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A practitioner ponders

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I'VE been watching the evolution of new graduate support schemes with interest. Back in the 70s I was a student seeing large animal practice in the wild West Country moorlands. The senior partner was a rather scary but very caring man, and I was struck by how well he looked after his newest assistant, who had just joined the six-person practice. The principal made sure that the youngster had practical teaching and guidance before allowing him to attempt major procedures on his own. He also insisted that the assistant live in digs where a landlady could cook him a proper meal every night and lend a sympathetic ear to the stresses and strains of embarking on a new career.

I remember my own first day in practice. My boss didn't exactly appoint the senior assistant to be my mentor. As I recall, his exact words were, ‘Keep an eye on the lad and don't let him kill anything he shouldn't.’ Nonetheless, my guide was very supportive. He marched me to the dispensary and, with tongue in cheek, ceremoniously placed four 100 ml bottles in my shaking hands, which were to be placed in the boot of my (own) car. ‘There you go, mate, Pen and Strep, cortisone, vitamin B mixture and phenobarbitone – should cover most eventualities!’.

The good-humoured jests continued but proved to be froth on a pint glass of full-bodied support, encouragement and education. Successes were applauded, occasional disasters were sympathetically evaluated and preventive strategies discussed over an informal real pint at the end of the day.

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I enjoy having new graduates in my practice and watching over the accumulation of confidence, new clinical skills and, in particular, strategies for dealing with the eclectic range of clients. I relish the challenge of helping them find their own solutions.

One earnest newcomer, not originally from these shores, had great difficulty with a man who refused to give him eye contact and appeared not to listen to any of his explanations or advice. ‘It feels like I'm talking to a brick wall. He just doesn't seem to acknowledge my professional status,’ the lad complained, seemingly at the end of his tether. ‘Take control of the conversation,’ I found myself saying. ‘Ask him questions such as, “Does that sound a good plan to you, sir?”. Stop talking and look at him until he answers you.’ I saw a twinkle of comprehension and relief spread over the young man's face. He had a plan.

I made a point of being around after his subsequent encounter with this client. They emerged from the consulting room beaming at each other. ‘Thanks for the advice, boss’, he later said. The tap on my chest with his clenched fist spoke volumes for the sea change in his confidence.

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