On my own two feet! - Veterinary Practice
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On my own two feet!

ANDREW FULLERTON records his progress since graduating last year

IT’S very difficult to know where to start when writing an article about your first few months in practice. So much has happened in such a short period of time.

I thought I’d start from the magic day when you get those lovely letters after your name … MRCVS. Sitting amongst all your bestest friends in graduation and suddenly realising that this is it!

Five glorious years of a rollercoaster ride, so many friendships made, so many fun times and so much hard work! Now it’s time to step away from that close supportive network into the real world full of responsibility and decision making!

So, what next? My CV was written and ready to go, and that was the easy bit, but where to send it to? I decided to take a step back and not rush into anything.

If money allows it I would advise every new graduate to do the same. Unfortunately, cash didn’t allow me to go travelling but it did allow me to go to France for a month and it was only when I was there I realised how much I needed to relax.

Vet school had sucked me in one end, chewed me up, turned me into a vet and spat me out the other end! Nobody realises at the time, but the constant assessments, exams, essays, reports and grades that don’t stop throughout the five years leaves you tired, and for me personally, I had lost my enthusiasm.

Fresh and excited

But two to three months of rest and relaxation helped me feel fresh and excited about the road ahead. I felt like I did before vet school – excited about being a vet, except now I was qualified and could actually be one.

I didn’t start looking for work until September. Then there was the question of what type of practice: large animals, mixed or small? Most of my peers went for mixed but with a larger proportion than normal picking either large or small.

From my friends’ experiences, mixed practice can be awesome, but it can also be very frustrating to find a mixed practice to suit you: 70% this, 30% that! I couldn’t decide, but I knew I didn’t want anything to do with horses (!), and that eventually, if I did any further learning, it would be in the small animal field. So I left my options open.

The process of job hunting is easy if you’re prepared to go anywhere in the UK, but I wanted to stay around Bristol and this makes finding a job in which you’ll be happy much more difficult.

Luckily, my landlord at vet school was a partner in a local small animal practice that was about to expand. He offered me a job with them to make it a four-vet practice, but this all depended on the legal paperwork for the new practice to go swimmingly. Time went on and cash got low!

I needed a job, and was prepared to wait until January for this practice. In the meantime, I briefly worked on a building site until I realised that sweeping wasn’t my forte. Then I worked for DEFRA for a week during the foot-and-mouth epidemic. And then, finally, I got a phone call – one of the assistants was leaving the practice, and my start date was brought forward! Woo hoo! It’s funny the way it happens, but the jobs will come eventually, so never fret if all your friends have jobs and you feel like you’re the only one left unemployed because you’re not.

The first day was so nerve-racking! You seem to forget all the simple little things, such as worming, puppy care, flea treatment, etc., when you’re at vet school as you spend most of your time trying to learn and understand the weird and wonderful referral cases.

Luckily I had a lot of very experienced nurses around me and they made those first few hours a bit more comfortable. They told me when to worm puppies, what spot-on to use, etc., and for that I am eternally grateful.

I spend three out of five days on my own and although this seems very daunting, it has been a godsend as I am forced to work stuff out on my own. Don’t get me wrong – I have support 24/7, whether over the phone or for help with surgery, but I am encouraged to have a go myself first.

Building confidence

Half the time, all you need is a phone call to hear someone agree with what you’re doing. When you qualify you actually know more than you realise and it’s just the confidence you need to build.

In the words of Iona Maher, “You only do your first day once … and then you’ll never have to do your first day ever again!” This is so true. The learning curve is so steep that by the end of the first day/week you feel a lot more confident.

Now the challenge for me is not to be too confident as that’s when you’re at risk of making mistakes. No matter how many bitch spays I do, I am well aware that it will be the one that is the most straightforward and simple that will have complications, so I am determined not to get over-confident and I would advise you all to do the same.

The caseload at my practice has been very interesting and I’ve had my fair share of difficult cases. In fact, my first case was a very rare case of congenital hepatic insufficiency.

I’m sure you don’t want to be bored about my interesting cases but what about the mistakes, I hear you say? Have I made any? “No, of course not!” is what I’d like to say but in reality, of course I have, and I’m sure you’re all dying to know about them.

Embarrassing referral

One mistake I made was referring a dog to the vet school at Langford for a blood transfusion as its PCV was 13%. However, I never looked at the massive blood clot in the haematology tube! The dog was still quite ill but definitely not in need of a transfusion. Very embarrassing, especially because I know quite a few of the current final years.

Apart from that I haven’t made too many mistakes. My surgical skills weren’t the best at the start and I spent lots of hours trying to find ovaries in cat spays. I always felt like I needed a third hand when doing surgery and felt very cack-handed. But as time goes on you learn the right way to hold things and what to do when things don’t go according to plan.

A good tip is to ask a nurse to scrub in with you and give you a third hand. This makes things a lot less stressful, especially for your first few surgeries.

The on-call in my practice is roughly a 1 in 10 rota, shared with two neighbouring practices. I feel that this gives me enough free time to socialise and play sports. Quality of life is extremely important to me and I can see myself in the future looking for a job without any on call. It is important to decide where you put your free time in your list of priorities when deciding where to work as some of my peers have found rotas less than 1 in 4 leave you with virtually no free time.

The on call is very busy at weekends and you can have to juggle 2-3 emergencies at once, but I can live with the stress as it’s only once in a blue moon. Also, one of the partners is always on the end of the phone and they are prepared to come and help me with any emergency surgery that is required, and this takes the pressure off a bit.

My 10 top tips…

Anyway, enough rambling. It’s about time to bring this article to an end and after hours of thinking of an ending, I thought it would be useful for any final years to have 10 top tips:

  • Don’t rush into anything! Take your time and enjoy your time off.
  • Don’t worry if you end up in the wrong job, you can always get a new one!
  • Make friends with the nurses: trust me, they have saved my butt numerous times!
  • Make sure to read the practice protocol for vaccinations, worming, etc., to prevent contradicting your colleagues.
  • Never say you think what a colleague has done previously is wrong. Support what they do just as you would expect them to support you!
  • Be honest with clients and always apologise if you make a mistake. They know everyone makes mistakes and normally all they want is an apology.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may feel you’re a burden on your bosses but remember they decided to hire a new grad and therefore should be prepared to help you whenever needed.
  • Always remember your limits and don’t do anything you’re not happy doing
  • If something goes wrong, don’t panic! Staying calm is much more productive.
  • Don’t get too bogged down with work, you always have a mate to ring and talk to about your bad day!
  • Have fun!

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