Job shadow. Verb? Noun? We aren’t talking ghosts here, nor what Peter Pan lost. A rather loose definition of a person who “job shadows” is someone who accompanies another on their job site all day, watching and learning what they do at work. Children are often paired with their parent. My own have never shown much interest in how the uterus is removed from the body or the many fascinating possible causes behind vomiting, so no luck there. People requesting to job shadow with me are usually students seriously contemplating a career in veterinary medicine. Because most veterinarians believe in the importance of education and love to share what we do with others, our clinic frequently has a student following one or another doctor around for a few hours to a few days. Over the years we’ve had several fine young people go on to find success at veterinary school. Currently I have just wrapped up a week with a young woman who has come up from Arizona every year for the last 7 years. She is not yet in high school.
What the Shadow sees on any particular day is entirely up to the stars and perhaps the humor of the receptionist taking in appointments. At best our schedules are a suggestion of how the day might go. At worst, emergencies and unexpectedly sick pets are rushed in or dropped off, disrupting the planned schedule. Although these cases are often highly challenging for the veterinarian, the pace and variety of pets and their injuries can place a strain on the interested but naïve observer.
A Shadow is not expected to actually handle animals. What they observe, however, is indeed our daily life. For the uninitiated, medicine can be extreme. I have personally dropped three (3) people into a dead faint over the years. In one case, as the young man collapsed in my arms, I initially thought he was making a grab for me and had started to back away. I caught him before he hit the floor.
Dentistry is a safe place to start for most Shadows, as they get to watch fossil-like brown teeth turn white under the skilled hands of our assistants and veterinarians.
Surgery is best approached slowly, with the Shadow seated strategically near and the case chosen deemed bloodless. We discuss anti-fainting tactics and monitor the Shadow for signs of sweating or turning green (who knew that was true, huh?).
The real test comes with exotics. Under this heading fall birds, snakes and lizards, hamsters and rabbits and the Zoo animals. Many Shadows are not familiar with these animals and have watched one too many horror films featuring same. Interestingly, some of my staff must have watched the same films. Over the years the pet phobias of my staff have come to light: this one trembles at frogs, another begs off assisting with snakes, several scream at wing-flapping birds. Ants are not seen as veterinary patients but someone at work has a marked phobia to ants. The Shadow’s phobias are unknown, sometimes by the Shadow themselves, until exposed on the job. Fireworks! Just another test of your devotion to this career. After all, as a veterinarian, we practice medicine and surgery on every living species on Earth – with one marked exception. And that species, of course, (homo sapien) is the ultimate exotic!
Christine B. McFadden, DVM