WELL DONE! YOU’VE DONE IT! You are now a fully- edged, completely qualified veterinary surgeon. All the hard work and late nights (most of which were totally about revising, obvs!) were worth it; you should be very, very proud that you are now an MRCVS.
However, you are facing one of the toughest periods of your career. The first year in practice is a real challenge. There will be ups and there will be downs. You will be more stressed out than ever before, but you will also have some amazing triumphs, as you realise you do know what you are doing and you can do this job!
So, here are my top 10 tips to get you through…
1. Be kind
Stress is going to be a close companion during the first few months in practice and this can easily make you tired and short- tempered. So, remember to be kind. Be kind to the rest of the staff at the practice: it can be easy to snap when you are anxious. Make the tea every so often, bring in a cake on a Friday, and always say “thank you”.
Be kind to the clients, even if they drive you mad. Tell them you understand their concerns, tell them how pretty or handsome their pet is (even if it is rotting from the mouth backwards), and make small talk about the weather. Remember, they are worried and need your help.
Be kind to your patients. It can be hard, when it’s been a long day and the dog won’t stay still for its bloods, but never lose your temper – you will only feel worse. Take a minute, talk to them gently, give a little ear scratch and then try again. But most of all, be kind to yourself. Take the time for breaks, forgive yourself your mistakes and let people help you.
2. Trust yourself
Every day will bring new challenges. Some you will get right straight away and some will take more time. However, trust in the knowledge that you bring from university.
You do know your stuff, you are more qualified than clients (no matter how much Googling they have done!) and although you will get things wrong occasionally, you will get far more things right. If you think a patient needs a blood test, or an FNA, or an x ray, or surgery, listen to your instincts.
3. Ask questions
This one is pretty easy – for your first few weeks you will do nothing else! Most of them though will be finding out where stuff is kept, learning the computer system and figuring out practice protocols.
However, on a clinical level, never be afraid to ask a colleague’s opinion: in a good practice they should always be more than willing to help you. Of course, there is a fine line and, although it can be difficult, you do need to be able to do some things alone but (see point 2) you can and you will.
4. Accept you are going to make mistakes
We all do. No matter how long we have been in practice or how highly qualified we are. The important thing is to try to learn from them and then to move on. This, though, is easier said than done.
As vets, we have incredibly high expectations of ourselves and are generally our own worst critics. When things do go wrong (and it is when, not if), find someone to talk to about it, a colleague, a vet friend, a family member, get it out of your system and figure out what went wrong and then go back to work.
5. Take your time
As a new graduate, you are going to be slow. Slow at consulting, slow in surgery and slow to make decisions – and this is totally fine and completely normal. You are learning and if you rush, you will make errors and you will become stressed.
A good practice will know this and make allowances for that. It’s not just the clinical stuff that will slow you down, it’s navigating the computer system, answering client questions and finding equipment you need. You will become quicker and more efficient but don’t force it – you will only make yourself miserable.
6. Remember your successes
These will come and you need to remember them because we are far better at recalling and dwelling on the things that didn’t go so well rather than the things that did.
And it doesn’t need to be heroic life- saving surgery: it is the vein you hit the first time, the nails you clipped with no bleeding, the owner who says “thank you” and means it, or the one who sends you your first card.
Hoard these memories, concentrate on them and take strength from them.
7. Charge properly
We are practising private medicine and people have to pay for our services. Charging for it properly is part of the job but that can be difficult, especially if you feel you aren’t totally worth the money.
Well, you are! You trained flipping hard for this and you are working even harder now. Your knowledge and skills are valuable commodities.
And don’t forget the clients aren’t paying just for you. The fees keep the business open and the lights on. It pays for your hard working colleagues, your CPD, the blood machine, the new bits of kit – basically everything and everyone around you.
Don’t discount. Ever. It will only devalue your work and annoy the boss. If your clients are struggling with money, work with them to find a solution. As long as a pet doesn’t suffer, a less comprehensive and less costly approach can be fine.
Also, learn how to estimate properly and always try to make them more than the final bill. Clients will never mind paying less than they expected.
8. Keep in contact
with your uni friends
This is so important. You are all going through the same experiences and you can learn so much from each other. Honestly, some of my best CPD has been done in the pub with my mates, even now (can I put it on my PDR?!).
So, a Facebook group, a WhatsApp thread, a hashtag, Snapchat, actually meeting in real life. It doesn’t matter, just keep in touch. Don’t be proud – share your mistakes. If you didn’t know something, chances are they didn’t either.
Veterinary school is an experience that makes friendships and bonds for life. You need that now, more than ever.
9. Take some time off
Your first few months in practice will be exhausting, both mentally and physically, and although planning a holiday as soon as you start a job might seem like copping out, trust me, you will soon need a break and it is amazing how fast time can go and how quickly weeks can get booked up by colleagues.
No less than six months in, take at least a week off. You will need it to rest, recuperate and reflect. You don’t even have to go anywhere, just take some time out.
Also, make sure you develop interests outside of veterinary medicine. Go to the gym, join a sports team or a book club or crafting lessons. Anything really – just get away from the vet world and be a normal person.
10. Remind yourself regularly why you did this
You will have wobbles. You will have days when you wonder why on earth you chose this profession and you will have times when you question your decision to become a vet. This is normal.
Make sure you regularly make the effort to show yourself why you did become a vet.
I used to go running in my local park. I hate running and am terrible at it, but it gave me a chance to see dogs and their owners in their natural environment – playing, chasing balls and having a great time. Not cowering in the surgery or trying to bite me. For me, it was a great reminder that my patients existed outside the surgery and it was these happy moments I was helping to maintain.
However, if you do find clinical practice isn’t for you, that is also fine. The great thing about a veterinary degree is that it can open many doors, not just the one into the surgery.
You can go into industry, research, teaching, management: there will be plenty of opportunities. Also, you have gained an enormous amount of transferable skills, should you decide to change direction entirely.
This next year of your life will be one that stays with you forever.
Your skills will soar, you will have patients you never forget, and you are laying the groundwork for the vet you will grow to be. It will be amazing and it will be hard, but you won’t, and mustn’t, do it alone. Lean on colleagues, friends and family, learn to ask for help but trust yourself and your decisions.
You are an MRCVS. You deserve to be one. Believe in yourself and enjoy the ride. Welcome to the best profession in the world!