Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

This week: a career in veterinary medicine

I was invited a few weeks ago to a local high school to give a presentation on veterinary medicine as a career. It was a nice change of pace from the busy clinic and it felt good to contribute and help educate children. The school was having a jobs fair and I was a guest speaker to answer their many questions.

I was surprised to find a strong level of interest among the students on embarking on a career in veterinary medicine. Most of the children had pets of one sort or another.

But as with many people in Hong Kong, the children had somehow developed the notion that being a veterinarian is a lucrative career. I had to dash some dreams, as many other professions earn much better salaries in the long term.

I was amazed how money-conscious Hong Kong high school students are. When I was a teenager in Australia, my friends and I were much more interested in our future vocation than in how much money we would make. It wasn't until I had completed a couple of years of my first maths and physics degree that I realised I had to find a career that could sustain my preferred lifestyle.

Children are so much more forward-thinking nowadays. In hindsight it was lucky my mother talked me out of being a philosopher. Physics and maths were my ultimatum and compromise, but she typically, as mothers do, wanted me to be a dentist, doctor or lawyer.

During my course in science I quickly realised being a theoretical mathematician was romantic and very interesting, but not ideal for generating a good income in the economic conditions at the time in Australia, which was recovering from a recession. So I made my mum very happy and decided to embark on my lifetime passion of being a vet. I found it humorous at the time, as I was sure my mother didn't really know what a vet was, except that it sounded more respectable and I would have the title 'Dr'.

During my talk I presented to the children a video of me doing a consultation and a short surgery. I got quite a few satisfying 'oohs' and ahs' and 'wows' from my captivated audience. The kids didn't know, but the consultation was my nurse bringing in her cat for a pretend consultation and the dog in the surgery was my dog, brought in to be neutered that day.

After the video we had a casual question time and many of the students had prepared long lists of questions to ask and were quite serious about it. The question most often asked was what sort of school subjects should they pick to help them achieve their veterinary aspirations. I had to say sciences; they were surprised to find out that all the sciences are relevant to being a veterinarian - maths, physics, biology and chemistry. I told them that it is very important to know how the world works and that those who made the effort to understand the science or reason behind how things work are those who are going to succeed and do great things.

I was then asked: 'So what's that got to do with being a veterinarian?' I told them that it is possible to treat people's animals just by remembering textbooks and all the diseases that are known to science, but the veterinarian that understands the reason and inner workings of diseases has a great advantage over those that learn by rote. And I think this applies to all professions.

I also surprised them by saying that other humanities subjects are equally important in being a good veterinarian. English is a clear requirement because many of the better journals on veterinary medicine are written in English. Also, being able to write medical histories and letters are integral parts of being a veterinarian.

Some vets go on to write in professional journals or even publish novels. Other humanities subjects such as history, geography and social studies will all help you to have a better understanding of the world, which helps you relate to people better.

As I was giving the presentation at an international school, many of the students were heading overseas for their further studies and some were going to North America for their higher education. IQ tests are a big thing there. I have never had an IQ test but it appears it is a part of the education system there. I was told by one of the teachers that the children going to North America were nervous because of the IQ tests they would have to have. IQ scores among children are getting higher and higher, and this has resulted in an upward adjustment of the standard curve. I think this reflects that children nowadays are actually smarter than children in the past because they are better trained in logic and have a more scientific view of the world.

As the saying goes, 'Children are our tomorrow.' I feel better after my school visit, now knowing the children of today are much smarter than I was.