What is Expected of a New Graduate?

Written by Bryanna Andrews Reading time: 7 mins

Are you about to graduate from veterinary school and accept your first job as a veterinarian? Are you wondering what it will be like to transition from being a student in clinics to running them for the first time?

Hi there! I’m Bryanna Andrews, a new graduate veterinary surgeon in Wales, UK., and I’d like to give you some insights on what is expected of a new graduate in their first few months in practice.

A bit about me: I’m a 2021 graduate from the University of Edinburgh now working for the PDSA on their new grad scheme which offers structured support tailored to the needs of the new grad. I really enjoy my work and spend in general one day a week on a back-of-house shift where I do surgery and care for in-patients and emergencies (my favourite shift!), one day a week doing CPD and additional training, and three days a week consulting in both emergency and essential appointments.

So, what do you need to know to be successful in your first job? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from my time with the PDSA and on the rollercoaster experience it is to work as a vet for the first time.

Be honest about your skill level and confidence.

When you first start out, you’re going to feel like you’re supposed to know a lot more than you do, and despite doing well at university and maybe even feeling confident in that setting, you’ll be surprised how many times a day you ask staff around you for help or advice with a case. There will be procedures you think you should know how to do (bitch spays? castrations? lump removals?) that you may not have gotten much experience with – especially in COVID! – and may not feel confident with yet.

Be honest with your team about this.

The best part about being a new graduate on a team that offers you support and training is that they shouldn’t expect you to be good or independent at much of anything yet. This first year in practice is a golden opportunity for you to ask all the questions you didn’t think to ask or were afraid to before, have a mentor or other senior clinicians talk you through all the procedures and operations, and take the time to develop your skills slowly before you will be expected to do things quickly, well, and by yourself.  Take advantage of this!

While you may feel frustrated that you can’t remember how to do something you think you should know, be gentle with yourself. The learning curve your first year – whether in general practice or an internship – is incredibly steep, and your team should know that and be prepared to go through things a few times with you before you get it right. Having regular, honest dialogue about where you’re at will mean the help they offer you is tailored to your needs the best your practice can and will mean you get better sooner than if you pretend you’re doing okay when you feel like drowning.

Be prepared to put in the work to get yourself up to speed as a vet, though.

The first few months in practice are going to be overwhelming and scary and exciting.  You need to be prepared for your primary focus during this time to be your career, and dial down your extracurricular commitments accordingly.  Be prepared to be very tired from spending all day, every day learning on the job and make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating good meals to show up rested and to gain the most from this time.

While your team should want to support you through any training you need, be prepared to be expected to help yourself to get better as well. Asking about dosing regimens, unless your practice has a special procedure in place for one of them, is not a good use of senior vets’ time. Downloading the BSAVA Formulary onto my phone as PDFs – one for dogs/cats and one for small exotics – has been a lifesaver for this, and means I can search through the PDF quickly to find the drug I need to prescribe rather than hunting down a formulary in the clinic.  Don’t like the BSAVA one or don’t have access to it? Download a formulary from Merek (MSD), NOAH, or others similar to have quick access to the drugs whose dosages you will need many times every day.

Are you not very quick with your suturing? Consider spending an hour a week practicing at home on an orange or similar with expired material.  Not very confident surgically? Spend 10 minutes looking at the operations list for the following day when you know you will be operating to give yourself a bit more confidence than walking into it blind.

Communication is key here as well!

Reflecting regularly on your practice, both medically and surgically, and identifying your own weak spots so that you can ask for additional training or exposure by being given more cases in a specific area is your responsibility. The best mentor in the world still won’t be able to identify what you lack confidence or understanding in without you telling him or her, so be prepared to spend a little time reflecting regularly on where you can improve and share that with your team accordingly.

Be prepared for growth in some areas to be slow

While I do think it’s important to take responsibility for your learning and growth these first few months in practice, it’s crucial to establish good habits for work-life balance early in your career. Doing a little more at home to prepare yourself for the following day or to grow as a vet through reflection is fine, but taking time away from your work to do activities that are purely for fun and turning off from work once you are home is just as important as preparing more and will help you show up rested and recharged the next day.

People who become vets tend to be driven, self-motivated, and incredibly hard-working, but this predisposes us to burnout.  Spending a lot of spare time thinking through cases or doing too much additional work to improve can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed and burning out. 45% of vets who leave the profession in the UK are qualified for 4 years or less, according to the RCVS Workforce Summit 2021.*

This means we have to accept that our growth this first year will be slow in some areas and that we will be frustrated with ourselves for not being able to do more or work faster.  The most important thing we can do for ourselves and our practice is to let go of where we think we should and to not strive for perfection, instead aiming to become a bit better every day.  Reflecting regularly on your practice should focus not only on what you can improve, but should also include charting your progress in areas you are doing well. 

I hope these insights from my first few months as a vet are helpful! It has been a whirlwind experience to me but has made every late night and difficult exam worth it.  To those of you graduating in 2022 – good luck! You’re going to be incredible vets and I hope our paths cross someday.

 *RCVS (2021) RCVS Workforce Summit 2021. Available at: file:///Users/bryannaandrews/Desktop/retention-recruitment-and-return-in-the-veterinary-profession-preliminary-report.pdf (Accessed: 30 December 2021).

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