Jessie Barber, DVM

My jump from ER to Pet Poison Helpline®

Leaving clinics was scary. I was one of those fortunate people who knew what I wanted to do with my life since I was young – be an ER veterinarian. I worked as an RVT and worshipped the ER doctors, and I knew that would be me. Fast forward into my late 30’s. Here I am, having worked no more than 6 months at each ER for the last decade. Burnt out beyond belief and lonely. Feeling like a failure for not living up to my own expectations. I was a great ER vet. Clients trusted me. I could handle the rushes without panic, the patient bleeding out on the table, the over a dozen euthanasias a night during the holiday season. I even met my husband working at an ER clinic. So why was I unhappy? It took me years of denial, therapy, and jumping from job to job, even state to state, to realize clinics were not for me. As much as I loved the medicine and the animals, the constant atmosphere of the clinic culture destroyed my mental health. The struggle of being an introvert in the extroverted clinic setting was becoming a task I was failing at.  I walked out of the last clinic, broken. I lost my identity. I am not an ER veterinarian.

I spent 6 months spiraling into debt and depression, fortunate that during the pandemic student loans were frozen, having no idea what I was going to do with my life. One day, while scrolling through Facebook, somewhere in between someone posting an update on their sourdough starter and Gal Godot singing “Imagine”, a recruitment post from Pet Poison Helpline® ended up on my feed. When the post was under my thumb, I hesitated for just a second, then kept scrolling. A call center job? No, I’m an ER doctor, I told myself. That moment of hesitation stuck with me and I started to ponder the idea.. I would probably get bored sitting at a computer when I was so used to being on my feet for 10-15 hour shifts, jumping from procedure to room. My confidence was not where it needed to be to learn a new field. Or maybe I needed something completely different? Toxicology and ER go hand in hand. I am tired of working in clinics. I want to be home with my aging pets. Why not. So, I scrolled through the feed, found the link, and submitted my CV.

I honestly didn’t realize I was so lonely until I started the training process and spoke with other doctors who had meandered through this career as I did. I never thought that while working remotely, I would feel connected to my coworkers and place of work. I somehow, in the midst of a spiral, found a career in toxicology, with a group of people who I genuinely enjoy chatting with, and who make me feel appreciated. My empathetic nature comes across over the phone. I can still use my ER knowledge to help stabilize patients over the phone, triage calls to see if they need to be evaluated or monitored at home, and constantly build up my knowledge of toxins and emergency stabilization.

It has been an unexpected journey, not living up to the fantasy that I created for myself. Not meeting my expectations. Leaving clinics was one of the scariest moves I have made in my career. But I can honestly say, I finally feel at home. If you hesitated over the recruitment post, or if you resonated with any of my words, maybe you are looking for a change too.


About the Author:

Dr. Jessie Barber joined Pet Poison Helpline® in 2020. She has been in the veterinary field since she was 16 years old, and has worked extensively in small animal emergency medicine since graduating the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2014. After completing an emergency internship at the Wisconsin Veterinary Referral Center, she moved back to her hometown in the Bay Area, and has been moving north along the beautiful Pacific Northwest since, working at numerous ER clinics along the way. She currently resides in the Puget Sound in Washington State with her husband, 4 dogs and 3 black cats. In her spare time, Dr. Barber enjoys hiking with her dogs, as well as indoor activities, such as reading, arts/crafts, and video games.