Intellectual Elitism in Vet School

Ever since I was a kid, I was made to feel special for being smart.  I was always told that I was so lucky to have a strong mind, that I was brilliant, that it would make my life so much easier.  My mom in particular tried to make me feel like a demi-god for being able to do basic math faster in my head than she could on a calculator.

young ryan 2

I think people were just trying to make up for not being able to call me cute.

I never wanted to be viewed as superior; I’ve always felt guilty for thinking positive things about myself.  I’ve always hated cocky people and have often confused this trait with confidence.  My therapist has been helping me deal with this issue as of late.  I’ve come to realize that cockiness is the inability to recognize your flaws and admit you might be wrong.  That should be despised.  But confidence is recognizing your skills and believing you may be right; that is something we should all have.

But the major point of this post isn’t to analyze those two attributes; it is to examine why we feel and are told that intelligence is such a magnificent attribute.  In veterinary school, we are told that we are elite.  They don’t tell us that we are better than anyone else, but they want us to be proud of our intelligence (when they’re not drilling us at rounds).  They tell us that our clients and the public will look up to us.

So why am I writing all this?  Because I don’t know if we should be proud of / think that we’re better people for being intelligent.

We can certainly be proud of ourselves for having the drive it takes to get into and complete vet school.  But as far as being smart goes, weren’t we born that way?  Actually wait a minute, was our personal drive to work hard instilled in us at birth too, thus robbing us of that accomplishment?


Psychology confuses me.  Or is that philosphy?  I don’t even know.

So there’s the first issue; I don’t even know if getting through vet school is my own accomplishment or just the result of the way I was born.  Adding on to that is the fact that being smart certainly doesn’t make you a good person.  In a hospital, you might meet a neurosurgeon who is a complete asshole and a janitor who is one of the nicest, friendliest people on the planet.  Why does the doctor get more respect and is considered a more successful person, sometimes even a better person, just for being smarter?  I work out my mind at school to excel in my field whereas a professional athlete spends all day working out his body to be great in his.  Why should I be more respected?

Going even beyond that, let’s look at the work more “intelligent” careers require.  In vet school we say that we’re making a big sacrifice and studying very hard for four years (on top of undergrad) to earn our degrees and become doctors.  That is certainly true, but are we really doing more work than anyone else?  Whereas I spent 40 – 50 hours a week learning and studying during my pre-clinical years, people my age who aren’t getting a tertiary education are spending the same amount of time working at whatever job they have.

Some clinical rotations take a lot of work; I’ve put in about 55 hours this week at the hospital.  But again, there are plenty of people in supposedly lesser jobs (factory workers, mechanics, etc.) who work just that much.  Why is my spending that time studying and practicing clinical skills considered more important than the same time spent plumbing or cleaning a restaurant?  It’s all work and it’s all necessary to keep society running.

In a way, fast food workers do more to prevent public disease than veterinary government workers do.

The worst thing to me is that logically I know I’m not better than anyone else for becoming a veterinarian, yet I still can’t help but feel superior sometimes.  I hate this and try to avoid it, but that leads to me beating down my own abilities too.  (Again, I’ve always had a hard time separating confidence from cockiness.)

So what is the whole point of this? Part of it is that I just want to get this off my chest.  But I also want to hear what other people think about why we put so much pride on getting an education when you can work just as hard without it.  And at the end of the day I want to be a good person and not judge people who’ve chosen a different path than I did.


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I'm a 24 year-old veterinary student, novelist, & aspiring screenwriter. I'm trying out this blogging thing in my spare time.

One thought on “Intellectual Elitism in Vet School”

  1. Ryan, I think being a good person (a person of strong character) has nothing to do with going to college, being intelligent, or your profession. Attending college is certainly hard work and requires dedication, organizational skills and some level of intelligence but even more important than receiving a diploma is being a person who is loving, forgiving, compassionate and kind. I am proud of the hard work you have put into your college career and you are a very bright young man but I do not think you are superior to others simply because you will soon be a doctor. God loves us all equally and we should love each other in the same way. I love you very much!


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