I have the pleasure of introducing you all to a friend of mine. She has graciously agreed to do an interview for us, in order to help give a better understanding to the public of the real lives of persons in the science and medical field. Also to give clarity to what these careers actually entail, and most importantly to give a face to the profession.
What is your name, title/current position and where do you work?
My name is Dr. Nastassia Germain, DVM. I currently work at a small animal general practice in Brooklyn and I also do per diem Emergency shifts at a 24 hour emergency hospital. I am actually currently looking to transition from general practice to ER full time.
Where are you from? Where do you live now ?
I am Brooklyn born but, I grew up in south Jamaica queens. My family is from the West Indies (Trinidad and Haiti). I am the first American born generation. I currently live in Queens.
I remember we took a chemistry lab course together in undergrad. What was your major? Did you know at the time that you wanted to be a Vet?
I majored in biology. I actually knew I wanted to be a vet since as long as I can remember though there was a brief moment that I thought I would be an astronomer but I got a microscope for Christmas and have been pursuing veterinary medicine.
What type of degree do you need to become at veterinarian? What School did you attend?
You need to first have a bachelor degree. You major in whatever you want as long as you fulfill the necessary science and math requirements to apply to veterinary school. You are also required to have a minimum of animal experience hours. It best to try to have both small animal and large animal experience but not absolutely required. After undergrad its 4 years of Veterinary school. I went to St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine in St. George’s, Grenada West Indies
You went to Vet school on an Island what was that like? Was it difficult to stay focused? Do you think that being on an island made it easier?
I can honestly say that it was the best and hardest 4 years of my life. Grenada is known for its miles of white sand, great scuba diving and rain forest. I lived a 10-15 minute walk from the beach which was great; when I was able to make it there. I personally didn’t find living on an island distracting since we were in class or lab all day – Mon. to Fri. – and was studying on weekends. Vet school is expensive and I knew that as much fun island-living was, I was there to learn and become a vet. Now, that’s not saying I actually studied EVERY weekend. I mean rum is cheap and I enjoyed the fun perks of being on an island. I enjoyed the beach as often as I could. I went to the Chocolate factory on the island, and hung out with friends in non-study fashion as much as possible, LOL.
I think the hardest part of going away to school on an island is being away from friends, family and significant others. There is no going back home for the weekend or for every holiday. So sometimes it can get lonely. Some of my classmates had significant others and/or kids move to the island with them, so it made living on an island easier. I had the longest, long-distance relationship during vet school but, we somehow survived and are still together! Skype was my best friend; I was able to keep in touch with family and friends via Skype. Haha! Sometimes it was hard watching/ hearing people go on with their lives, while you’re sit in an anatomy room trying to remember the name of that tiny vessel in the leg. I had a close family member, as well as my dog back home in the US pass away while I was at school. Unfortunately I couldn’t fly back home to be with my family at that time. That was really hard, but I can say that I am happy for the people and life friends I made during vet school. We all relocated from various states in the U.S. or even from other countries, so we kind of all ended up bonding quickly. We had a lot of potlucks and get-togethers, and we became our own little family.
How many years does it take to complete Vet School? Do you have to do any type of residency afterwards?
Vet school is 4 years; similar to medical school. The difference with veterinary school is that you are able to start working right after graduating. If you are interested in doing a specialty you can apply for an internship in the field you’re interested in such as internal medicine, surgery, oncology and cardiology – to name a few. Or if you just feel you want extra training you can opt to do a rotating internship. After completing an internship you then apply for a residency. I started my internship with the plan to later apply for a surgical residency but, I realized as much as I loved surgery; I really liked emergency medicine. There weren’t any available ER positions at the time that I was first looking for a job; so I went into General Practice.
What was the hardest part of becoming a Vet and what was the easiest? Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome in your journey?
