaching.  My patients and clients were as nice as you could expect (sure, a chihuahua bit me, but he was scared). The hours were completely reasonable, even though the service was busier than average, and we only worked ~50-60 hours/week, depending on emergencies.

But despite it being a lovely rotation, I came out on the other side with one firm conclusion: I am not meant to be a cardiologist.  I don’t have it in me for a majority of my conservations every day, all day, to be about how our interventions are not a cure and your pet only has blank to blank months left to live.  I’m not saying that I can’t have that conversation, and I know that I will have that conversation.  I’m also not saying that I don’t find the work valuable.  Quite the contrary, the cardiologists are so skilled at managing the conversation that I feel privileged to be permitted to listen to them.  They are empathetic and provide clear, honest recommendations.  They emphasize that the most important factor is quality of life, and when the time comes, the clients are far more prepared to say goodbye than some of those I encountered on internal medicine.  True, the cardiology clients usually have months to prepare themselves, which isn’t nearly as common for internal medicine clients.

As long as I can remember, I have been a people-pleaser.  When I meet someone with a passion for something, I am inherently drawn to also show an interest in that something, because it pleases people to find others who share their interests.  This has been a real challenge in vet school, because almost every topic is taught by a wonderful, passionate person who has dedicated their life to the topic at hand.  Add to this the fact that, like many veterinary students, I feel the pressure to be very good at everything, and it’s incredibly difficult for me to simultaneously recognize a subject’s value and consciously let it go. Perhaps we could call it Schrodinger’s specialty: before this rotation, future-me was both a cardiologist and a reproductive specialist. Now that I’ve looked into this box, I know that the future-me cardiologist never existed, but I’m nevertheless mourning her demise.

I still love the heart. I still love the way it follows the rules and fails in reliable ways. I won’t ever be a cardiologist, but all my patients will have hearts regardless. I’m incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to improve my clinical skills related to cardiology, and I’m slowly accepting that that’s enough.


This post is part of a series documenting my clinical year in veterinary school.  To read more from the series, please visit the Clinic Series homepage.

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