Original research
Why do you do what you do?

In late October, I had the pleasure of staffing the AASV booth at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Four AASV members also volunteered to staff the booth: Drs Todd Wolff, Bethany Heitkamp, Natalie Baker, and Deanne Day. As recent graduates, each of these volunteers did a great job interacting with the students, parents, and advisors. Their own recent student experiences in high school and college provided common footing with our intended audience, as well as credibility.

While in the booth, we entertained numerous questions from students, parents, and advisors. We do not give out cool trinkets or hot items, so our booth is not attracting the general population of students. When a student comes up to talk, he or she is either interested in pigs or veterinary medicine or both. The questions ranged from technical (“What is the best antibiotic to use when my pig gets sick?”) to veterinary college (“How do I get in?”) to veterinary practice (“What is a swine veterinarian?”).

A small subset of students who visited the booth are focusing on a career path into swine practice. They asked some of the best questions. The question that stopped me in my tracks was one asked by a young woman who had stopped at our booth in 2013 and was back again in 2014. She is now a senior looking at college and beyond, with a strong interest in food-animal veterinary medicine. She asked me “why do you do what you do?” She wanted to know what motivates a swine veterinarian. She wanted to know the best and most rewarding parts of the job.

I confess that I am years removed from practice, but her question still energized me to recall the aspects of swine practice that I loved best. It came down to pigs, people, and problems. The pig is an amazing animal, whose care I found to be both rewarding and challenging. I enjoyed my daily interactions with my clients and made many lifelong friends among them. Lastly, the problem solving that comes with swine practice was the aspect that I found to be the driver of a lot of my satisfaction in practice.

Our volunteers’ abilities to establish rapport with students was fun to watch. You literally could see their eyes light up when explaining what being a swine veterinarian meant to them. Their excitement and passion for their profession was evident and I believe contagious with students.

If you really want to know about someone and his or her job, then ask “why do you do what you do?” Not what you do but why! The “why” is where passion, energy, and excitement exist. It gets past the descriptors of “what” and gets you to the motivators and drivers in a career. It is a question that deserves reflection at any stage of a career.

The AASV is full of members with a passion for swine veterinary medicine. That is why for the next few issues of JSHAP I am going to step aside from writing this column to allow members to answer the question of “why do you do what you do?” For each issue, I will draft a volunteer to share their perspective of “why.” In the meantime, take time to reflect on your own career and ask yourself that question. See where it takes you!

Tom Burkgren, DVM Executive Director