Written by May Yean Reading time: 10 mins
So you’ve graduated from vet school, congratulations! It is not an easy feat to have gone through those 5 or 6 years of placements and exams to get to where you are, but trust me the journey has just begun 🙂
Being a new grad vet is exciting (and terrifying for me!), and there may be times where you’ll doubt yourself, but here are some things I learnt in my first 6 months out, hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes I did, and if you did, please message me so we can laugh along together.
Get enough rest & set boundaries for yourself - to sustain yourself for a healthy career in the long term
When I started my first job, I was keen to prove to the practice that I was a committed team player, willing to stay late to scrub into the evening caesarean section that came in, or to report cytology results to owners way past the end of my work shift. As the ‘new grad’, I felt like I was the least experienced and so I had to make up for it in other areas, through my enthusiasm and my dedication towards the job. I even challenged myself to take up extra shifts to help the practice cope with staff shortages, convincing myself that the more shifts I acquire, the more case exposure I’ll get so that I can become a decent vet at a faster rate. This plan of mine was sound in my head, until I fell ill. I fell quite ill (testing negative for covid) to the point I was forced by my staff to take 2 days off to recover. In the end, I lost 2 days of wages due to unpaid sick leave, while trying to do more.
Key lesson from my mistake is to PACE YOURSELF. To sustain yourself for a long and healthy career ahead, it is important to take breaks. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Having a type-A personality and wanting to be the best at everything at every moment might have helped me get into vet school, but is not sustainable for work. Pace yourself, and take your days off to rest and recuperate, before you burn out. Now, I have actively booked in my holidays, and actively working on having a healthy work-life balance.
Get familiar with the formulary (BSAVA formulary, NOAH compendium for example), familiar with practice vaccination protocols and where equipment lives to save time
When I first started, I remember observing my colleagues being so slick when conducting consults. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t rushing through consults, but they were mega efficient. When it came to dispensing medications, they were swift with calculations and delivering instructions to owners. Then there is me, struggling because it took me awhile to calculate the right doses, took me extra time to double check with the senior vet about my treatment protocol, etc..
Tip: have your Minivet guide, BSAVA formulary (or equivalent), or NOAH compendium website up next to you and ready, I used to get worried that clients would think I am less of a capable vet because I needed to refer to my books, but actually no one commented anything, if anything I think they prefer you to take a bit more time if it means you are getting the right doses/ drug/ treatment protocol so you don’t make any mistakes.
How to work together with clients
This should be an article by itself because there are so many (big and little) things you can do to improve the client experience. And I am still learning how to get better at this! But I will try to summarise the main points when working with them. These are ranked from most important to least (but to be fair, all of them are pretty important)
ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B during your consults. After obtaining your history, clinical exam and are ready to present your treatment plan, always say that ‘if Fluffy does not get better, she may have to return for a re-examination incase we suspect it is ____, and if that is the case, we may need further tests like bloods, x-rays or ultrasound scan, or other medication etc..’ This is so when the case changes its presentation, or a pet doesn’t respond to initial treatment (which can be due to a multitude of factors), the owner already expects it (because you have pre-warn them) and will be less annoyed when they have to come back for a re-examination.
I struggled with this a lot because the optimist and people pleaser in me tries to reassure to the owner that their pet will be okay, and end up being over-promising clients an outcome that I cannot control. For example, reassuring owners that a simple gastroenteritis episode should resolve by the end of the week, but some cases can take longer to resolve, or end up being something else as more clinical signs present over time, so never, ever promise clients an outcome that you cannot 100% control. In the event that Fluffy does get better, the owner will be pleasantly surprised and it becomes a win-win for all parties. We are striving for the ‘underpromise, overdeliver’ strategy here. Sometimes, I offer a follow up call at the end of a course of treatment, just to check in with the owners on how their pet is doing at home, and clients really appreciate that.
