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I GRADUATED from Liverpool university in 2016 and it's been almost six months since I started working in small animal practice. During this time I've thought about the challenges of moving from veterinary student to practising vet.
I remember my first day very clearly. I arrived extra early to meet my new boss who promised to ease me into work as a vet. The morning was full of operations, which I worked through with another vet. What was perhaps unusual was that I really enjoyed, and was competent at, bitch spays and dog castrations (after having undertaken a neutering course in India). However, I had only partially spayed a cat and I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never ever castrated a cat (although I learnt to do so very quickly!).
What was more difficult for me was the prospect of consulting in the evenings. While I had passed all of my exams and OSCEs during my undergraduate training, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten at what age you should vaccinate a puppy or kitten. A colleague quickly printed me off the practice's vaccination protocol, which I treasured in my pocket file. I remember the first vaccine I administered – I didn't know you could mix L4 and DHP in one injection. So the puppy screamed its head off twice, while the staff pondered why we were suddenly running out of the KC diluent. My boss must have wondered what I was doing to the poor puppy and helpfully suggested that I should warm up the vaccine in my pocket next time and also warn the owner in advance.
A day after starting my new job, a client asked ‘When did you graduate? Have you been here long?’ I felt I couldn't admit that this was only my second day of being a ‘real’ vet. ‘Yes, I graduated in the summer and yes I've joined the team recently’ felt like a better response than saying, ‘This is my second day on the job, please put all your faith and trust in me when I'm not really sure what I'm doing all of the time’.
I have learnt that there are a lot of highs and lows of being a vet which you don't fully appreciate as a student; I didn't realise how much it would ruin my day when clients shouted at me (usually regarding costs). The highs are definitely knowing that you can change an animal's life by simply adding a bit of gabapentin alongside its meloxicam prescription to help with chronic pain, or learning new skills such as enucleating a guinea pig's eye. What a rollercoaster ride!
Employers want graduates who are confident and integrate seamlessly into the team, but how can we be confident if we have never really been a vet before? EMS placements are so variable and book up so far in advance that we don't always have the luxury of choosing somewhere right for us to gain experience from. At university the responsibility never finished with us – the students – and we were blessed with 30-minute consults to take the history and do a clinical exam. To all employers and other staff out there, please remember what it was like for you and help us through our struggles. In return I hope we can impart our more up-to-date knowledge or approach with you. I have been lucky, but some of my friends have been less fortunate. I wonder if fewer vets would become disillusioned with working in practice if we all felt we had good support in our first jobs to help us progress and gain confidence? I definitely think corporate-run new graduate programmes with structured support and CPD are the way forward and that independent practices need to think about what support they can offer us too in order to help us flourish. Times have changed; we shouldn't be forced to sink or swim anymore, or else we will lose talent along the way.
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