The easiest part of becoming a vet is knowing that you are in a field you love. The hardest part is the road there. Veterinary school is extremely competitive more so than medical school. There are only about 27 schools in the United States that all of America’s future vets are applying. You feel the competition with every test you take, every final/midterm. I still remember clearly when I went to my advisor in undergrad – after the first year. I had gotten a B+ in some class – I don’t remember- but he told me that, “maybe I should apply to medical school as my chances were better at getting in there”. That had bummed me out for a while, and for a short time I did think; “maybe I should go to medical school” but, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted and got a new advisor. Another hard part of becoming a Vet for me was, I unfortunately didn’t have the support of my family (excluding my siblings and grandmother). I often had people saying, “Why you didn’t become a “real” doctor or a nurse?” I was constantly defending that Vets are real doctors just that our patients don’t speak to us. But, I’ve learned that you have to block negativity out of your life and as Dory from Finding Nemo says “just keep swimming”. Why did you decide to become a veterinarian?
Like most of us, I always loved animals and caring for them. As a kid, I was always saving some kitten or bird that fell out of a tree. I grew up with dogs my whole childhood. My elementary science school teacher, Mr. Carr, was the driving-force that jump-started my interest in biology. I remember he signed me up for the science fair even after I said I didn’t want to be a part of it. The project was on blubber of arctic animals. I initially fought against the whole thing but, once I finally gave in I really enjoyed experimenting and my project actually won at my school. Also, I was able to move forward to compete against other kids throughout queens. I didn’t win the big title but, I continued to pursue science since then. It’s just something I knew I wanted to do and there was nothing else that I wanted. I had no plan B.
What are some common misconceptions that you encounter in your practice?
A big conception is that all I do is play with puppies/ kittens all day. I don’t think people understand how much of this job is actually seeing sick patients; anywhere from kittens with an untreatable congenital disease or having to explain that the family pet has a terminal disease. Another thing I often hear is that you are only in this for the money. If people only knew how opposite to the truth that is. I have the same amount of crazy medical school loans but make anywhere to a ¼ or ½ as much as our human counterparts; depending on the state you live in. People constantly come to the Vet expecting us to do everything for free. I had a lady that brought in a cat that had given birth to a dead kitten 5 days before she brought the cat in. When it arrived, sadly she still had dead kittens inside of her along with septic fluid in her abdomen, and she could barely move. I relayed to the owner that emergency surgery was needed to remove the dead fetuses, as well as, her uterus. Also, that she would need several days in the hospital, had a poor prognosis of surviving, and that humane euthanasia may be best for the cat at this point. The owner refused to do anything because it was a “stray” cat she took in and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t do everything for free if I really cared about animals. I told her she became responsible for the cats welfare the moment she decided to bring the cat inside months ago and if she brought the pet in days ago we may have been able to avoid this situation. I don’t think some people realize that it cost money to buy the drugs, the equipment, keep the lights on, pay our technicians, and assistants, etc. After spending hours talking to this owner, she decided to take the cat home against medical advice. Don’t get me wrong, if I could save every animal and money never mattered it would be perfect but, the reality is that pets are a financial commitment. I have bills to pay also. This is the same with our own doctor visits but, we have insurance so we have the luxury to not see how much everything cost before we get that final bill. More people are bringing their pets to vets these days but, a lot of people still believe animals don’t need to see a doctor.
What do you love/hate most about your job?
I hate the amount of neglect and abuse I also see today. It’s frustrating when I hear people say “it’s just a dog” or sadly people who don’t believe animals feel pain the way we do. It’s never just a dog to me, my pets are my family. Anyone who knows me knows how crazy I am about my pets (haha). Pets in our home are not just pets, they are family members. People laugh when my mom shows pictures of her ”grandchildren” and it’s a picture of my cats. My brother is currently fostering a fledging sparrow which he calls me with updates and questions about almost every day. I had people ask “why didn’t you just leave it out to die” and are confused when I say that would be cruel. I also hate when people seem to get pets as an accessory without being prepared; these are living creatures that need care and more than just a food bowl being left out. They are not just here to look cute in your purse. Now, there are great owners out there with various financial capabilities who take good care of their pets. I’ve seen owners who aren’t rich put together Go-fund Me pages to raise money for a necessary surgery or treatment for their pets, and another who has the money but just won’t spend it on a pet. I love when I am able to help a sick animal that an owner may have given up hope on and give them a second chance. I love being able to see a dog one day, a rabbit another and even the occasional reptile; keeps things interesting.
