My advice to me (or, what I wish I knew before starting practice)

VettedVetted July 2019
Volume 114
Issue 7

You are never fully prepared when you leave veterinary school and enter the real world of practice. In the spirit of camaraderie, Dr. Detweiler offers up some wise and practical advice for new graduates about to embark on their professional journey.


One of my coworkers has a daughter in her first year of veterinary practice. She sometimes visits our clinic, and because my coworker and I have a combined 40-plus years of practice wisdom between us, we find ourselves sharing all sorts of insights. These conversations have left me wondering what I would have told myself 16 years ago when I was on the verge of entering this profession. What nuggets of know-how would have helped me along this journey? Looking back, there are several things that I wish I had learned sooner…

Make your incision longer! You'll waste more time (and cause more trauma) trying to stretch various abdominal organs up into your surgical field than you would by just extending that incision an inch or two in the first place.

When that miniature dachshund comes in for a neuter, double-check his weight. Confirm that it makes sense. Don't draw up your anesthetic drugs based on a recording error. It will save you from having to make a horrific phone call to a very upset client.

Never treat a parvo case without getting the money up front. Never.

Don't hesitate to say, “I don't know.” You are not failing your patients by it, and your clients ultimately will respect you more when you are honest with them. “Fake it 'til you make it” doesn't really work in most cases.

Learn to work up a case with only $100. Choose the tests that will give you the most answers, and remember that sometimes response to treatment can be regarded as a diagnostic aid. Keep a quarter in your pocket, because it really might come down to a coin-toss.

Document everything-especially in the situation described above. The people with the least amount of money often have the highest expectations. Don't get burned.

You will never love orthopedics. Save your money on that CE course because you will be much happier sending those cases to someone who is a thousand times better and faster than you are.

Stand your ground. Don't let that client talk you into attempting a bovine C-section in a snowstorm, guided by the glow of your truck's headlights. Your instruments will freeze to the poor heifer's hide and it absolutely won't end well.

Don't drag your feet about buying a smart phone! You'll be addicted to one soon enough-no matter how strongly you preach the opposite. So, get off your soapbox regarding the absurdity of texting!

Prepare for Dr. Google. You already know about establishing trust with your clients. Good. Always do that. But prepare yourself for having to combat the hundreds of other untrustworthy virtual veterinarians who accompany clients into your exam room. Dr. Google will not be an esteemed colleague of yours.

Your kids are not going to be impressed with your job. They won't care that someone's dog just got hit by a car, but they will want you to be with them on the couch during family movie night. No amount of reasoning or explanation will change their minds. Just hug them and go.

Make up a fake job when you sit next to strangers. Don't let that woman at the hotel pool strike up a conversation about when she should euthanize her Chihuahua-it will put a real damper on your Caribbean getaway.

On your days off, turn off your phone. Better yet, lock it in the trunk of your car.

When your kids ask if they can join 4-H, say no. You will have so much more free time during the summer.

Above all else, laugh. Some days, it will be your only defense. You'll be tempted to yell. You'll be on the verge of tears more times than you care to admit. But through it all, you'll learn that you're stronger and smarter than you ever gave yourself credit for.

When you find yourself getting sucked into the vortex of burnout, take a minute and watch something funny on YouTube (which you'll be able to do with that smart phone you were so sure you would never need) or reminisce about that time you had to explain paraphimosis to a mortified millennial pet parent. The humor and smiles are there to be found. You just have to take the time to look.

Dr. Melissa Detweiler is an associate veterinarian at Bern-Sabetha Veterinary Clinic in Sebetha, Kansas. In her free time, she enjoys reading, being out in the yard during the warm months, running, fishing, following K-State sports and, above all, spending time with her husband, children and their Rottweiler mix, Lucy.

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