1 – You won’t have all of the answers.
I definitely did not learn it all in veterinary school. It’s downright impossible. I heard the phrase ‘veterinary school is like trying to drink water from a firehose’ so often. They weren’t wrong. It’s inevitable that you will come across things you’ve never seen before or cases that go beyond your expertise. Don’t be afraid to go to your resources, get the opinions of others or refer if necessary.
2 – Surgery is a lot scarier when you’re flying solo. Actually it’s terrifying…
I was so confident with surgery in school. I felt like a rockstar with spays and neuters. Fast forward to clinical practice, and suddenly I’m the only veterinarian scheduled for the day… If you’re lucky you will work with at least one other veterinarian that can jump in if needed. But sometimes, it might just be you. No one is around to hold your hand anymore. There are no professors at arms reach to jump in if shit hits the fan. It’s you. And hopefully you have well trained, experienced technicians to back you up if shit does hit the fan. Cause guess what, it’s you in charge now, Doc.
3 – You can’t do it all. Learn to delegate.
This one was difficult for me. As a student in veterinary school you are expected to do the busy work yourself. Blood needs to be drawn? Get it done. Medications need to be made. Get it done. As a veterinarian, doing these tasks is not a good use of your time. You need to be diagnosing, prescribing and ‘surgerizing’. If you have the extra hands, you need to learn to delegate and pass the work off to someone else. If you’re short staffed, you might not have a choice but to help out. But a good way to burn out fast is to try to get it all done yourself. Yes, you might be more efficient at getting it done. Yes, you might get it done more quickly. No, you CANNOT do it all.
4 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You have classmates, specialists and tons of other veterinary professionals at your finger tips. It can sometimes feel demoralizing having to ask a ‘silly’ question or ask advice on a case that might seem ‘easy’. Everyone was a brand new veterinarian at one point and likely had just ask many ‘silly’ questions or ‘easy’ cases. Ask questions. The more you ask the more you learn, and the more you learn, the better doctor you will be for your patients. Utilize your resources as much as humanly possible!
5 – Burnout is REAL.
They warn you in school and they were NOT kidding. You’re in charge. Diagnosing, prescribing and ‘surgerizing’. You are making medical decisions for people’s pets, who these days are considered family members. It’s a lot of work, a lot of responsibility, and a lot of pressure. Ask for help. Delegate. Reach out to your classmates who are likely having the same feelings. You are not alone. Let me repeat that. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The good news is things will get easier. There will be more and more days where you feel like you actually know what you’re doing. But in the meantime, make sure you take care of yourself and practice good self care outside of work.
6 – Euthanasia is HARD.
I was not expecting euthanasia to be so difficult. For me, the most difficult part is trying to determine whether or not it’s the right time. You stand between life and death for this pet. Should you run more diagnostic tests? Should you euthanize an animal that just needs a simple daily medication? Should you euthanize a healthy animal that an owner doesn’t want anymore or risk the owner causing harm to the pet itself? These are HARD questions. When you are the one pushing the euthanasia solution through that vein, is it really the right time for this pet? This was a lot heavier on me than I expected.
7 – Practice GOOD self-care inside AND outside of work.
Take a second to step away from the chaos. Most shifts for full time veterinarians are 11 hours long. That’s a LONG day. Especially if you’re working 3 or 4 of those days back to back. Make sure you have a good self care routine during your work day. For me that looks like meditating before work and during lunch. Also, taking that FULL hour for lunch AND having lunch away from the clinic. If you get bored, go for a walk. Don’t burn yourself out. Slow and steady wins the race. Take your lunch breaks. If you have 5 quick minutes, go for a walk. Other ways to practice self-care during work might include setting mindful reminders on your phone. I have the headspace app set up to do this for me. Another easy self-care technique that is super simple is just stopping what you’re doing for a quick second and taking some deep breaths. Take care of yourself.
8 – Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Praise a job well done. The more you praise good work the more you will get. Positive reinforcement my friends. We were all taught in school that the best behavioral training for animals is done with positive reinforcement. I found that this holds true for us humans as well! Your veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians are your work horses keeping you sane and getting the job done. Let them know how important they are to you!
9 – The learning never stops.
Its exciting to see things you’ve never seen before or finally get that zebra case that you learned about in school. Sure there are a lot of common things you will see and those will be rewarding too, but every day you will be in a constant state of learning. It doesn’t stop after veterinary school, it only intensifies. Have fun with it!
10 – You will not be able to please everyone and you have to be ok with this.
This one is probably the most important. Especially for those of us who are perfectionists and want to make everyone happy. It’s unfortunate, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of your clients will just see you as a service. Try not to take it to heart. In my year in practice seeing roughly 70 patients per week (that’s about 3600 for the year), only THREE of my clients looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Hey doc, THANK YOU for what you do.’ Cherish those moments. They do not come often. But most importantly, realize that you cannot and will not make everyone happy. Just be the best you that you can be and provide the best medical care to peoples pets!