Many of us have literally worked thousands of unpaid hours as pre-vets, which was certainly a major source of experiences, skill building, and networking that significantly helped us get into veterinary school in one way or another. For me, approximately 60% of all of my veterinary, animal, and research experience hours were unpaid, and many of my best pre-veterinary experiences came from unpaid work- volunteering at a TNR clinic, volunteering at wildlife rescues, interning at the Oakland Zoo, interning in research labs, and more.
However, the fact is that many of us were heavily conditioned as pre-vets to be more accepting of unpaid work compared to a member of the general public, i.e. to someone who is not working towards entering professional school. Obviously, it means pre-veterinary students who graduate from college are start out with a more negative financial balance compared to a typical non-pre-professional college graduate who worked a paid job at a coffee shop, for example. However, I feel that there's more to it than compiling a little bit of debt: I believe that the conditioning for little to no compensation is related to being okay with improper compensation in our professional career, and is a factor in the low-self worth that contributes to unhappiness in the veterinary profession. It makes it harder to manage the two sides of the coin where vet med is both a passion and a mean of financial livelihood. I think it is related to feeling compelled to give services and products away for free and being afraid to charge appropriately for our skills in the future. We tell ourselves that we're doing a good thing, and often it is for the patient - but collectively it reduces the value that clients sees when we stand in front of them.
While I think the amount of volunteering we do reflects how amazingly and characteristically selfless the veterinary community is, I also think that the start of veterinary school is a great time to start prioritizing opportunities that compensate us for the skills we have amassed from all our pre-vet experiences. Because we can still get amazing new experiences, build skills, network, AND help animals and people while getting paid for it!
This article is about assessing the value of opportunities (regardless of compensation) in order to help you prioritize them.