FIRST YEAR OUT – there’s no way around it; your most important lessons in practice will come through learning by mistakes… hopefully mostly other people’s (see the VDS newsletters for some classic examples), but inevitably largely through your own. A large proportion of these will be in your first year. You will need support to help you rationalise and learn from these mistakes, without beating yourself up (after all, we tend to be a demographic of ‘neurotic perfectionists’). Support from within your practice, friends and family, local vets network, and social networks will all help you to maintain perspective and stay positive despite the inevitable ups and downs. You can join local Young Vet Network groups run by the BVA.
THRIVE IN FIVE – the VIN Foundation has created a survival toolkit for your first 5 years in practice – everything from model contracts to how to survive a night shift. This is a great free resource.
PDP QUERIES? Download the BVA’s PDP guide.
Your first job is arguably the most important as it can shape your future career choices. I recently heard an interesting description of vet job types:
Academic A-grade jobs – Academic / referral / research – even if your first job isn’t an internship in an academic or referral institute, if this is where you want to be headed look for jobs in places with links to referrals, involvement in research, certificate holders etc.
Common sense C-grade jobs – General practice, especially rural practices / mixed. These are the jobs where common sense, compassion and charisma will get you a lot further with clients than your knowledge of the latest lymphoma treatment options.
Note: a C-grade job is in no way inferior to an A-grade job. We’re all academic as we’re all vets. That’s the given. How to get on with clients and use common sense above pure science in your approach is a skill that often can’t be taught, and can be hard to learn. But that’s what makes a good vet GREAT! In many ways it’s harder to be a good GP vet than a good referral clinician; to do an optimal job for the patient and client, often with limited resources and finance, is a real skill.
- Interview your interviewer e.g. find out what plans they have for the practice, how robust their support systems are.
- Speak to the head nurse, nursing team, receptionists… these are the people who will be your ‘team’. How long have they been at the practice (a good work ethic means staff stay loyal)? What’s their ‘vibe’ about new graduates – make sure they seem supportive and enthusiastic at the prospect of having you join them.
- Will you be working at the branch you’re interviewed at? Or the crummy shack in the next village with the outdoor loo?!
- Checkout glassdoor.co.uk – it’s a universal job site with a difference… employees can anonymously rate their boss and practice, and state if they’d recommend it to friends or not. It’s not reached the veterinary world at the time of writing, but it would be worth a look just in case someone has some pertinent feedback.
INTERNSHIPS / NEW GRAD PROGRAMMES: These can be useful stepping stones, and increasing numbers of practices are setting up such schemes. BUT BEWARE – there are no guidelines or regulations for the application of these terms, and practices are free interpret them as they wish. You could find yourself doing a normal vets job for a lesser salary, with promised support never quite materialising, and exit-clauses in the fine print. There’s a useful Vet Record blog on the subject by Adrian Pratt here
Tailor your CV/interview to the job you’re applying for:
A Grade jobs: emphasise your academic achievements, additional research, elective topic, and future goals and career ambitions.
C Grade jobs: your common sense, charisma, communication / practical skills are more important. Working in a small team means your hobbies and interests are likely to affect your working relationships more than academic accolades. You’ve qualified, so you have the knowledge. Now sell all your personal skills.
PREPARE FOR LIFE IN PRACTICE – You’ve wanted to be a vet since you were a child. The central focus of your education and life thus far has been qualifying as a vet. Now you’re there with a whole degree of privilege at your disposal, and a lot of drugs and sharp instruments to wield. And you’re going to get PAID for it! But beware – the novelty can wear off as reality doesn’t meet with expectation. We’re taught in a linear manner; get a clinical history, recognise signalment and clinical signs, perform the correct diagnostic tests and procedures, and institute the correct treatment and hey presto! You’re a vet diagnosing and curing disease in bone fide patients.
NOT! Practice life is 90% mundane with vaccines, skin disease, gastroenteritis… it won’t be long before you can do these consults in your sleep. When it gets to the more stimulating cases it’s rarely black and white. Owners who can’t agree on when the dog last ate (if indeed it ate at all); conflicting clinical signs leading you in 4 different directions; a broken blood machine or clogged endoscope scuppering your diagnostic tests; poor compliance with administration of your treatment…. and then a complaint from a client because of the costs and lack of resolution. It gets grating when clients all assume we’re raking in the big bucks, and have no idea how hard we work and the stresses we’re under. Privilege can all too soon turn into frustration and disillusionment.
Reset your expectations; you will make mistakes; owners will complain – often unfairly; you will be limited by time, staffing issues, equipment; interesting cases are the exception, not the rule (and you’re often limited in how far you can get with your workups). Preparing yourself for this will help you take it in your stride. Have an adaptable ‘growth’ mindset, rather than a stagnant fixed expectation of life in practice will help you reset your expectations – a recent study revealed this mentality improved wellbeing in vet students; click here for the article.
Make the mundane interesting – the 90% mundane CLINICAL cases can all become stimulating and interesting if you use these times to engage with the client. Become a people person! Not only will you build good relations with the client base, you’ll find your job more interesting and fulfilling.
Ask – if there are no colleagues available to ask for their opinion phone a friend, use online forums such as vetsurgeon.org, Veterinary Information Network, Vettimes. Be honest with owners and explain you’ll need to get back to them later in the day.
Book your first holiday – ask for a week off about 12 weeks in…. you’ll need it to draw breath, relax and recharge, catch up with friends and family. By the time you figure that out, it’s too late to book the time off. Book it when you start and you’ll be glad you did.
Don’t Ruminate on mistakes – You will make mistakes – ruminating on them may adversely affect you mentally and physically. Read more HERE
All too much? Pressure in practice is inevitable. Unmanageable pressure becomes stress. Stress affects mental and physical health. You may benefit from mindfulness or resilience coaching to help manage pressure more effectively.
PREPARE FOR LIFE!
You’ve been in academia since you were 4. Now you have to learn how to run a house, budget, deal with all the complexities and pressures of adult life, often for the first time… at the most intense time of your career. Prepare in advance – budget plan, update your bank account, ensure you have all the necessary insurances etc. in place. Be prepared – living is a lot more work than you thought it might be… and often you’re living on your own for the first time. It’s a huge change in lifestyle, so be prepared and think what might help you deal with this.
Suggestions: Get a budget planner in place and USE it from the moment you graduate to get a handle on your finances (downloadable versions are available from the Money Advice Service or National Debtline – see our Financial Support page, which has some great links to sites which will save you time, money and stress). Join local community FB pages and go along to local events – important for networking and e.g. finding out who a reliable local plumber is. Local buy and sell pages will often have free/cheap second hand furniture and household wares on offer (moreso than Gumtree, eBay etc).
Loneliness can be a problem – Social media is good, but face-to-face friendships are vital; make time and space for it and you won’t regret it. Read more about loneliness HERE. Plan your first job near good friends or family. Join local sports or social groups – if you have on call work you’ll need to explain your attendance will be sporadic! Join a local BVA Young Vet Network group.
Growing Up – ‘finding yourself’ was a bit of a buzz-phrase when I graduated. I hate buzz-words, but I reluctantly have to admit there is mileage in figuring out what is going to make you happy and how to get there. There’s a thoughtful blog on Psychology Today – Essential Skills to Being a Grown Up. It’s worth read and having at the back of your mind as you start your career and life outside University.