10 lessons for the veterinary graduate

June 21, 2019
Gretchen Norton, DVM

Dr. Gretchen Norton owns Summit Veterinary Service in Silverthorne, Colorado.

Veterinary clients arent always fair (or in their right mind). Your practice team members expect a lot of you. The learning never ends. The job isnt easy. Here are the lessons I picked up after veterinary school that might help you as you get started.

You were graded on giving the right answer in veterinary school. In the real world, there are many right answers, including, "I don't know, but I'll research it." (aslysun / Shutterstock)Dear new graduates, welcome to the practice of veterinary medicine! All the years of schooling have readied you for your first clinical job. But there are some things that weren't covered in school. These 10 lessons come in a self-taught curriculum I picked up myself over the years.

Lesson No. 1: The schooling never ends-but it's different

You were graded on giving the right answer in veterinary school. In the real world, there are many right answers, including, “I don't know, but I'll research it.” You saw brain surgeries and CT scans in veterinary school. In practice, you need to know the basics: diarrhea, vomiting, vaccines and their schedules, ear infections, abscesses and wound care. Maybe you're not up to speed yet on dental extractions, behavior consults, orthopedics or nutrition. Ask for mentoring or for another veterinarian to look at your treatment plan.

Think of the exam room as a stage. You need to ‘perform' while you're there.

Lesson No. 2: You can beat ‘the young doctor' rap

Think of the exam room as a stage. You need to “perform” while you're there. Take a deep breath before stepping into an exam room, and be ready to make a connection with the client. Introduce yourself, wear a nametag and offer a handshake when meeting clients. You may look young to some. Acting professionally and dressing the part will go a long way toward getting pet owners to trust you. Do a complete, hands-on physical exam. Make it your goal to have clients walk out saying, “That's the best exam my pet ever had.”

Lesson No. 3: Be nice to your technicians, and they'll be nice to you

They can make or break your first job. If they're experienced, listen to them. If they're new graduates too, work through the treatment plan together so they can learn. Build mutual respect. They may ask you to help them sometimes, and you should, because at some point you'll need to ask a technician to go hunting through a dumpster for something important that was thrown away (a tissue sample, a blanket, a surgical instrument, a blood sample). Make sure you have enough goodwill built up with them for times like these.

When your team needs your help, stay late to help out, even if it's just to clean a cage or administer medication to a patient.

Lesson No. 4: Don't be a clock-watcher

When your team needs your help, stay late to help out, even if it's just to clean a cage or administer medication to a patient. This is not a 9-to-5 job. On the other hand, if you're expected to stay late every day, without compensation, it's time to talk with the practice.

Lesson No. 5: Stand up for yourself

If you're not comfortable doing a procedure for the first time, say so. If a client wants to schedule a C-section on a day when you're the lone doctor and you've never performed one, you don't need to agree to the procedure. See whether another doctor can help that day so you can learn the procedure.

 

Lesson No. 6: Beware common pet names

When a receptionist asks you about a pet, always get the chart to confirm you're both talking about the same patient. (Luna, Bella and Charlie are common names.)

Lesson No. 7: Always, always be safe

When it comes to pets, don't let technicians or veterinary assistants get into dangerous situations. When it comes to people, don't leave any team member alone in the clinic unless the front door is locked.

Don't judge. You don't know what clients had to deal with all week.

Lesson No. 8: Don't judge clients harshly …

Life throws curveballs. Clients come in at 5 p.m. on Friday for an ear infection that “just happened.” Don't judge. You don't know what they had to deal with all week. This really may be the first time they noticed the ear infection. In emergencies, people are not at their best. They may be scared or sleep deprived or have other things going on that make them unpleasant to you. Give them the benefit of the doubt first.

Lesson No. 9: … but don't feel obligated to do whatever clients want

Clients will get emotional. Make sure everyone who needs to hear about a pet's diagnosis, condition or prognosis is in the room with you. You will hear, “If Fluffy dies, my wife/father/grandmother will die.”

Some clients have mental health problems. Learn about delusional parasitosis and factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA).

Clients will ask for illegal things: health certificates without seeing the pet, back-dated vaccine records, a controlled substance without a physical exam. Be an adult and communicate why you cannot do what they're asking.

Clients have selective hearing. They will tell you their previous veterinarian never mentioned the possibility of the disease, but when you read the record, it very clearly states that the disease was discussed and all diagnostics were declined.

Lesson No. 10: Forgive yourself if the first job isn't a fit

If you're asked to compromise your morals or do things you don't agree with, you may need to move on. If you feel abused, bullied or otherwise mentally unwell, please leave that job. There will be another, better job out there. Your life is important.

Editor's note: What do you wish you'd known before you hit the streets as a new DVM? Tell us in the comments below.

Dr. Gretchen Norton owns Summit Veterinary Service in Silverthorne, Colorado.