Is there any awareness of animal health care that you’d like to bring to the attention of the public?
Bring your pets to the vet at least annually!!! And this includes the family cat. Puppies are in more frequently in the beginning to make sure they are growing well, getting vaccinations (similar to newborns), getting frequent checkups in the first few months of their life. Annual check-ups and blood-work helps us catch diseases early where we can stop or even decrease progression of diseases such as arthritis, kidney or liver issues. A lot of the time I have owners bring in a pet when something has been going on for a long period of time that by the time they bring it in , it’s either going to be expensive to do treatment or diagnostics or worse, that whatever is going on, is unfortunately beyond treatment. Preventative care is just as important with our animals as it is with ourselves. Stop going to Dr. Google to avoid bringing your pet in. The internet is filled with good information but, there is soooo much incorrect medical advice that I’ve heard people say they tried before finally seeing me. I know Google is awesome but I spent my entire adult life studying medicine. Please leave the diagnosing to the doctors. Also get pet insurance!!! Pet insurance and puppies should happen at same time (haha). It can definitely help with finances throughout your pet’s life time. I am here to help your pet the best that I can but owners need to meet us half way.
Do you own any pets yourself? I have two cats right now. The boy is Perseus and the girl is a tortoise-shell named Isis. They are both 3 years old. I got both of them during my last year of vet school. I got Perseus first after someone left him in front of the hospital with a wound on his leg, and then I got Isis because of course Perseus needed a friend. I’m doing my best to keep it to 2 cats so I don’t enter crazy cat lady territory LOL. I do want another dog in the near future. I really want a Great Dane but my schedule has been too hectic for a dog at this time in my life.
How does your work schedule impact your personal life?
What personal life? LOL. At the moment I work anywhere between 5-7 days a week. Which includes day or night shifts of 10-14 hours. It can be tough to meet up with fellow colleagues because we work similar schedules. I try to make time to see family and friends as much as possible but sometimes I honestly just watch Netflix and just pass out after a crazy day. I don’t have a regular 9-5 job. You never know when an emergency is going to walk in. There are days that I can’t remember if I stopped to eat anything and my technicians have to remind me to eat. I have missed quite a few dinners/birthday parties/get together that I tried to make but just didn’t get out of work on time but this is the life I chose. I still go out whenever I can and my boyfriend and I try to have at least one date night a week. Doesn’t always work out but we still try. Sometimes date night is having dinner out with mutual friends or just a night by ourselves. I think once you become a doctor free time becomes this precious thing that we all try to hold on to, like Smegal from the Lord of the Rings.
What do you do when you are not actively being a Vet?
I’m the eldest of all my siblings so I try to see them whenever I can, hang out with my boyfriend and friends. I love going to the movies, reading sci-fi novels and I would like to travel more. Oh and sleep. I love sleep. Are people every surprised to learn that you are a Veterinarian? If so why and how do you respond to that?
I do get people who’re surprised I’m a vet. The surprise is usually that people don’t think that there are any black vets out there. We are here and today there are more people of color becoming veterinarians, or going into animal field. I think there is some weird stigma that we don’t like animals; however that started. I usually just respond by saying that it’s what I always wanted to do since a kid and was lucky enough to survive the journey and have the career I want. If I’m in a sassy mood or the person is being and a-hole, I ask them to explain to me why they find it surprising that a young black women became a doctor. That usually shuts most people up. But honestly people are just interested in your story or if I only watch animal planet. I don’t even remember the last time I watched TV. I’m currently on a Netflix Supernatural marathon. I know I’m late but I just got to season 5 and it’s getting good! I enjoy talking to people about how I became a vet, that it is caring for the sick as well as the healthy patients. It is a dangerous job, I’m at risk of being bit or scratched every day. When I was working with large animals a kick could break a bone or seriously injury me, but it’s a lot of fun also. I have gone to an inner city high school and spoke on career day. I hope that people become more informed with correct and good information about the profession. 99.9 % do this because we are passionate about what we do and just want to care for our patients to the best of our abilities. It’s not an easy job and it’s often thankless but I still love practicing medicine and treating animals and wouldn’t do anything else.
Thank you so much for taking the time to be “On the Spot”