New associates: What you might not know when you graduate vet school

December 6, 2017

Dr. Andy Rollo examines his own debut into veterinary practice to pinpoint areas he wished hed known more about before diving in.

Just stepping into a new veterinary associate position? You might feel like a young pup surprised at what the world greets you with. ('re in your final year of vet school and ready to go forth and save some pets. Picture yourself taking your first steps into that exam room-a full-fledged veterinary practitioner. You open the door with anticipation, glancing at the intake sheet and … [record scratch], “What's this? I don't remember learning this in vet school!”

Up until that moment, you've been surrounded by amazing experts advising you on exceptional cases that might come across your exam room table, but now you're on your own. And maybe those experts didn't cover so much of the mundane, everyday problems you'll see.

We asked Andy Rollo, DVM, an associate at Madison Veterinary Hospital in Madison Heights, Michigan, and supercool contributor, for the top things he didn't know or didn't know enough about and had to learn on his own as a new graduate in general practice.

If you're a new grad-or know one-this is a warning and a leg up with some resources on these topics on so newbies can be a bit less startled in the exam room and treatment area.

1. Anal glands. “I didn't hear it mentioned once in four years of veterinary school, but now it's hard not to use that word every day in practice,” says Dr. Rollo.

> We've got loads of advice on this notorious procedure and how to tame that smell.

2. Skin mites. “I had a hard time keeping scabies and Demodex straight,” admits Dr. Rollo.

> Here's a quick how-to on skin scraping and telling the difference between all those mites. (Don't forget to enlist the power of your technicians too!)

3. Basic emergency protocol. “In veterinary school we're surrounded by skilled criticalists with all the fancy equipment,” says Dr. Rollo. “In the real world we don't have the experience and have very little equipment to deal with these situations. We also don't have time to research it on VIN. My very first case was a Chihuahua in heart failure, and it didn't go well.”

> There's not a short and sweet article on this topic, as emergencies are varied and intricate. Here are some thoughts on triaging emergency cases. Your best bet might be to sign up for a Fetch dvm360 conference and get all the details from the experts on critical care cases.

4. Simple mass removal. “In school, we get to scrub in on pancreatectomies and open-heart surgeries,” says Dr. Rollo. “But my first simple mass removal did not go well. I was ill prepared to understand basic principles in blood supply and tension.”

> You want help easing the tension? We've got help for the tension. Try this whole series of how-tos on wound repair techniques, including videos of the procedures.

5. Ear infections. “We see them every day and usually get just a few cases in veterinary school to prepare us,” says Dr. Rollo.

> We've curated our best articles on ear disease in this otitis Veterinary Medicine Essential.

6. Dentistry. “This may depend on each school's veterinary program, but my training was one afternoon with a technician,” says Dr. Rollo. “Dentistry is a very important subject that we GPs deal with every day. I shudder now looking back to what I did (or didn't do) the first four years out of practice-I just didn't know.”

> We've curated our best articles on dentistry in this periodontal disease Veterinary Medicine Essential. Plus, veterinary dentist Dr. Jan Bellows is in the midst of creating the ABCs of veterinary dentistry.

7. Basic workup for those GI patients. “There are 400 reasons for why a patient is vomiting or has diarrhea-some innocent and self-resolving, and some serious,” says Dr. Rollo. “It's easy to recommend an extensive workup for each patient every time just like we learned in school. But for us GPs, a $500 to $1,000 workup plan doesn't always sit well with clients. It would be nice to have some basic parameters for when to get aggressive and when to just treat the clinical signs and be patient with recommendations.”

> Check out this article on chronic enteropathies (and why you should avoid using the term IBD).

8. Basic cytology. “Not everything has to be sent to a pathologist,” says Dr. Rollo. “Developing those skills can be very useful to a new graduate.”

> Key to cytology is getting the perfect specimen. Here's a guide for getting diagnostic cutaneous samples as well as some advice on how to improve your skills at interpreting what you see under the microscope.

9. Neurology. “When an owner is given the recommendation to see a neurologist, many are reluctant to go when looking at a potential $4,000 to $8,000 bill,” says Dr. Rollo. “It's important for new grads to know what they're capable of doing when the referral is declined.”

> Neurology is another complex topic involving many disorders. Here's one bit of help on conservative management of intervertebral disk disease.

10. Euthanasia. “This is a very important and deft skill for which new grads have received little to no training,” says Dr. Rollo.

> We dug in deep on this topic of pain and death for a dvm360 Leadership Challenge.

As Dr. Rollo says, veterinarians all learn on the job. It's part of becoming better at what you do. For those times when things don't go as well as planned, here's a little perspective on how you're always learning-from your mistakes as well as your successes. Here's to many, many successes!