It is important to understand that 80% of clients are normal, happy clients that appreciate your help, but you will meet the special 20% that can be a bit more demanding. However, we tend to remember the clients that were annoyed with us so much more clearly than the clients that really appreciated our help. So I would recommend keeping a book/journal with the positive moments, so you can look back and remember that you are actually doing a good job, and you can record the negative moments and reflect on them as a learning point as well. Main point is to document what happened, as our memory can be skewed by our feelings later on in the future and we tend to make things out worse than they are in our heads, compared to when we write them on paper.
Here are some tips to get clients on your side to trust you. 15 minutes is not a long time to build a rapport with clients and gain their trust, and when clients come in, they are already stressed and unhappy because their pet is unwell, and getting a pet into the clinic is chaotic because of car sickness/ traffic/ other animals in the waiting room that wind their pet up.. so it is important to understand that calming the client, while not what you signed up for when applying to vet school, is pretty important and part of the job on a day to day basis. Little things like:
addressing client by name (not pet’s name, but saying their own name makes it more personalised)
addressing their pet as female or male (so important, but trust me when it gets to 6pm at the end of the long day, my thought process slows down and my words get muddled up easily)
thank them for their patience if they had to wait (even if its 2-3mins, they’ll be pleasantly surprised, I had one client said ‘wow, no one has ever thanked me for waiting before, not even at the dentists and they make you wait really long, perhaps they should do’ )
ask them about their day (depends, sometimes clients jump straight into the problem which is fair)
actively listening and showing empathy when obtaining history
give their pet two compliments when examining them (eg. they have such nice eyes, what lovely markings or coat colour)
explain everything and let them ask you questions
showing client to reception when the appointment ends so they are not stressed about where to go/ where to pay/ what to do next
A supportive environment makes a world of a difference when you are first starting out. It is your first day as a vet and you’re expected to know what you are doing and have it all figured out - fake news! Find a practice that provides dedicated support to new grads, bonus if they already have a tried and tested structured new graduate programme and have had a few cohort of previous new grads still working at the practice. I can’t thank my mentors enough for being so kind and patient, mentoring me and checking in with me to make sure that I wasn’t out of my own depths when handling cases. So how do you go about seeking mentorship and support? Few tips:
At job interviews, ask them if they have had new graduates in the past and if you could speak with them, ask them if they have a dedicated clinical mentor in the practice that you could learn from and receive support.
While at work and you need support, ask! Reach out and say, ‘hey could I discuss this case with you if you have 2 minutes’ or ‘ I am really not confident with handling seizure cases, could I walkthrough these treatment protocols with you’ etc. So far I have been lucky enough that every vet I asked was happy to go through whatever I needed help with, some even were happy to make a session with powerpoint cases to teach me.
If work isn’t being very supportive you can try seeking mentorship and support outside of work, either through online veterinary communities, eg. VetWings, Veterinary Voices UK, The Riptide Project, NOMV community, VSGD... Keep in touch with your university pals as well, I often share cases (anonymously, of course!) with my vet friends to see what their approach would be, to compare our new graduate experiences as well, so I feel less alone in this new graduate journey of mine.
Get ready to make mistakes, and learn from them! Reframe failure as daring to leave your comfort zone and learning from them is vital to benefit your future patients. Again, having a Type A personality may mean that you are used to being a perfectionist, getting things right on the first try, tying your achievements to your self-worth, being proactive to ensure that every step you take to prepare can lead to your success, however, life doesn’t work like that. No one succeeds every time, on their first try. (if you are sailing through life then you may skip this paragraph) Everyone makes mistakes. It is normal to make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you less of a vet, or a person. But it is important to reflect on that mistake, learn from it, but don’t let it hang over your head and destroy your confidence to try again.
失败是成功之母 or “Failure is the mother of success”
Bonus point: Show lots of love and appreciation to your team! This job is hard, has long hours, but together with your team, you make it through the day and it is so, very rewarding to have played a part in ensuring the welfare of the animals are taken cared of, seeing your animal patients feel better and your human clients rejoicing with you when that happens.
Finally, It is not your job to save every single animal on this entire planet. Don’t put that pressure on yourself, the job itself is so stressful already!
Lots of love to everyone starting their new graduate journey,
New grad May xx
(6 months out at time of writing)